For years, blind and visually impaired people who wanted to use a Kindle were left with a lot of frustration and even hassle. Amazon released their Kindle readers with only the barest of text to speech. Amazon did make their apps on iOS and Android accessible but only after significant push back from the visually impaired community. That, however, looks like it’s going to change. Recently, Amazon has announced, publically, that they are bringing VoiceView to their Kindle e-readers, starting with Kindle Paperwhite, so that visually impaired customers can enjoy reading on Kindle devices.
Peter Korn, Accessibility Architect at Amazon, published a blog post that outlines the many features coming to new, and, some old, Kindle devices to make them easier to use for people who are blind and or visually impaired. “While developing VoiceView for Fire tablets, we were also working on bringing VoiceView to our Kindle e-readers.” He writes. “VoiceView for Kindle, which uses Amazon’s natural language text-to-speech voices (formerly known as IVONA) lets visually impaired customers read millions of Kindle books and navigate the Kindle Paperwhite via speech feedback. Like VoiceView on our Fire tablets, VoiceView for Kindle supports linear and touch navigation, and the same broad range of speech feedback rates and earcons.”
To use the new screen reader, Amazon encourages you to purchase their Kindle audio adapter, which is a USB dongle that will allow you to hook up a headset or external speakers to your Kindle. Is it required? Yes it is, especially for the older models. In fact, starting with the Paperwhite, Amazon is offering blind versions of their older Kindle products. For now, the Paperwhite is the only Kindle that has a blind bundle, as I like to call it. The Kindle Paperwhite Blind and Visually Impaired Readers Bundle – Includes Kindle Paperwhite with Wi-Fi and Special Offers, Kindle Audio Adapter, and $19.99 Account Credit.
Starting from the Paperwhite, Open dyslexic has been added to the font choices. Amazon says that you can change the text size, line spacing, and change the margins, and formatting of text, but it’s unclear if users can change the contrast. That, possibly, may be an option in the near future.
That’s not all, however. The newer Kindle models, starting from Voyage, also include a feature called Word Wise, which makes it easier to quickly provide definitions to words by having the definition automatically appear above difficult words so customers can keep reading with fewer interruptions. There’s also Immersion Reading, available on Fire tablets as well as iOS and Android. It gives customers the option to read and listen to books simultaneously with real-time text highlighting. Customers can access this feature by adding professional Audible narration with the Whyspersync option.
Accessibility is new for Amazon. They are getting their feet wet in terms of making products accessible to the blind. As Korn puts it in his blog, “For the accessibility team, it’s still day one at Amazon. We have so much more planned, and the whole team is looking forward to the journey ahead.”
We are too, Korn. Count on it.
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