Kindle for PC with Accessibility Plugin
Regular readers of AccessWorld may have noticed that I have written several less-than-favorable evaluations of the Kindle e-book reader device from Amazon. Although my last review reported that the accessibility of this very popular reading device has improved incrementally with each new version, the Kindle is still not something I would recommend for people with vision loss. In addition, Kindle for PC, the application you can use to read Kindle books on a computer, was not designed to be compatible with screen readers or screen magnifiers. However, in early 2011, Amazon released the Kindle for PC with Accessibility Plugin, and this article will evaluate the accessibility provided by this software.
How It Works
Available for free download online through Amazon, Kindle for PC with Accessibility Plugin is certainly an improvement over the earlier versions of Kindle for PC.
The software facilitates screen reader access to all Kindle books, even if an author or publisher has not granted text-to-speech (TTS) functionality. You use your own screen reader such as JAWS or NVDA to access the interface for the software. For reading the actual content of books the application uses the Vocalizer speech synthesizer from Nuance, which features the Samantha and Tom voices. These voices will be familiar to users of the VictorReader Stream DAISY MP3 player from Humanware. However, the synthesizer doesn't perform quite as well as it does on the VictorReader Stream player, or even as well as it does on the actual Kindle device. Comparing the three tools (the built-in TTS on the Kindle device, Kindle for PC with Accessibility Plugin on a computer, and the VictorReader Stream DAISY MP3 player) reading the exact same book, we found that Kindle for PC with Accessibility Plugin frequently had trouble pausing appropriately at ends of sentences, especially when the sentence contained quotation marks, question marks, or abbreviations.
What many may find to be an even bigger problem is the lack of functional navigation. With Kindle for PC with Accessibility Plugin, it's not possible to navigate by paragraph, word, or character, which makes it impossible to check the spelling of a word. Although there is a keystroke command for sentence-by-sentence navigation, the software does not allow you to move from page to page this way; you must always manually turn the page. Also, if you move to the previous or next sentence to read it, the reader automatically continues reading the rest of the page, instead of stopping after reading the target sentence. Another issue is that the software does not recognize or report the graphics included in a book.
Accessibility of the Interface
We tested the interface with JAWS 12, Window-Eyes 7.5, NVDA, and ZoomText, and most of the interface elements were accessible using each of these tools, except for Window-Eyes. The interface functions much like a standard dialog box, as you use the Tab key to move between the various controls. There is also an accessible menu system for other items, and it also features several shortcut keys. Window-Eyes would not speak as you tab through the various controls of the main interface, so it could not access the bulk of the application's functionality. Therefore, I will be referring to JAWS and NVDA when discussing screen reader functionality in the remainder of this article.
Accessibility of Selected Features
Below is a discussion of the accessibility of selected features of the Kindle for PC-Accessibility application.
Choosing and Opening a Book
If you tab to the "Home" element, you have arrived at your book list. The right and left arrows scroll through the list; choose "Enter" to open a selected book. The "Archive" button allows you to access books you have purchased but not yet downloaded. If you have a Kindle device, this is where you will find books you have purchased on that device; if you open one of the books in the list, you will be taken to the same location where you left off reading on the device.
The search tool works with screen readers and magnifiers to search for particular words or phrases within a book. Though the edit field where you enter the search term does not allow you to fix mistakes, the tool does return an accessible list of results. Using the arrow keys, select the instance you want and choose "Enter." You will be taken to the top of the page and will, unfortunately, have to read to find the actual term.
Table of Contents
Choose the Table of Contents from the Go To menu to hear the Table of Contents read aloud. If you use a screen magnifier you can use a mouse to click on the links in the Table of Contents and move to a desired section. It is not possible, however, to use a screen reader to activate the same links. One work-around for this limitation is to use the search feature to find the name of a particular chapter.
Bookmarking, Highlighting, and Notes
Some of the functions in this category can be used non-visually, and some are visual-only. You can set a bookmark with a screen reader, but highlighting and inserting margin notes are visual-only tasks that must be accomplished using a mouse. As far as accessing these marks after they have been set, there is a "Note/Marks" button that brings up a fully accessible dialog. From there, you can scroll through and move to any item, including highlights or notes that a sighted person may have inserted. This is the only non-visual way to access the marks—you are alerted only visually when you come upon one while reading a book.
Unfortunately the default dictionary tool is not compatible with screen readers, nor is it practical to use a dictionary that you might purchase from the Kindle Store, because these provide no easy way to search for the definition of a particular word. Searching for a word in these dictionaries only finds the occurrences of that word where it is used in a definition of another word.
Go To Menu
The Go To menu was completely accessible, and you can use it to go to the book cover, table of contents, the beginning of the book, or to a specific location in a book. You can also use this menu to go to your home screen with your list of books or to your archived items.
Shop in Kindle Store
When you choose this feature, you are taken to Amazon's Kindle Store in your default browser, where you can browse and search for books to purchase and download. This site is mostly accessible, but it can be difficult to determine which "Buy" button is associated with the book you want to buy. Also, the "Buy" buttons are improperly labeled "buy.digitalfeed."
Low Vision Accessibility
Kindle for PC with Accessibility Plugin has several features that will improve accessibility for a person with low vision. The "Show Font Menu" button allows you to adjust the font size up to 56 point, display the text in reverse polarity (white on black), and adjust the brightness and the number of words per line. The application also works well with screen magnification software.
ZoomText's text-to-speech features also worked well, including reading the actual content of a book. However, there is no ability to highlight the text as you read, which is a feature that could benefit some people with low vision as well as people with learning disabilities.
The Bottom Line
The Amazon Kindle store has nearly a million books for sale, and continued improvement in Kindle book accessibility is extremely important. Amazon has certainly done considerable work to keep moving the ball down the field, and Kindle for PC with Accessibility Plugin is definitely a huge improvement over what was available before. However, we still haven't seen a touchdown. For me, the lack of navigation choices is a real deal breaker. The inability to check the spelling of a word—of particular importance when reading for detail, such as when reading a textbook or school assignment—is another issue that must be addressed. They will also need to figure out how to make graphical images in books accessible.
That said, Kindle for PC with Accessibility Plugin is really getting close to achieving full accessibility, and even an old curmudgeon like me is getting a bit more confident that Amazon will resolve the problems mentioned here in the not-so-distant future.
Product: Kindle for PC with Accessibility Plugin.
online through Amazon.
This product evaluation was funded by the Teubert Foundation, Huntington, WV. I would also like to acknowledge the contributions made to this article by Marshall University interns Mike Moore, John Lilly, and Ricky Kirkendall.
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