Text-to-speech comes to the Paperwhite

Text-to-speech comes to the Paperwhite

Regular readers know that text-to-speech is an important issue to me.

TTS is software which reads a book out loud to you. It’s a way to access the text, like increasing the text size.

It is not, by the way, a computer generated “robot” voice. A human being reads…it’s just that they aren’t reading the book you are reading. 🙂 The software then assembles what they have read (which might involve individual sounds, bu often does entire phrases, which can give it intonation) to match your book. I interviewed September Day, the voice to which I listen on my now discontinued Kindle Fire HD7:

An ILMK interview with September Day, the voice of the Kindle Fire HD

about the process, and I thought that was one of my better posts.

I do listen to TTS: typically, for hours a week in the car.

It’s converted driving time from, as I like to say, “wasted non-reading time”. 😉

That’s not why the issue matters to me, though. While I have been listening to TTS since it came to the Kindle with the Kindle 2, it’s more a matter of fairness to me. I’ve written about the issue, particularly in this piece from about five and a half years ago:

The Disabled Deserve to Read

I actually consciously try not to write about it too much, just because I like the blog to be eclectic, and not to focus on anything too much. Here’s the category on ILMK:

Text to speech

Many people have expressed concern that Amazon’s more recent EBRs (E-Book Readers…not tablets) have not had TTS. To be clear, it’s because they haven’t had audio at all…no TTS, no music, no audiobooks. Presumably, that might be to reduce the size (including weight) of the device (even a headphone jack takes up room), and maybe to increase battery charge use.

When I listen to TTS now, I am commonly doing it on the Kindle Fire. Our

Amazon Echo (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

also does TTS, although I haven’t used it for that much.

If a tablet can read TTS, why care about it on an EBR?

Well, EBRs have much longer battery charge life, even when using TTS, I believe. A device may also be shared between someone with a print disability and someone without one. Some people also can sight read some things (large graphs and images, perhaps), but use TTS for others.

So, some customers definitely want TTS for EBRs.

Amazon has come up with a solution!

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 (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

Not surprisingly, it requires another piece of hardware (bundled at the above link), and it’s a pretty big dongle…not elegant working.

Still, this is an important innovation!

There are some key things to know:

  • This audio adapter needs to be used with a special EBR…it won’t work with your existing Paperwhite
  • You additionally need headphones or a speaker: that’s not included
  • It does more than just read TTS: it includes touch navigation abilities
  • It will not enable music or audiobooks
  • It’s currently for the Paperwhite, but should be coming to other contemporary models

I’ve asked Amazon two questions…I’m hoping they respond today, and after I hear something, I’ll update this post.

One is that they consistently say this is for people with print disabilities. That’s similar to

Flash! Kindle for PC with Accessibility Plugin makes all books TTS enabled for the print disabled

which works on PCs.

Why does that matter?

The law treats making text available to people with print disabilities different from making it available to the general public.

The Chafee Amendment said that certain groups could make accessible versions of books available to people with print disabilities without first getting permission from the rightsholders.

We can see that with


They say

“In order for you to become a Bookshare® member, an expert must confirm that you have a print disability that prevents you from reading traditional print materials. Anyone in the world with a qualifying print disability may join Bookshare.”

Now, my strong assumption here is that Amazon is not going to require any sort of certification to order this device, but I’ve asked them, just to be sure.

My other question for them has to do with when publishers choose to block text-to-speech access in a book.

Some of them do that, at least with some titles, although I’m sure it is a lot less than it used to be.

To be clear, they have to take an action, actually insert code into the file to block the access. If a publisher does nothing, TTS works with the book. That’s why you can use it on personal documents…which I also do.

I always would have preferred if Amazon indicated whether TTS was “blocked” or not on a book’s Amazon product page, rather than whether it is “enabled” or not, but I suspect this was a compromise with the publishers. The TTS can’t access the text (at least, the current software can’t) if it is part of an illustration: in a graphic novel or children’s illustrated book, or example. That could be an argument for saying “enabled”, but I don’t really buy it. 🙂

It’s possible this device works even if TTS has been blocked. That might seem odd, but that is the case with the Kindle for PC plug-in.

