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April 21, 2011

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.

Posted by Kelly at April 21, 2011 1:47 PM

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Comments

I agree. I wrote a long letter to the Amazon accessibility feedback explaining these and other shortcomings of the Kindle app. Now iBooks on the iPhone and iPod Touch is so wonderful. Fully accessible. Why could not the Kindle app have been the same both for iPhone and PC? Note that Stanza is also quite accessible on the PC and iPhone.

Posted by: Deborah Armstrong at May 10, 2011 3:04 PM

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