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:
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:
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:
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
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
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
“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.
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