That is why certification of the print disability hypothetically would matter.

Publishers do have to have a version of their e-books which is accessible to those with print disabilities.

It isn’t that every version of the e-book has to be accessible…which is why they can block TTS in a Kindle store book, as long as a version of the book is accessible to those with print disabilities. They do not have to make one with TTS available to the general public.

Since the publishers don’t appear to have made that an issue with the plug-in, I’m guessing it won’t be an issue here.

I think I will hear that you don’t need to certify a print disability, and that it will work with e-books with TTS blocked, but we’ll see what they say. I wouldn’t personally use the device to get around the block: I think the block is legal (although highly ill-advised), and I don’t need it. For people with print disabilities, though, it is legal for them to get around the block, so it would be fine for them.

While Amazon and the disabled community have had some issues (the large screen Kindle DX may have failed in the market in part because of objections to it being used in colleges, lodged in part by a print disabled advocacy group, and for a while, there were concerns about closed captioning in videos…something about which Amazon is very explicit in their new on demand video program), they have also featured information about their accessibility features prominently.

Overall, kudos to Amazon for this solution. I’d still like to see TTS return to EBRs without a dongle and for the general public, but I appreciate the effort which went into this development. I also think we may see it in another device, like a wearable, but that’s not the same as an accessibility question.

While I had already been planning to write about this, I want to thank reader Elaine Jordan for a heads-up on an article about it. I always appreciate links to interesting articles, and interactions with my readers help to make this blog better.

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

*When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :)  This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

14 Responses to “Text-to-speech comes to the Paperwhite”

  1. destryelaine Says:

    Thank you for your in depth article
    As my eyesight worsens, tts is becoming more and more important to me.
    I am very disappointed that the dingle will not work on current paperwhites

    But I am pleased that my Dot, next to my bed, works great when I cannot see to read, but want to. I do most of my reading in my bedroom, but if I do any in the living room, I use my Alexa

    I do wish they would add the skill to Alexa of STT, or note taking, and then the ability to take the note and cut and paste in an email, document or text
    Thanks for clarification of this. Maybe for my next kindle……..

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, destryelaine!

      I’ll have to go back and look at what I said, but current Paperwhites are the devices with which it works…

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Sorry, you are absolutely right…I responded too quickly. It will not work on a Paperwhite that was not bought prepared for this. It is that basic model, but it is a different “flavor”. I wrote it correctly in the post.

      I’m not sure what is different, and how hard it would be to retrofit them.

  2. Zebras Says:


    I’m not sure it works on current paperwhites, as they are not selling the dongle separately, maybe this needs a different version of the software? It would be wrong of them to not offer the dongle separately if it would operate with current paperwhites. Visually disabled people should not have to buy another device, if they or a family member already own one.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Zebras!

      I’ve got that question out to Amazon now. 🙂 I tried to buy the dongle separately from Amazon (they mention a price for it, they have a name for it), and could neither find it nor break it from the bundle after putting the latter in my cart (even though it tells me it is two items). I’ll let you know…

  3. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I like that you have 8 choices in reading speed. I sometimes use text to speech to turn pages when my hands are tired. I can’t tell from the description if the reader will have to turn the pages or if the Kindle will do it automatically with this external doohickey! It’s too bad that a wi-fi connection is required. Not everybody has access to wi-fi.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      I’m hoping to buy just the dongle from Amazon to test it with my Paperwhite…I’ve asked them about doing that.

  4. Tom Semple Says:

    This is not TTS in the form we’ve seen it on Fire and Kindle, rather it is a screen reader that uses TTS technology as a key component. When VoiceView is enabled, you lose access to a number of features, for example, highlights, notes, sharing, Kindle Store, Goodreads. And the way you navigate the device completely changes.

