Kindle, Blind Readers – Kindle 3 for Blind Readers

Finally, the Kindle 3 has delivered on Amazon’s promise of making the Kindle accessible for blind readers. The NFB has released a statement commending Amazon for making Kindle 3 accessible to blind readers – That’s perhaps the surest sign that Kindle for Blind Readers is now a reality.

Let’s go through the various Kindle 3 features that make it good for blind and low vision readers. This post focuses mostly on Kindle 3’s accessibility features for blind readers.

Kindle 3 for Blind Readers

The Kindle 3 is an electronic book reader that lets users read books or listen to books. With the Kindle 3 Amazon has added features that make Kindle accessible for blind readers and low vision readers.

The critical features that make Kindle 3 a good choice for blind readers are –

  1. Text to Speech feature called Read to Me – This reads out books to you unless disabled by Publishers. There is a case going on to force Publishers to enable this on every book. You can also have all your personal documents read to you – that includes text files. PDFs cannot yet be read out. Text to Speech can be turned on or off by pressing the Aa Font key and then pressing ‘turn on’ next to Text-to-Speech or by pressing Shift and SYM at the same time.  
  2. Accessible Menus feature called Voice Guide – Your Kindle 3 will read out Menus to you, it’ll read out the books listed on your Kindle 3 home page, and it’ll read out book descriptions. Note that this is turned off by default and it can be turned on in the Settings Page (On Home Page press Menu, then Choose Settings, and you’ll reach the Settings Page).
  3. Super Size Fonts – Kindle 3 has 8 font sizes with the two largest ones of particular interest to blind and low vision readers as they correspond to font sizes 30 and 40 respectively.

    The Font Sizes correspond roughly to these Microsoft Word standard font sizes –

    1 = 7pt
    2 = 9pt
    3 = 11 pt
    4 = 14 pt
    5 = 17 pt
    6 = 20 pt

    Supersize Fonts:
    7 = 30 pt
    8 = 40 pt 

  4. High Contrast eInk Pearl Screen – There were concerns last year that the Kindle 2’s screen does not have enough contrast for low vision readers. The Kindle 3 screen has 50% better contrast and choosing the graphite Kindle 3 ensures the contrast is brought out more.  

Those are the four main features that make the new Kindle 3 a good choice for blind readers.

General Kindle 3 Features that Blind Kindle 3 owners will benefit from

There are a lot of Kindle 3 features you will like –

  1. Kindle 3 is only 8.7 ounces and even one-handed reading won’t tire your hands. No more holding heavy books.
  2. It’s very compact and easy to hold and carry. There’s also a soft textured back for a better grip.
  3. There’s a headphone jack so you can listen to books even in crowded or noisy surroundings. 
  4. Battery Life is up to a month when wireless is off and 10 days with wireless on. 
  5. Kindle Store has 630,000 books – You aren’t restricted to a small selection of large print editions or braille editions.
  6. Low Book Prices – 510,000 out of those 630,000 books are below $9.99.
  7. There is Text to Speech for any personal document you load (after conversion to Kindle format) and Kindle 3 supports it for text files too (though not for PDF files).
  8. You can read your books across Kindle 3, PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, and Android. As far as my understanding goes iPhone and iPad have an accessibility feature calledVoiceOver and there is good accessibility software (separate from Kindle for PC app) available for the PC.
  9. Family Sharing – You can link multiple Kindles to 1 account and share books. A book can, however, only be download to 5-6 different devices (Kindles, iPhones, etc. – after downloading it to a total of 5-6 devices you can’t download it to more devices and have to call customer service).
  10. There is no computer required.

For a detailed list of Kindle 3 pros and cons please read my Kindle 3 Review.

There are a few other things that are worth knowing –

  • The Page turn buttons are on both sides and they are clearly divided/separate from the rest of the case. The Next Page button is longer and below the Previous Page button.
  • The Text to Speech voices are nothing like a real person reading a book. These are computer generated voices and are a little robot like.
  • The Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi will automatically re-connect to a WiFi network that you have connected to in the past unless you specifically indicate not to. This is convenient as you only have to log-in the first time.
  • There are nearly 400,000 accessible books at the Open Library. Click on the little book icon at the bottom left of each book cover. This is online and not Kindle 3 related.
  • The Kindle DX 2 has even larger font sizes than the Kindle 3. However, it doesn’t yet have the Voice Guide feature and is much more expensive ($379). In comparison, Kindle 3 is $189 and Kindle WiFi is $139.

