Accessibility added to Kindle Fire as blind group plans protest

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Wednesday, 12 December 2012 14:54pm

Amazon has announced it will add accessibility features to its Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD tablets, increasing access to content on the tablets for blind and vision impaired users. This comes after the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) in the US announced it would stage a protest against Amazon's plan to push the use of its Kindle devices and eBooks at schools.

Running on a version of Google's Android operating system, the Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD (both 7 and 8.9) tablets will include text-to-speech technology, a voice guide, and the ability to change text size and colour. These accessibility features will be available on the tablets in early 2013.

The tablets allow users to access content on Amazon such as music, games, apps, magazines and eBooks, as well as browse the web through a WiFi connection. Kindle Fire uses standard definition while Kindle Fire HD uses high definition.

The accessibility features that will be added to Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD 7 and 8.9 include:

  • Text-to-speech: This feature allows text content to be read by a synthesised voice, allowing blind or vision impaired users to access this information.
  • Voice Guide: The Voice Guide is a screen reader for Kindle devices which announces actions on the screen. For example, if an eBook is selected to be opened, this information is announced as "Hunger Games. Book opened."
  • Adjust text size: Users can adjust the font and text size to suit the user's needs.
  • Adjust text colour: Users can change the colour of the text so that it is easier to read, in case they have vision impairment or are colour blind.

These accessibility features are only available on Kindle Fire. Other Kindle models feature adjustable text colour and size, however no text-to-speech feature is included. 

In Australia, the availability of Kindle Fire, Kindle Fire HD 7 and Kindle Fire HD 8.9 is limited to a few retailers and some Amazon content remains restricted. Publishers can also opt to 'block' some of their eBooks from being accessed by text-to-speech technology. This means that blind users aren’t able access Kindle eBooks on another eReader or device such as the iPad, as the dedicated screen reader or text-to-voice technology is not supported by the eBook. Kindle eBooks are also unable to be displayed on Braille devices.

Amazon is currently promoting its Kindle eReader and eBooks for use in schools. However, the NFB claims on its website that the Kindle devices and Amazon eBooks remain inaccessible. "The problem with all of these plans is that neither the Kindle devices nor the book files used in conjunction with them are accessible to students who are blind or who have other print disabilities."

The NFB plans to protest against Amazon’s school initiative on December 12 outside the Amazon Headquarters in Seattle, Washington.

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