Nickie Coby (puppybraille) wrote,
Nickie Coby

The Kindle and Accessibility

One of the most popular topics in the technology and reading circles I frequented in the last few months was the Kindle from Amazon. If you’re not sure what it is, I’ll post a list of background reading at the bottom of this post. Basically, it’s an e-book reading device for the sighted. It sounds like a cool tech toy, though now that it’s been out for a while, I am hearing more negative reviews of it. The thing is, I think as a group, those of us who are blind missed out on a great advocacy chance with this device. I’ve debated whether to write this post because I know it could come off as criticism or flaming, but I’ve decided that if I don’t say it, others may not either, and I’m curious to see if I’m off base here.

My first reaction to the Kindle was “so what? At least they can get any book they want in print. We have to wait months sometimes, if we even get the books at all.” And since I’ve used devices like the BrailleNote, Bookport and my love the Stream, I have a whole lot more access to books. So in that way, the balance was starting to equal out. The lack of reading material is improving due to services like the Library of Congress’s Talking and Braille book programs, Bookshare and services for all such as Audible. We are finally hitting a point where we’re getting access to lots of diverse reading opportunities. And when you consider blogs, online newspapers and RSS feeds, things are even better. Butt, the Kindle just recreated the power struggle we’ve always had with print books.

Think about it, these are electronic books. You can’t tell me, as we always heard “It just takes longer to make books in formats you can read.” These books are in electronic format, and given the ability to highlight and look up words, it doesn’t sound like the texts are in image format either. So, what they are is encrypted files which contain e-texts, similar to what we have been using as blind people ever since they became available. But, they’re locked into an inaccessible platform. I can’t use the Kindle because it doesn’t have a speech-enabled interface. I can’t buy the e-book from Amazon and read it on the Stream or my laptop with Window-Eyes or my BrailleNote because it’s a proprietary format which can only be used on an inaccessible device.

Yes, the Kindle does have the ability to enlarge text, from what I understand. But that doesn’t work for the large group of users for whom minimal enlargement isn’t an effective option.
I think there could, theoretically, be options available to Amazon if they want to start considering accessibility needs. They could make daisy copies available to those with a print disability. Any player which supports the new NLS talking book format could be authorized in a similar way. They could also make the books available in, say, an accessible PDF file, but I think that daisy is a whole lot more flexible and has, in many ways, revolutionized the book market for those of us who are blind.
That’s my main thought for ideal options now that the Kindle has been released and is inaccessible. My feeling is that this is a chance for the mainstream publishers to work with us further. We have much knowledge to offer them about making books in new formats work, and they have the technology, smarts and diversity of content to help widen our available reading material. Collaboration could potentially revolutionalize our reading opportunities.

I do have a few things to add, to give you some context to better what I’m saying, and just as importantly, what I’m not saying. First, I’m not saying that I blame anyone specifically. As blind people, we had no idea this was coming out until it did. And I don’t have any history on how Amazon has responded to accessibility requests in the past. What I am saying is that it’s unfortunate that we weren’t considered in the design of the Kindle or the distribution of reading material. And I’m also saying that we still have an opportunity: between Amazon and those who know about blindness technology, a lot of good could come of the Kindle.

To Kindle or Not to Kindle
The Future on Reading: A Long Article on the Kindle and some surrounding issues
The Amazon Kindle
The Daisy Consortium
Library of Congress Braille and Talking books
Humanware which makes the Stream and BrailleNote
Tags: accessibility, blogs, dialogues, disability related, mainstream news, rants and snarkiness, reading, technology related

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