Amazon finally adds accessibility features to the Kindle Fire

I have low vision, and have had two e-ink Kindles so far.  The adjustable font is a huge help to me, but the Kindle has always been severely lacking in accessibility features.

Amazon took a step forward in the accessibility department by adding two new features to the Kindle Fire: Explore by Touch and Voice Guide.  Voice Guide is similar to VoiceOver for the iPad or iPhone.  It reads the actions you take on screen out loud.  Explore by Touch reads specific items on the screen as the reader swipes them.

Read the full press release: “Voice Guide” and “Explore by Touch” Coming to Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD 7″ Early Next Year

These two new accessibility features will be available for the full Kindle Fire lineup by early 2013.  They were built in to the Kindle Fire 8.9″ from its time of release.

Well I’m glad Amazon has finally acknowledged that the Kindle Fire needs accessibility upgrades.  But, what about the e-ink Kindle?  The text-to-speech capabilities on these devices are hit or miss at best, and is not even available at all on the Kindle Paperwhite.

E-ink Kindles are on their way out it looks like.  They will probably be around for awhile, but don’t have much room for major improvements anymore aside from adding color.  Just from basic observations, the tablet seems to reign, and is picking up speed.  I used to be really excited about my Kindle, but now, I’m just like, “meh”.  The decent books are so expensive, and if I’m going to pay that much for a book, I want one I can easily pass around.

I am actually going backwards.  I have been , “gasp” reading regular books checked out at the library!  If I’m patient I can just wait for bestsellers to be available there.  I’ve been able to find most of the books on my Goodreads list without any problems.

So, maybe that’s why Amazon has been basically ignoring the e-ink Kindles in regards to accessibility.  They don’t really see a big future with them, and can’t justify the time and expense of adding the new features.

For someone who is blind, the screen doesn’t really matter as long as it can be navigated without visual cues.  If Amazon can work on developing solid accessibility features for the Kindle Fire, then they could open the market up to a whole new set of users and give blind readers a chance to take advantage of the more cost-friendly low-end tablet market.

This will be an interesting thing to watch.  Hopefully in the next year, we’ll see a lot more accessibility improvements come to the Kindle Fire.


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