Before e readers and tablets came around, blind and visually impaired readers had to rely on braille, large-print, or audiobooks. Now, the visually impaired can use a Kindle or other e-reader or tablet to enlarge the font right in the screen. I can attest first-hand that reading a Kindle is much less tiresome on the eyes than reading print books.
That is definitely a huge step up from lugging large books around. No more bulky travel bags.
The font adjustments in the Kindle are very helpful for creating a less tiresome reading experience, not only for the visually impaired, but for people who don’t have any vision loss. That in turn enables us to read for as long as we want to. As long as time permits, of course.
The latest studies show that people who have central vision loss can benefit from reading on a tablet such as the iPad or Kindle Fire. The level of contrast between the text and background helps speed up the reader’s reading levels. The sharpness and clarity of the text on the background is important. On tablets, you can use either black on white, or white on black. There is also a more neutral setting that doesn’t create such sharp contrast. So, the added customization can fit the needs of more readers.
Overall, e readers have a lot of potential for opening up a world of reading and literacy for people who otherwise wouldn’t have that opportunity.
With that said, the technology still has a ways to go to meet the needs of all readers. Text-to-speech is currently a controversial service, and isn’t offered on some Kindles. Including audio menu navigation and the ability to read books via audio on the Kindle go a long way for those who can’t read print at all.
So I did a search on accessibility features for the Amazon Kindle, and found an Accessibility Plugin for Kindle for PC that includes text to speech, voice navigation, larger font sizes, high contrast modes, and more. It is compatible with screenreaders such as JAWS and NVDA.
I did an earlier post around this time last year on Kindle accessibility features that you might want to check out. It is amazing how much has changed over the course of a year. That includes both quality and price.
You can also visit the Accessibility Shortcuts page for a list of Kindle keyboard shortcuts. This makes navigation easier to use for those who can’t use the toggle button very well.
The Kindle device itself has made strides over the past couple of years to make it more accessible for people with visual impairments. Last year they introduced larger font sizes, which have been very helpful, and some books include an audio feature depending on whether the publisher allows it or not. The Kindle 3 has a much better display contrast between text and background than its successors.
As a partially sighted Kindle user, I have to say, the Kindle has drastically changed my reading experience. No more large, cumbersome books to hold right at my face. It is so light, portable, and much more comfortable to hold.
After reading my Kindle with a larger font size, I have a harder time switching back to regular books. My eyes get tired a lot quicker if I try to read the small print in a regular book. The text and background contrast is much greater on a Kindle as well.
For more about Kindle Accessibility, and other interesting accessibility news, visit the Accessibility and Technology Blog.
In regards to the lawsuit against Arizona State University, over the Kindle DX‘s inaccessibility for blind people, a quick search for braille eReaders brought up this prototype design.
Unfortunately, no such device is yet in production, but the basic technology already exists. Braille displays for blind computer users have been around for decades, and it’s only the prohibitive cost that has kept an eReader like this from being developed. As research continues, it can be expected that something like this prototype will one day exist.
A braille device that fell under the Kindle brand, or at the very least had support for the Kindle Store, would solve any problems surrounding the current suit against ASU. But even more important would be the larger effect a braille eReader would have. Unlike the purchase of a normal eReader, which essentially comes down to a consumer’s personal preference, a braille eReader would have near universal acceptance in the blind community. With braille, a refreshable eReader with a limitless digital library would have clear benefits over the limited supply of bulky paper braille books. If such a device could be developed at a reasonable price, the maker would not only stand to help the disable but also to make a huge profit.