    As an Accessibility feature, VoiceView does not pay any attention to publisher TTS restrictions. This is also true with VoiceView on Fire, and when system level Accessibility features are enabled on iOS, MacOS, and Android. Amazon has been very consistent in taking this approach. Only ‘TTS’ (reading out text outside the context of accessibility) is blocked, with Kindle and Fire devices that have that feature. I’ve verified this to be the case on my Paperwhite (using off the shelf parts I bought from Fry’s last night – you don’t need to get Amazon’s audio adapter).

    VoiceView also works on the Voyage and Oasis, with the latest updates. The voice data itself (needed for Voyage) is available as a downloadable update from Amazon, but it has not been officially rolled out or announced yet.

    Ivona requires 512MB RAM (or rather 256KB is not sufficient), and so only the current Paperwhite, Oasis, and Voyage satisfy this hardware requirement. We’ll look to the replacement for Kindle (7th generation), code-named ‘woody’, to rectify this in the Kindle lineup.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Tom!

      Hm…Amazon is telling me this: “Any books that are compatible with text-to-speech services will be available for listening via VoiceView.” Of course, that doesn’t explicitly say it won’t work with ones that aren’t, but I have been making it clear that is my question. I’m hoping to buy the dongle from Amazon separately so I can test it with my Paperwhite.

      • Tom Semple Says:

        The book I tested VoiceView with was ‘The Elegant Universe’ by Brian Greene, which has TTS ‘not enabled’ and will not play with TTS on my Fire HD6. With VoiceView turned on on my Paperwhite (or Fire), the respective devices will read out the text.

        What Amazon is telling you is certainly true and as expected, but not complete. I have not tried VoiceView with PDF documents or Print Replica format but I suspect it will work (though it will probably also read out headers and footers for each page that hss them).

        You don’t need Amazon’s dongle, off the shelf parts will work, in fact there are reasons to prefer something with separate cable and audio adapter (one being this solution costs less). For example, I am also planning to supplement my 2 piece rig with an inline USB switch ($1.99 on amazon.com) so I can turn VoiceView on and off that way, which I think will afford additional convenience (rather than having to physically connect and disconnect the cable, or toggle the VoiceView on/off software setting).

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Tom!

        That sounds good!

        I want to test it with Amazon’s adapter for the same reason I bought a Fire Phone and have never rooted a Kindle…I want to be able to understand and write about what my readers might experience.

  5. Lou Anne Leonard Says:

    This is such great news! Did you know that text to speech also now works with Kindle app for iPads and iPhones using combination of their native accessibility Voice Over, along with Amazon’s SoundView (or somehing like that) with no need for any plug-ins? I tried it last night, works fine!

    • Tom Semple Says:

      Amazon has supported VoiceOver features on iOS for several years. But you are probably thinking of a relatively new iOS VoiceOver feature called Speak Screen that debuted with iOS8. This is more akin to text-to-speech and can be enabled without enabling the more extensive capabilities of VoiceOver. Amazon supported it as soon as it shipped.

      Meanwhile apps like Kobo or Nook are still not accessible in any meaningful sense.

  6. Ann Von Hagel Says:

    Based on comments on kboards.com, (http://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,235802.0.html) the dongle, if bought alone, actually DOES WORK on the currently-for-sale PW — the PW3.

    Further, it works with the Voyage and Oasis.

    The dongle by itself costs $20 but you can make one yourself by getting a male micro USB to female USB cable and a USB sound adapter. Together, on Amazon they cost about $13.

    You also need headphones or a speaker to plug into the sound adapter, but the all-in-one dongle doesn’t come with that either.

    It’s ‘Voice View’ and the controls are different than for regular use of the kindle and can take some getting used to if you are not familiar. But I believe they’re fairly standard gestures for ‘visually impaired’ control so anyone who is used to them shouldn’t have any issues.

    When you make the connection it switches to Voice View right away. There’s a short tutorial that is available that explains the gestures. Certain other functions of the kindle don’t work but the main things do, though they may take more taps than usual. You can turn off and leave the dongle attached, or unplug the dongle and go back to normal mode.

    Video demo of Voice View at work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRGwIMHDVqw

    Video of how to make your own dongle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z130hXddUOE


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