Kindle 2 FAQ for Blind + Low Vision People

August 2010 Update: Amazon are releasing the new Kindle 3 on August 27th, 2010. It has Voice Guide which reads out menus and book listings to you and still has the text to speech feature and supersize fonts. Combine all these features and you have a pretty good eReader for blind and low vision people.

Update: Amazon are making the Kindle 2′s navigation accessible. See below for more details. This Kindle 2 FAQ is my take on the questions you might have if you’re looking to buy the Kindle 2 to help you expand what you can read and access.

March 19th, 2009 – Great Announcement from the official Amazon Kindle blog -

We’ve heard from many of our blind or vision impaired customers who are excited about Kindle 2′s text to speech technology.  Some of these customers have asked that we make Kindle even easier for them by adding navigation accessible to the blind.  We want to let those customers know that this is something we are working on and we look forward to making it available in the future. 
–The Amazon Kindle Team

The Kindle 2 is an electronic book reader – it can be used to buy and read books, newspapers, magazines, blogs. It has a text to speech feature that will read out any of your purchases or even any of your personal documents. It comes with 6 font sizes to read in if you have low vision or font size preferences. It is in 16 shades of gray – no color.

My current understanding is that -

  1. Kindle 2 will be absolutely great for low vision people. 
  2. Kindle 2 will be good for blind people if they have someone with them to help them out a bit. The menus and Kindle Store in the Kindle 2 are not voice accessible.

QZERO: What should my expectations be?

AZERO: Here is a comment from Stella which sums it up very well – You OUGHT TO try it out before you buy it.

The Kindle 2 will not be usable for all people with low vision. It is not high contrast. The display is grey on lighter grey.

The largest font size is not all that large.At the next-to-largest font size I get four to five words per line.

Text-to-speech is very good but not al all like an audiobook. The speed is somewhat variable.I need a magnifier to even find the keys on the keyboard.

That said, I can read longer and without the pain I get when using a computer or trying to read even a large print book.

I highly recommend that anyone with low vision considering a Kindle 2 make an effort to try one first. This is not going to work if you rely on reverse print color or other high contrast.

Not all books will be accessible via the text-to-speech,and there is no speech for menus or for buying books

Q1: Is the Kindle 2 specifically focused for Blind People and Low Vision People?
A1: No. As far as I understand it has some great features that will really help you. However it is not a device targeted at Blind People. This means that the keyboard isn’t in Braille, and the menus and book buying experience from Amazon via the Kindle 2 are not accessible via speaking.

Q2: What are the main features of the Kindle 2 that will help me?
A2:
If you’re blind – Kindle 2 has a feature called Talk To Me that can be used to read out any book. The menus are not accessible i.e. they won’t be read out to you – So you’ll have to have someone buy books for you, and choose a book.

Using the Font Size Key you can navigate to the Read To Me feature and turn it on. I’d think that with a bit of practice you can get to the point where you can play around with the Menus a little bit.

If you have low vision - the Kindle 2 works really well. There are 6 font sizes, which correspond approximately to the following Microsoft Word standard font sizes:
1 = 7pt
2 = 9pt
3 = 11 pt
4 = 14 pt
5 = 17 pt
6 = 20 pt

And you can read Kindle 2 in any of these. Also, the eInk screen is much easier to read than computer screens. And of course you have the Read To Me feature to be able to have any book, newspaper, or any document at all read to you.

Q3: What range of books are available for Kindle 2?
A3: There are 225,000+ books, blogs, newspapers, and magazines available.
Books – I’d say approximately 200,000.
Blogs – Over a thousand.
Newspapers – 24 or so.
Magazines – around 20.
Also you can load your own documents provided you’ve converted them into Kindle format. The first two methods described here work for convertible formats like PDF, HTML, DOC document formats. Kindle 2 supports TXT, unprotected MOBI, Audible AudioBooks, mp3, and Amazon’s own AZW formats natively.

Q4: Where can I get my hands on a Kindle 2?
A4: There’s something called ‘See a Kindle in Your City’ at Amazon where you can find a Kindle 2 owner in your city and request them to let you try out their Kindle 2.

Q5: Can I play around with Kindle 2 at a store?
A5: No, unfortunately Kindle 2 isn’t sold at any stores.

Q6: At $359, Kindle 2 is too expensive – I can’t afford it. Can i get it cheaper?
A6: Well, I’m not aware of any way to get it cheaper. I do know that since books are cheaper for the Kindle 2, that might offset some of the cost of the Kindle 2 down the line.

Q7: Where can I buy a Kindle 2? What If I don’t like it?
A7: You can buy a Kindle 2 at Amazon. There’s a 30 day return policy – So you could return it if it doesn’t work for you. Note that the 30 days is from shipped date (as far as I understand).

Q8: When is Amazon going to make the Kindle more accessible?
A8: No idea. I haven’t heard any plans and requesting Amazon directly would be your best bet.

Q9: What if I’m color-blind?
A9: Kindle 2 only has 16 shades of gray and no colours – so that shouldn’t be a problem.

Leave your questions, and I’ll answer to the best of my abilities.

