May 2009 Issue  Volume 10  Number 3

Editor's Page

In February, introduced the Kindle 2, a new version of its e-book reader. This announcement caught the attention of people who are blind or have low vision because it included the statement that the Kindle 2 offers text-to-speech capability. The Kindle 2 also has the ability to enlarge the size of the text on the books and other content that it can display. According to an evaluation conducted by AFB TECH, "Although these features have the potential to accommodate Kindle users with vision loss, that potential has not been realized with this version of the Kindle. These features can be put into effect only while you are actually in an open book or other file, and you cannot access these features throughout the rest of the Kindle 2's interface. You cannot use text-to-speech or larger fonts to access the Kindle 2's Home Screen, its menus or settings, or to access the Kindle Store to purchase and download a book or other content. You also cannot use them to browse through and search for the books and other content you have on your Kindle 2. Also, even when you have a book or newspaper open on the Kindle, it is difficult to adjust the speech or magnification to suit your individual needs. For example, the text-to-speech does not speak when you use the interface to choose the male or female voice, to adjust the rate of the speech, or to choose the size of the text. The large text also does not work when using this interface item. The speech is also limited in that you have no navigational control while reading at all, other than for starting and stopping speech. The large text is also limited in that at its largest, it is only a 16-point font. Although that is larger than the 14-point font of the original Kindle, it is still smaller than the 18-point font recommended for people with low vision by the American Printing House for the Blind. The rest of the Kindle 2's interface uses small text ranging between 7- and 10-point fonts."

The Authors Guild has lodged complaints that the text-to-speech feature would interfere with audiobook rights. An unprecedented collaboration of more than 20 organizations, representing people who are blind, the elderly, and people with learning disabilities, has been formed under the umbrella Reading Rights Coalition, including an online petition and an April 7 protest outside the Authors Guild headquarters in New York.

The Authors Guild's claim is absurd. The text-to-speech voices of the Kindle 2 are human sounding, but few sighted people will listen to them for long stretches in place of buying an audiobook with a human narrator. I urge everyone to sign the Reading Rights Coalition's online petition at, and I hope Amazon will be convinced to make the Kindle 2 accessible to people who are blind or have low vision. Doing so would give us access to hundreds of thousands of additional books.

In this issue, Darren Burton presents the first in a two-part series evaluating Wayfinder Access and Mobile Geo, two accessible cell phone-based GPS navigation systems that can be used in conjunction with cell phone screen-reading software. This article describes both systems and focuses on Wayfinder Access. In July, Darren will focus on Mobile Geo, with a comparison of the two products' features and functions. Find out how well Wayfinder Access performed.

Deborah Kendrick and I report on the 24th annual Technology and Persons with Disabilities conference, hosted by the Center on Disabilities of California State University at Northridge. Read our coverage to find out about new and updated products that we found in the exhibit halls.

Lainey Feingold, attorney, and Jessie Lorenz, director of public policy and information, LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco, tell the story of the accessible pedestrian signals that have been installed by the city of San Francisco. These signals provide both an audible and a vibrotactile method of informing pedestrians when the visual "WALK" signal is displayed. San Francisco now has approximately 690 APS devices installed at 70 intersections throughout the city. Read about how these signals came to be installed.

Jay Leventhal

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