An Update on Amazon Kindle Accessibility

In my blog post on libraries, OverDrive and Amazon, I mentioned trying the Kindle reading apps on various platforms and not having success. I’ve now learned that Amazon offers a Windows version of the Kindle app that does support some level of accessibility.

Amazon’s main Kindle for PC page makes no reference to this accessible option so I’m not sure how customers are supposed to know about it. I’ll ignore the absolute failure of web accessibility on Amazon’s page listing other free Kindle apps for now except to say if you can solve the puzzle and find “iphone” in the long string of gibberish of “ariel/KCP-NEW-right-nav-iphone-static._V196674716_” you could determine Amazon offers a Kindle app for the iPhone. This is just one example but I find no reference to this accessible Kindle app on the full apps page either.

You can find info on the accessible Kindle for PC at http://www.amazon.com/kindle/accessibility. With this app installed, a screen reader is used to speak application controls, such as buttons, book titles and such. A built-in speech synthesizer is used to read the book text. According to the web page, there are no restrictions on this version of the Kindle app reading books with synthetic speech. I believe other Kindle apps and the physical Kindle have this ability restricted in some cases based on publisher or author selections about who has the rights to audio presentation of a book. According to Amazon’s web pages, this accessible Kindle app is restricted to U.S. customers.

Having tried the accessible Kindle app, I still believe libraries should demand more complete accessibility from Amazon and OverDrive before going forward with any programs around purchasing Kindle books for library use. This app only addresses one platform and fails to meet what I’d consider basic expectations to consider the app offering what’s needed from an accessible reading application, especially one that is going to replace a full screen reader when it comes to the actual book text and take responsibility for content presentation.

First off there appears to be no support for braille. This is common for full screen readers when the user has a braille display connected to the computer. Just as individuals who read the printed word do not necessarily want a book read aloud, people who use screen readers want to have that same choice to read the book text directly. Braille permits this opportunity.

Second, the text reading commands detailed in the application shortcuts list are very limited. The user is given the ability to read only at the sentence level, advance to the next or previous sentence, start reading at the beginning of the page, or stop and start reading at the current location. This is simply not enough detail to read text effectively. Commands for reading in much greater detail, such as character by character, word by word and more are necessary. This level of reading ability is a basic for any full screen reader and again Amazon has opted for an approach where the user’s screen reader is not given direct access to the book text. Imagine wanting to know how to spell a favorite character’s name or other information from a book you are reading. This is why full screen readers have this level of text reading functionality.

While Amazon, at least on the Windows platform, was a bit further along in thinking about accessibility than I was aware of, in my view this app still falls short of the basic bar for what’s needed to be considered accessible. I have not even addressed other features of the main Kindle app on Windows, such as a dictionary, that it seems are not supported in this accessible version.

Libraries, Kindle Book Lending and Accessibility: What a Mystery

Amazon and OverDrive both made announcements today talking about library users being able to borrow Kindle eBooks for reading on the multitude of Kindle platforms Amazon has out in the marketplace. The Amazon press release says in part:

 

Amazon today announced Kindle Library Lending, a new feature launching later this year that will allow Kindle customers to borrow Kindle books from over 11,000 libraries in the United States. Kindle Library Lending will be available for all generations of Kindle devices and free Kindle reading apps.

 

OverDrive’s release goes into a bit more detail with the gist being that things will work like other OverDrive experiences with the Kindle being a new platform for library patrons. There’s not a lot of detail out yet though as you can expect.

 

As an avid book reader, supporter of public libraries and fan of technology, these announcements were met with great interest by me today. I’m left to think accessibility here is a big mystery though that I’m hoping won’t turn into a tearjerker.

 

Supposedly the latest versions of the physical Kindle support enough accessibility that people who are blind can use the devices with complete independence. I’ve not verified this directly. That said, I have tried the free Kindle reading apps on multiple platforms and so far none have worked with the screen reading solutions on those platforms. Blog readers can feel free to correct me on this point. I’d love to be uninformed or wrong in this case. As it stands now, I’m left to wonder what Amazon, OverDrive or the public libraries intending to use this solution are going to do about accessibility.

 

At least one library took a stand saying they’d quit investing in an inaccessible eBook platform when Adobe’s Digital Editions had accessibility issues. Will libraries stand up here and tell Amazon and OverDrive, “Figure out the accessibility and then talk to us about spending public tax dollars?” Or will public money be spent without considering accessibility implications yet again?

 

Some may contend libraries spend millions of dollars already on print books that have the same accessibility challenges. I argue that the situation is different here because it has been shown numerous times that software can be made accessible if the right attention and effort is put forth. As we use more electronic solutions, especially when public money is being spent, I believe we have obligations to maximize accessibility with that spending. So, Amazon, OverDrive and public libraries, it is time now to do the right thing and figure out accessibility. Library patrons, I urge you to make your wishes known and ask your library the accessibility questions now before any contracts are signed. You can bet Amazon and OverDrive will be giving the hard sell for these programs.

University of Wisconsin Badger Athletics Continues Disappointing Tradition of Ignoring Web Accessibility

Blog readers may recall my earlier writing about struggles with the online media experiences for streaming Badger athletic events. It is disappointing to this Badger alum and fan to once again have to point out that Wisconsin Athletics seems to show little care for web accessibility.

 

A posting from the Wisconsin Athletics (UWBadgersdotcom) twitter account earlier today said, “A @BadgerFootball game is better with family & friends. Check out great group tix packages that include free concessions. http://ow.ly/4zwVr.”

 

Well I’m always looking for good reasons to visit Wisconsin and the idea of a family outing at a Badger football game later this year captivated me. Sadly, following the link in this tweet leads to http://wisconsinfootball2011.com/, a web site that was clearly created with no attention to accessibility.

 

Using the latest release of multiple screen readers for Windows, you experience a web site that makes extensive use of Adobe’s Flash. You can read some buttons with labels including one titled Group Tickets. Presumably this is the one I’d want. Activating any of the buttons, including the previously mentioned Group Tickets button, fails to change the content that a screen reader reads from comments about the season this fall from head football coach Bret Belema. In addition, there are multiple buttons in this Flash content that have no labels for accessibility purposes.

 

It is common for Bielema to end interviews as he does in the statement on this web site with the phrase, “On, Wisconsin!”

 

Sadly I must add to this and say, “Shame on Wisconsin!” Shame on the university for ignoring both the legal and ethical responsibilities you have to take accessibility, including that for the web, seriously. This is not the first instance of such behavior. One can only hope it will be the last and that the university will institute policies and follow the same to ensure that accessibility is taken seriously.