27 Responses

  1. I pre-ordered my Kindle 2.0 and it seems to have shipped, and this is one of the things I am very interested in looking into in detail. I work with clients who are blind or visually impaired and plan to bring it into work and see what others around the office think, perhaps try it out with a few clients and in conjunction with lighting our clients commonly use (to test contrast under different lighting condictions). It might have a limited audience right now, but it seems it could be very useful for that audience. If Amazon could expand on what they have introduced for the student version f the Kindle, I think it would go a long way towards bringing in schools that care about accessibility.

    If you would be inetrested in the results contact me and we can talk this some more.

    • Am very interested. Have a blind mom, whom I have been providing with audio books, if this will work with a little help from a seeing person, there’s a huge potential supply of books instead of having to ship them down (She lives outside the US).

      Looking forward to hearing from you

    • I have a 7 year old boy with Albinisim. He has very low vision and loves to read. He started reading simple chapter books like the Magic Tree House series. Do you think he can find kids books on kindle 2? And would he be able to read the font size. He loves to read in his bed, but not all books are in large print.

  2. Hi,

    Great info. I have low vision and am interested in knowing if the Kindle 2 offers the following:
    1) ability to heighten contrast
    2) Font selections, inlcuding bold
    3) Ability to alter background and font colors, for example inverse settings, yellow on black, etc,
    Thanks!

  3. Natalie,
    the Kindle 2 doesn’t have the ability to heighten contrast as far as I understand. However you should look at the eInk screen video on the Kindle 2 product page at Amazon and see if that works for you.

    You can change font. However there isn’t any Bold option.

    And there’s no ability to alter background and font colors as the kindle 2 has only 16 levels of grayscale and no color.
    no inverse settings either.

  4. My son who is low vision would love it – but he would need the option of white letters on a black background. large font is a help, though…

  5. A friend of mine with poor vision just got the Kindle2. I have not seen it. She says she can adjust the font size to where it is good enough for her to read, but can’t figure out how to change the 16 shades of gray. Could you help? I am unable to go to her to help b/c I am sick and homebound but am trying to help her be able to read. She does have a friend that could help with some instruction. Thanks in advance for your help. Stacy

    • Stacy – I don’t know if it’s possible to change the 16 shades of gray. I think it’s just the colors that come with the Kindle 2 and you can’t change them. Perhaps if you could have her explain exactly what she means.

      • I have this same question about the “shades of gray”. Specifically, I want more contrast between the screen color and the text color — I’d like to be able to “lighten” the gray of the screen. After a bunch of research, this doesn’t seem possible. If that’s the case, Amazon should adjust their marketing copy. “16 shades of gray” sure make it sound like you can have your pick of the 16 to me …

  6. I wonder what the voice is like. Is it that robotic synthesized voice or more natural which is a lot easier to listen to.

  7. The TTS feature lacks variable speed control, which may TTS users rely on. Listening at the ‘normal’ rate is way to slow if you listen for any length of time.

  8. I have not had a chance to see a Kindle 2 yet. From the all the reviews and images I have seen, the only options for the TTS are male or female voice. Am I wrong?

  9. @switch11 thanks for the FYI. Variable speed tts ts a key accessibility feature. I blog on Ccessibility @ http://www.timobrienphotos.com and am waiting eagerly to review that new Kindle.

  10. I have low vision. I have a new Kindle 2. The Kindle 2 will not be usable for all people with low vision.

    It is not high contrast. The display is grey on lighter grey.

    The largest font size is not all that large.

    St the next-to-largest font size I get four to five words per line.

    Text-to-speech is very good but not al all like an audiobook. The speed is somewhat variable.

    I need a magnifier to even find the keys on the keyboard.

    That said, I can read longer and without the pain I get when using a computer or trying to read even a large print book.

    I highly recommend that anyone with low vision considering a Kindle 2 make an effort to try one first. This is not going to work if you rely on reverse print color or other high contrast.

    Not all books will be accessible via the text-to-speech,and there is no speech for menus or for buying books.

    Stella

    • thanks a lot for your comment Stella. i’m going to highlight this in the main post.

    • I wish someone would invent a magnifying glass sheet that you could overlay across the screen to magnify the whole page. It would need something to hold it out from the screen an inch or so in order for the magnification to work plus you would need thumb room to turn the pages.

  11. [...] Please read this – Kindle FAQ for Low Vision Readers [...]

  12. [...] for a lot of low vision people and might work for some blind people. Read my Kindle FAQ for the blind for [...]

  13. [...] Have been writing about this for a while – Here’s a Kindle FAQ for vision impaired and blind readers. [...]

  14. How do I get my brand-new Kindle 3 powered up again? I haven’t used it for 3 days. Did the battery run out already? How often does it need recharging?
    Should I turn it off when I’m not going to be using it? How do I turn it off?

    • It’s a good idea to turn off the wireless when you aren’t using it.

      Battery life is supposed to be 10 to 14 days with wireless on and a month with wireless off. If you’ve added a lot of books then it does indexing of books and uses up a lot more power than usual.

      What do you mean by powered up? What’s showing on the screen.

  15. if you have a book that’s 100 pages and a 9 font size
    when you increase the font size, will the number of pages be converted so that you may end up with 120 pages
    or
    do you still see 100 pages but you have to scroll up and down, side to side, to view each page

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