Amazon has added more accessibility features for Kindle books

Amazon has added more accessibility features for Kindle books

One of the biggest advantages of e-books over p-books (paperbooks) is their relative ease of accessibility for people with print disabilities, and perhaps even more importantly, those with print challenges which do not rise to the level of a certifiable disability, or for people who haven’t gotten certified.

If someone has a print disability (a visual impairment is one of those, but other things can affect it…there are certifiable language processing issues which can also make it difficult to understand traditional printed text), and gets a medical professional to certify that, it opens up a lot more possibilities.

Regular readers of this blog (ILMK) know that I’ve written extensively about the issue of publishers blocking text-to-speech access, and in the course of that, I’ve done some research into the area.

For more detailed information, see this post from 2009:

The Disabled Deserve to Read

The key thing here is that something called the “Chafee Amendment” enables “authorized entities” to create accessible electronic versions of books without first obtaining permission from the rightsholders…but only to be made available to those with applicable disabilities, and that practically tends to mean people who have those certifications.

That certainly doesn’t mean that every tradpubbed (traditionally published) book is available to those with certifications, and they don’t need to be available when they are first published. If you do have a certification, check Bookshare.

However, there is a large group of people, including me, who may have some challenges. Mine are easily accommodated: $1 reading glasses will do it, or, on a Kindle, increasing the font size.

Amazon has made a lot of accommodations available in the ten years plus that the Kindle has been out. One of the most famous (and controversial things) was when text-to-speech (TTS) became available way back on the Kindle 2. That’s software that reads books out loud to you. I’ve used it for hours every week (in the car, typically) since then.

Publishers challenged it (and that always surprised me…there are reasons for it, but I certainly consume books more quickly because driving is no longer “wasted non-reading time”). 😉

Amazon first allowed them to block it selectively…the e-tailer didn’t really have a choice on that. As long as a version of the e-book is available to those with certifications, publishers are allowed to insert code to block TTS in other versions.

Later, audio was removed altogether from some Kindles, so TTS became unavailable on those devices. I switched to listening on my Fire tablet. That’s really significant: not every feature is available on every model or line of Amazon products…sometimes for technical reasons, sometimes for other reasons (such as cost).

Newer Kindles are being released with Bluetooth capability…so TTS is back.

That only one accessibility feature for Kindles and other devices on which you can read Kindle books, though. Amazon has an

Accessibility for Kindle help page (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

It was this

post by Peter Korn, “a Director, Accessibility at Amazon”

in Amazon’s dayone blog which alerted me to some of the most recent changes.

Here are some highlights:

  • ALT text was made available in 2017 on Kindle PC and Fire OS with VoiceView. What is it? I use it on this blog: it’s words that describe an image. For example, when I put in a graph, I put in ALT text which describes what the image shows
  • This one is technical enough that I’m going to quote a short excerpt from the blog post: “Customers can use the 2017.4 release of the popular open source NVDA screen reader to read math equations in Kindle e-books. NVDA is able to parse equations encoded in MathML, allowing customers to navigate within those math equations as well as review them via Nemeth math codes on a connected braille display. Publisher provided ALT text for math equations is also supported, and is available to blind and low vision customers using NVDA, as well as via the VoiceView screen reader on Fire Tablets. Already hundreds of Kindle e-Books are available with accessible math equations.”
  • The OpenDyslexic font was added to a wide variety of devices, including EBRs (E-Book Readers), iOS, Fire OS, Android and PC
  • On those same platforms, you can now adjust page margins, line spacing, and choose “ragged text rendering”…which is something readers have mentioned desiring on this blog
  • On the Kindle Oasis, iOS, Android, and Fire OS, you have font boldness options
  • On the Oasis, you can also choose a “Large Display” option, which increases the size of the “interface”…things like menus and such
  • Also on the Oasis, you do white text on a black background…and that will also affect the interface (again, like the menus)
  • They’ve also added more gestures for recent generations of (starting with the 4th). More detail on gestures is here: Guide to VoiceView Screen Reader for Fire Tablet help page (at AmazonSmile*)

I applaud Amazon’s efforts in this area. That doesn’t mean that every group which advocates for those with challenges approves of everything Amazon does…certainly not, but these are steps in the right direction.

By the way, I’ve talked about this with people many times, but I’m not sure I’ve discussed it much on this blog. The common wisdom is that, if a 19th Century adult was transported to today, they’d be astounded by the technology.

I don’t think that’s true, at least for people who were aware of what was happening (not young children, for example), in the 1880s and 1890s. At that point, many people were feeling like anything might happen in technology in the future. Technology is sometimes a part of the original Sherlock Holmes stories. In 1896, there were widespread reports of “airships”, which were beyond the technology of the day (but often what we would now call “steampunk”). These reports included interactions with “lone inventors” or secret consortiums. Dan Aykroyd,who is very knowledgeable about “weird” topics, made reference to that with the Coneheads. The obviously alien Beldar said, “Tell them we are from France”. That was one of the places people were told was the origin of the airships (France was a pioneer in aviation, especially lighter than air craft).

