New Kindle’s Accessibility Features Found Lacking in First In-Depth Review

white kindleWhen I reviewed the new basic Kindle's accessibility features back in July, I found it to be completely useless at its intended function.

There wasn't a single part, from the instructions to the setup and operation, which didn't scream that Amazon should go back to the drawing board and try again, and now the first comprehensive review of the basic Kindle has reached the same conclusion.

Yesterday Teleread published a review by a visually-impaired Kindle owner which showed that not only was I right to criticize Amazon, I actually underestimated the problems.

David Faucheux, a freelance audiobook reviewer for Library Journal, found the basic Kindle  to be a frustrating experience. It came without any accessible instructions on its use or set up, and Amazon's much-vaunted customer service wasn't any help either.

Unfortunately this typifies Amazon’s seeming lack of understanding and empathy in considering the needs of blind people. My Kindle arrived several weeks ago without information in Braille. Simple instructions could have pointed to a list of VoiceView gestures for the 8th generation Kindle on the Web, as well as guidance for using Bluetooth headphones.


Ideally I would not even have had to go online for the information. When blind people or their friends log on the Amazon site and order Kindles with text to speech, they should be able to buy Braille guides that explain TTS and the devices in general. Third-party publishers do a great job for purchasers of Apple devices. Amazon’s Kindle page for the basic model could also have identified Bluetooth headphones that would be especially blind-friendly.

Without a Braille guide to help me master the Kindle, I Googled hoping to find information online.

I located a podcast I’d heard about earlier, Eyes on Success, which featured an interview with Peter Korn, accessibility architect at Amazon. Then I visited an Amazon accessibility page mentioned in the show notes. I felt lost and rather overwhelmed. There was so much information and so many links.

David also contacted the relevant CS email,  [email protected], for assistance but it wasn't able to help him either. "No one pointed me to the VoiceView command list and Bluetooth tips that David [Rothman] found on the Web," David wrote. "Better, I could have benefited from step-by-step written guidance offline before I turned on the Kindle. Then I would have felt much more comfortable with the actual Kindle experience."

David ended up having to ask for help from his sighted brother. And that, folks, is a sign that when it comes to accessibility the basic Kindle failed on the most fundamental point. The gold standard for accessibility is a device which a visually impaired person can use with no assistance at all.

And from what David says, it looks like none of the Kindles meet that standard, not even the  Paperwhite, Oasis, or Voyage, meet that standard. The more expensive models have a $20 USB dongle which is easier to set up (just plug it in) but judging by David's review they have the same navigation issues as the basic Kindle.

Sure they come closer than any other dedicated ereader on the market to being an accessible ereader, but "it sucks less than the competition" is not exactly a ringing endorsement.


About Nate Hoffelder (11480 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

3 Comments on New Kindle’s Accessibility Features Found Lacking in First In-Depth Review

  1. An excellent post, Nate, very helpful to David Faucheux and other blind people. You’ve cut to the chase with this observation: “The gold standard for accessibility is a device which a visually impaired person can use with no assistance at all.”

    In the future, let’s hope Amazon will do text to speech better for blind people and also offer a decent TTS interface for the sighted, including users with dyslexia and other challenges.

    More typographical options would help as well. See URLs below. Why does Amazon continue to lag Kobo so badly? It isn’t just people with disabilities who are suffering. – David

  2. I teach visually impaired to use electronics Apple products are by far the most user friendly. However Amazon ereaders and Fire tablets are more affordable I was hoping the new kindle would be easier to use than text to speech on the Fire tablets it’s actually much worse Amazon needs first to care about making their products useable for the blind and then they need to hire somebody who understands maybe a blind person

  3. Darn it. I have been wanting to buy a Kindle but it seems as though I should just keep using the App on my IPhone. I’ve had trouble downloading books with the Kindle PPC App but it works just fine on the phone. (big sigh)

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