Product Evaluations and Guides
Using VoiceOver with the Accessible Amazon iOS Kindle App
A free and accessible iOS version of the Kindle app from Amazon was released on May 1, 2013. This app gives people who are blind or visually impaired another option for purchasing and listening to books and periodicals. Previous versions of this app were not accessible with VoiceOver. This article will discuss installing the app as well as purchasing and reading content.
Here is part of the Kindle description from the iTunes Store:
The Kindle app is optimized for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch, giving users the ability to read Kindle books, newspapers, magazines, textbooks and PDFs on a beautiful, easy-to-use interface. You'll have access to over 1,000,000 books in the Kindle Store plus hundreds of newspapers and magazines. Amazon Whispersync automatically syncs your last page read, bookmarks, notes, and highlights across devices (including Kindle), so you can pick up your book where you left off on another device.
You can read the entire description at the iTunes Store.
Installation and Set-Up
In the iTunes App Store, type "Kindle" into the search box, and the first result is the new Kindle app. The first time the app is launched you must enter the e-mail address and password for your Amazon account, so you will need to have an account before beginning the registration process. Prior to entering the information, there will be a dimmed "Register this Kindle" button and an unlabeled button. Once the e-mail address and password are entered, the "Register this Kindle" button becomes active, and the unlabeled button disappears. When the new screen loads (and assuming you haven't previously purchased anything from Amazon's Kindle store), VoiceOver will say, "You have no items in the cloud."
On the bottom of the screen are four buttons: "Switch to Grid View," "Cloud," "Device," and "Settings." For easier reading leave the "Grid View" in its default setting. Activating that button will cause items to be read as a grid instead of as a list. If the button is activated, then the material will be presented in grid format, and that same button will change to "List View." If the "Cloud" button is activated, then all Kindle items will be displayed, including those that may be present on another device. If the "Device" button is activated, only the items on that specific device will be displayed.
The Settings Menu
In the Settings menu, the "Back" button is in the upper left, and the "Done" button is in the upper right. The first heading is Library Sort Order. By default it is set to "Recent," but the Library can also be sorted by author or title. Selection is done via radio buttons.
The next item in the Settings menu is the "Sync" button. Any content purchased on a device should automatically sync to any other supported device. If content isn't synced, activate the button. To test this feature, I tried to sync my content on the iPhone Kindle Library with my MacBook Air and PC running Windows XP and Window-Eyes 8. The Mac app was completely inaccessible. Sighted assistance was needed to register the device, and accessibility didn't improve after that. I got a bit further with the PC version. My books appeared on the screen, but when I opened the books, I couldn't read them.
The app's home screen displays content. To change which material is displayed, use the button in the upper left. By default it's set to "All Items," but other options are "Books" and "Newsstand." If there are items in any of the categories, they will be listed. The button to go back to the main Libraries page is located in the top left corner, but instead of saying "Back," it gives the name of the section currently being displayed. For example, if the Books section is on the screen, the button will say "Books." The "Done" button, which is used to exit the screen, is in the upper right corner.
Purchasing and Downloading Content
It is not possible to purchase content directly from the iOS Kindle app. Your device must be connected to a wireless or data network in order to transfer content from the Kindle store to your device.
For the iPad, go to Amazon's iPad Kindle Store, and for the iPhone or iPod touch, visit Amazon's Kindle Mobile Store. For this demonstration, I am using an iPhone 5.
Searching for Content
Once you are on the website, if a "Sign In" form appears, sign in with the same account information used when registering the app.
On the homepage, there are many links, including "Books," "Newspapers," "Magazines," and "Free Popular Classics." In addition, there is a search form consisting of an edit box and a "Search" button. The page is easy to navigate, and search results are clearly displayed.
If, for example, you activate the "Magazines" link, a new page will load that presents many categories, including Arts & Entertainment (163 listings), Lifestyle & Culture (257 listings), and Science (12 listings). If you activate the "Science" link, you will see a listing of the titles in that category. Select a title, and the next page will give you details. Though there may be some gibberish on the resulting page, VoiceOver reads all of the text clearly. The text will tell you information like the delivery schedule and subscription and single-issue rates. You will find buttons for available actions, such as to subscribe or download the current issue. Once you purchase an option, you'll be asked where the content should be sent. I have only one device, so my iPhone was the only option. Underneath is information about the magazine, and below this is some gibberish and some reviews.