Kindle for Blind Readers – The Obvious Usability Issues

Here are a few things that will be tricky for blind readers using the Kindle 3 –

  1. Starting and stopping Text to Speech. The easiest way is to get a feel for the Shift and SYM buttons – with a little practice you can get used to where they are. After that you can start and stop Text to Speech easily.  Shift is the left-most button on the bottom row and SYM is in the second from the bottom row and the 2nd button on the left of the 5-way controller. 
  2. Turning on Voice Guide. On the main Kindle home page you’ll have to press Menu, then choose Settings (it’s the 7th button on Kindle 2, not sure on Kindle 3), and on Settings Page turn on Voice Guide (not sure what it’s position on that page is).  
  3. Figuring out which books have Text to Speech enabled. Amazon now has a ‘Text to Speech:Enabled’ or ‘Text to Speech:Disabled’ field on the Amazon product page for each Kindle book. It’s right below the price.
  4. The keyboard doesn’t have any upraised alphabets or anything of that sort. You’ll have to memorize placement of each key. Also, the alphabets are tiny and not easy to see if you have low vision.
  5. Turning wireless on and off doesn’t have a dedicated button. You’ll have to go into the menu to do this – The good thing is it’s right at the top of every menu.
  6. Not sure if the WiFi will be easy to set-up. Have no idea if the Voice Guide includes the pages for setting up WiFi.  
  7. Figuring out battery life and the time is tough as they aren’t spoken out.

From my understanding of what Amazon has written about Kindle 3 accessibility it seems that blind kindle 3 owners should be able to browse the Kindle Store and buy books. However, please confirm this as Kindle Store accessibility isn’t specifically mentioned.

Kindle for Blind Readers – Further Improvements Amazon should consider

All the points listed in the previous section on Kindle usability for Blind Readers are obvious areas to tackle.  

Had written about making the Kindle blind accessible in December 2009 and a few of those suggestions still apply –

  1. Little bumps on the page turn, home, and menu buttons – make them different for different keys. This helps even normal readers. This would have to be in Kindle 3 and Kindle DX 2.
  2. Perhaps (since it’s a big change) a keyboard that has the alphabets carved into it – some way for people to feel through the keys.
  3. An audible time function.
  4. An audible status indicator for battery life and the wireless connection.
  5. More speed options in the Read To Me feature.
  6. Improved voices in the Read To Me feature – This might not happen as it would scare Publishers into disabling the feature

It’s worth noting that Amazon has included the most critical accessibility features in Kindle 3. These make the Kindle 3 an accessible eReader and as the NFB commending Kindle 3 shows it’s appreciated. These are just further suggestions to make Kindle even better for blind readers.

All said and done the Kindle 3 is the first eReader that delivers a cheap, powerful reading solution for blind readers. There’s a 30 day return period for you to ensure you like it or you can go to Target, try out a Kindle 3, and see if its accessible enough for you.

Kindle Blind Accessible in 2010 – Audible Menu, Supersize Font

August 1st update, 2010: The new Kindle 3 has Accessible Menus, it has Text to Speech, and the Kindle 2.5 upgrade had supersized fonts. These combine to make the Kindle 3 blind accessible and a great choice for blind and low vision readers.  

Amazon had promised audible menus a long time ago and that feature probably took a backstage to things like PDF Support. Now, thanks in part to the National Federation of the Blind’s hounding of the Kindle DX trials in universities, Amazon have announced that the Kindle and the Kindle DX will be made accessible to blind and low vision people by summer 2010.

There are two main features planned –

  1. The menu system will be made audible so blind and low vision people don’t have to struggle with it. Note that the menu screen cannot be resized at the moment so it was a hindrance even to low vision readers. 
  2.  There will be a new ‘super-size font’ – The current largest font on kindle 2 was around Microsoft Word 20 point size. Double of that sounds very promising.

Since the Kindle DX has an even larger largest font size and a larger screen (2.5 times larger) the super size font on the DX will be really, really big and ought to cover even vision impaired people who need more than 40 point size.  

Engadget talk about it and think it’s a dig at the Nook.

I think it’s Amazon learning from the shellacking they took at the hands of the NFB and having two universities pull out of the Kindle DX trials for the sake of political correctness.

Thoughts on a Kindle accessible for the blind and vision impaired

Have been writing about this for a while – Here’s a Kindle FAQ for vision impaired and blind readers and an article on Kindle, dyslexia, and reading disability.

  • It’s a good move by Amazon and it will help a ton of people and sell a lot more Kindles.
  • The menu navigation was perhaps the biggest stumbling block and adding an audible menu is a very good step.
  • There have been requests for larger font sizes and the super size font is also a killer feature.

Here are other kindle accessibility features that hopefully the Kindle team considers and adds (at least some of them) –

  1. Little bumps on the page turn, home, and menu buttons – make them different for different keys. This helps even normal readers. This would have to be in Kindle 3 and Kindle DX 2.
  2. Add on more than one supersize font – There’s a balance between readable font and how many words per page you like. Just one super-size font is a bit limited. 
  3. Perhaps (since it’s a big change) a keyboard that has the alphabets carved into it – not braille as that would be too extreme – however, some way for people to feel through the keys.
  4. An audible time function.
  5. An audible status indicator for battery life and the wireless connection.
  6. Audible store browsing in the Kindle Store.
  7. More speed options in the Read To Me feature.
  8. Improved voices in the Read To Me feature – This might not happen as it would scare Publishers into disabling the feature.

The Kindle has added a lot of features in 2009. It would have been nice if Amazon had managed to add accessible features too – However, late is better than never and making the Kindle blind accessible by summer of 2010 is still a very good move on Amazon’s part.