So, I don’t think e-books or SmartPhones would particularly shock them (Mark Twain’s agent apparently even considered something like e-books, as I wrote about in Flash! Did Mark Twain consider the e-book rights?).

What I do think would surprise them is how priorities and acceptances have changed. I think it would surprise them to see people with disabilities as integrated as they are in society and the workplace. I think how we spend our time (and with whom and what) and how the society spends its resources would be paradigm-busting for them…but not so much the technology involved.

That’s what I think…but what do you think? Do you use the accessibility features of e-books? Has that made a difference in whether or not you read p-books? Should Amazon be developing these sorts of features…and what else should they be doing in the field? What would shock a 19th Century time traveler the most? Feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.


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* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. 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.

6 Responses to “Amazon has added more accessibility features for Kindle books”

  1. Scott Calvin Says:

    In an era of suffragists, abolitionists, etc., I don’t think the kind of social changes you describe would be a shock.

    Instead, I’d think the biggest shock for many would be the lack of progress, or at least uneven progress, in many areas. The vicious and destructive wars of the 20th century, for example, was something most would not have expected. The push-back against science and the rise of fundamentalist sects. The increased difficulty, due to a whole variety of reasons, of building out dramatic large-scale physical infrastructure, such as marquee buildings, roads, and bridges.

    The nineteenth century believed deeply, for the most part, in progress and change. Ironically, it’s the obstacles to that kind of change that might surprise them the most.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks fr writing, Scott!

      Well, that’s an interesting point. Those movements were around, and the abolitionists had been successful by the time period I’m discussing. However, I still think that are priorities would be a surprise. For example, we go to a 17-acre dog park…I think that would be a surprise to most people in the 1880s and 1890s.

      However, I also really agree that the failure of some of the movements would have surprised them! I think they, for the large part, thought that a threshold to a brighter future had been crossed.

  2. Lesley O’Neil Says:

    Good for Amazon—thanks for the info, Bufo! I still like to read on my large original Kindle, so they may not apply. All of the newer units are smaller, but I can try the new things on my iPad Pro, which is about the same size as my large one.

    The downer of that is the backlight, of course. But I’ve a cataract in my right eye that won’t be taken out for a couple of months, so this temporarily one-eyed reader needs the large size! Maybe the sepia version will work for me, for now. Again, thanks!

  3. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I hope they find a way to add “Large Display” for Voyage. I love that there are now more font size options,but I still struggle to read the menus and the information in the Kindle Store. I’ve found the Amazon Ember font to be easiest on my eye muscles.
    I appreciate the addition of the “ragged margins” option but I have yet to find a book with full justification on which I was actually able to change it to left justification. However, at this point, most of the books I’ve purchased have the jagged right margin and blissfully not the huge gaping holes left by smooth margins on both sides. When I encounter one that isn’t, I first try downloading it to one of my ancient K3’s with outdated software version 3.3, for which jagged margins are the default. If the book is still fully justified in that version, I return it.
    I can no longer access the Kindle Store from the outdated Kindles, but I can still access my archives and download books from the cloud to them. I can still access the Kindle Store from the one K3 that I made the mistake of upgrading all the way to current, but for some reason, I can’t find a link to access the Kindle Daily Deal from the K3. For some reason, the Voyage from time to time gets stuck on an outdated Kindle Home Page and keeps showing the same set of Kindle Daily Deals long after they have expired. When that happens, I can’t access the KDD from the Voyage, either. Yes, I’ve tried restarting, and that doesn’t seem to help. It has persisted through several software updates. So has the weird message telling me it can’t sync content that I purchased online saying I loaded it from my computer (which I didn’t).

  4. Phink Says:

    What would shock a 19th century traveler the most would be our lifestyle. In America today even the poor more times than not are not starving. In the 18th century if you were poor than your daily routine was much more harsh than the average poor person today.

    They’d be shocked that even our middle class live like the wealthy did then, minus the servants. When I was a kid and my early teen years almost everyone I knew lived in a very average 3 bedroom home consisting of roughly 1,200 square feet. In Trumann, AR. in the 70’s it seemed this was everyone’s home I knew and only your Doctors, lawyers, the guy who owned the furniture store etc. had large homes. Now, it seems everyone has a 2,000+ square foot home. They might be what some would call ‘house poor’ but they appear to be living large.

    I still live in an 1,180 square foot home and it’s very nice but most would see nothing special about it. As a matter of fact, sadly, I know people I care deeply for that would feel as though their world was falling apart if they had to live in my squalor of a home.

    With the tiny house movement though it seems a lot of people are saying ‘no thank you’ to the big houses that line every town nowadays. It might be a fad but some look at my house as a giant adobe I guess.

  5. Man in the Middle Says:

    I’m glad text to speech is back on the Oasis 2, but find it enough of a hassle to actually use that I rarely do so. It still doesn’t work as easily as on my former Kindle keyboard.

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