I did a search for "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," and when the Search page loaded, my results were clearly displayed, and I activated the result that I wanted. When the new page loaded, there was some gibberish, but it wasn't difficult to find the necessary information, such as title, author, and price. Next is the button to buy the item with one click and the pop-up button again showing my iPhone. Below that is a link to hear a sample, and after the link is a brief description of the book followed by a few reviews.
I activated the button to buy the book, and the next page said, "Thank you for your purchase: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving. We are sending your item, and it will automatically appear in your Home screen when the download is complete." I assumed the item would appear in my iPhone's Home screen, but it was on the Kindle app's Home screen. Along with the name and author, VoiceOver also said that the book was downloaded. A confirmation e-mail was sent to my inbox.
Reading Kindle Purchases
To open a book or any other Kindle purchase, double tap on it. Once the book is opened, VoiceOver will say, "Double tap for menu. Swipe down with two fingers to read continuously and tap. Tap and hold to select text."
Double tapping anywhere on the screen while the book is reading will bring up a menu with choices, including "Bookmark," "Return to Book," "View Options," and "Go To." The "View Options" button allows for changes in font size, color, and brightness. The "Go To" button lists locations, such as "Go to the beginning of the book," "Go to the cover of the book," "Location," and "Highlights." To go to a specific page, activate the "Go To" button and, then, double tap "Location." A phone-style keyboard will appear for entering the page number. Once the number is entered, activate the "OK" button, and the book will be on the new page. The next time the book is opened, it will be on the same last page that was read. The final option in the menu is a picker item, which allows you to change locations by swiping up or down with one finger. The picker moves in 10 percent increments. It will not announce page numbers, but it will say percentage and Kindle screen numbers. To get out of the "Book" menu, activate the "Home" button in the upper left corner.
While reading a book, do a three finger swipe to the right to go backwards to the previous page. To go to the next page, do a three-finger swipe left. If VoiceOver is reading continuously, an indicator will sound whenever there's a page change. To stop VoiceOver when reading continuously, do a two-finger tap anywhere on the screen. Through the rotor, it's possible through to read by characters, words, or lines, but this only works on one screen at a time and not with continuous reading.
There is a search option in the Book menu, which allows the reader to search for specific text. Results are clearly displayed. Double tapping a result brings the user to the page where the text appears.
Bookmarks can be easily set by bringing up the menu at the point in the book where you want to set the bookmark. Then, activate the "Bookmark" button in the upper right corner.
Text can be selected and, then, highlighted. To do this, double tap and hold on the text you want to select. This gesture can be a bit tricky because it's similar to bringing up the menu. When the text is selected, the app will make a sound, and VoiceOver will speak about highlights. To adjust the text that is selected, swipe until you hear either "left most selection edge" or "right most selection edge." Double tap and hold to adjust how much text should be selected.
Near the top of the page are buttons to choose a highlight color. If you don't have any color vision, it doesn't matter which color is chosen. Highlighting colors include pink, yellow, and blue.
If a word is selected, a dictionary definition will appear at the bottom of the screen along with options to get more information from Google, Wikipedia, and other dictionaries.
It is possible to write notes in the book. After the text is selected, activate the "Create a Note" button. This will bring up an edit box and keyboard. After typing the note, activate the "Save" button. This button is located above the "I" and "O" of the QWERTY keyboard. Flicking on the screen does not work for finding it.
If there are any notes, highlighted text, or bookmarks, they will be listed in the "Go To" section of the menu. Double tap on the entry you want, and that page will be displayed.
As part of this evaluation, I also purchased the latest issue of Rolling Stone. There were some additional menu options for reading the magazine, including a "Table of Contents" button and options to go to the previous article and next article. When the next article is activated, the title of the new article will be just above the button. In the menu page are radio buttons for "Text View" and "Image View." Make sure the "Text View" is checked.
I found that the Kindle didn't always do well when reading the magazine with the rotor. The menu doesn't include an option for setting bookmarks or writing notes, and there is not a "Go To" button. The dictionary function did work.
To delete material, find the item in the Library and swipe up or down with one finger. VoiceOver will say "Delete." Double tap the selection and follow the prompts to delete the item.
The Kindle app provides another way for people who are blind or visually impaired to access print material. It's relatively easy to use from the start. VoiceOver had no difficulty reading the content, and the ability to perform searches, look up words, set bookmarks, highlight text, and write notes within the book makes this app an excellent choice. To help you navigate this app and for further detail, a free guidebook, "Kindle for iOS Accessibility Gestures: Quick Reference Guide" is available.
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