Access to Education and Reading Books

Amazon Brings Voice Accessibility to the Kindle Paperwhite with a New Audio Adapter

Bill Holton

After the Kindle iOS and Android apps were made accessible, the blind and visually impaired community was finally able to purchase and enjoy Amazon’s unmatched library of e-books using either VoiceOver or TalkBack. Amazon went on to develop the VoiceView screen reader for its line of Fire tablets, which also now offer access to Kindle titles. This left only one inaccessible Kindle reading device–the original Kindle e-book reader.

Recently, Amazon introduced the Kindle Audio Adapter, a USB dongle that enables Paperwhite Generation 7 users to read Kindle books with a ground-up rebuild of the VoiceView touch screen reader. Amazon, like Apple and Google, is pushing hard to have its devices used in the classroom, and the inaccessibility of the original Kindle devices was a definite drawback, if not a deal breaker, for many districts. Also, according to Amazon Accessibility Architect, Peter Korn, “We were still getting a lot of requests for an accessible Kindle. Some visually impaired individuals don’t want to use a multipurpose smartphone or tablet to read a book. They want a single device that will read a book and nothing else.” This sentiment also explains the ongoing popularity of the Digital Audio Book Players provided by the National Library Service. Those who are currently using one of the several voice-enabled feature phones may also be interested in the Kindle Audio Adapter. Additionally, there is already an extremely large Kindle user base, and, observes Korn, “As this population ages and vision dims many will wish to use the Audio Adapter so they can continue reading with the same device they have always used.”

Recently, I put a Kindle Paperwhite with an Audio Adapter through its paces. Here’s what I found.

Device and Adapter Descriptions

The Kindle Paperwhite Wi-Fi is 6.7″ by 4.6″ by 0.36.″ It weighs 7.2 ounces, less than many paperbacks. The Paperwhite has a single button-the power button-and one port–the micro-USB charging port, along the bottom edge of the device. There is a fairly wide bezel surrounding the device’s six-inch, touch-enabled eInk screen.

The Kindle Audio adapter is a 0.6-ounce dongle with an audio jack at one end and a short, micro USB cable at the other. There is no pass-through, so you can’t use your Kindle with speech while it is plugged into the charger. According to Korn, “This is a limitation of the USB standards. Power can move through a USB cable in either direction, but only in a single direction at one time, so the device cannot charge and voice simultaneously.”

Happily, Kindle eReaders usually come pre-charged, so I didn’t have to wait to try the Audio Adapter. I did have to grab a pair of earbuds, however, since, like the Paperwhite itself, the Kindle Audio Adapter does not have a speaker and earbuds are not included. Nor does the Paperwhite come with a USB wall adapter, only a cable, which you can use to charge the device from a computer USB port or a separately purchased wall adapter.

The Audio Adapter currently works only on 7th Generation Paperwhites, though there are plans to extend the VoiceView to other Kindle models. The dongle draws its power from the Paperwhite, so you do not need to recharge or replace additional batteries. The Kindle eReader is known for its battery life (the device can operate for weeks without recharging). Understandably, using speech lowers this performance dramatically. The Audio Adapter is rated for approximately six hours of continuous playback, which matched my experience.


After connecting the Audio Adapter’s USB cable and a pair of earbuds to the Kindle, pressing the Paperwhite’s power button, and waiting a few seconds, I was greeted with a welcome message and instructed to double tap the screen to load the VoiceView software. The voice was the same IVONA text-to-speech female voice used by default on the Fire tablet version of VoiceView. It is extremely high quality and easy to understand. Unfortunately, neither the Paperwhite nor the Audio Adapter offers hardware volume control (the volume level is software controlled). I found the voice volume sufficiently loud that I did not change it subsequently, but a blind user with moderate to severe hearing loss may have setup issues without a separately amplified external speaker. The Audio Adapter does not have Bluetooth capability; it only works with devices that include an audio-out cable.

Installing VoiceView Files

You can also purchase the Adapter for use with your own Paperwhite Generation 7. Consult this Amazon help page to determine if your device is a Generation 7. You will need to perform an extra step, however, to install VoiceView. Because VoiceView works with existing Kindle Paperwhite eReaders, most come from the factory without the large voice files already installed (not the case with those bundled with the Kindle Audio Adapter). To get the files, you must download them onto a computer and then pair your Kindle with the computer to copy the files. Complete instructions can be found on the Kindle Audio Adapter help page.

The VoiceView tutorial that begins after the software is installed offers instruction on activating controls using double tap, and navigation via either swipe gestures or using touch exploration. A brief typing tutorial is also included. The VoiceView keyboard uses touch-typing: navigate to the character you wish to enter and then raise the finger to confirm. If you hold down on a letter, you will not hear a phonetic, alpha, beta, charlie repeat of the letter, and when you do raise your finger the VoiceView screen reader beeps, then announces, for example, “V Entered.” It’s useful knowing you have entered the correct character, but the more you type, the more verbose this extra verbiage becomes. Also, the eInk screen glass is not as smooth as either a standard Apple or Android phone or tablet. As with those devices’ touch screen readers, using VoiceView for Kindle requires a lot of sliding one’s finger around the screen. Some may find the Kindle screen texture refreshing and easier to use. I found it a bit jerky, especially when sliding in small increments, such as when trying to move one keyboard character to the left or right before lifting my finger.

After completing the VoiceView tutorial and selecting a language, the Kindle will complete its configuration. Next, you need to select a Wi-Fi network and enter a password, whose characters echo or not as you choose.

Lastly, you need to enter your Amazon account login and password. Once you’ve finished with this step, your Kindle cloud library will be available to download to your device.

Using the Kindle with the Audio Adapter

The Kindle home screen includes a Quick Settings button, where you can access VoiceView options. Currently these options are limited to replaying the tutorial and setting voice speed and volume. Alternative voices are not available.

The Kindle Store is completely accessible. Take note, however: you will not be presented with a purchase confirmation screen–once you double tap “Buy this Book,” it is yours.

If you have a preexisting Kindle library you can access it via the Home screen’s My Library control. Here you will find a complete list of your books, whether they are downloaded on your device or available in the Cloud, and the percentage of progress you’ve made in the book. Double tap any book in the Cloud to download it to your device. Double tap any downloaded title to begin playback.

You can pause playback at any time by touching the screen with one finger. Perform a two-finger swipe down to resume play. This last command required some genuine creativity on the part of the developers, since the Kindle’s touch recognition system only recognizes a single touch-point. At first I could not get this gesture to work. I am left-handed, and when finally I tried the gesture with my right hand it worked fine. I suspect my issue has something to do with the direction a leftie like myself swipes down compared to a righty.

Another missing feature in the first release of VoiceView for Kindle is that there gestures to review text by paragraph, sentence, or character do not exist. Swiping left or right while inside a book moves a single word at a time. Here, I do think that after a pause VoiceView should spell the word or number character by character for clarity, then, after another pause, repeat the characters phonetically. I would also suggest they use up and down swipes to control granularity for character, word, sentence, paragraph, and page.

If you double tap and hold on a word you will be offered its dictionary definition. The “Highlight” option reports unavailable. Double-tap anywhere on the screen to exit the book, to create a bookmark, or to access the “Go to” controls, which are currently limited to the beginning of each chapter. You are not able to scroll page by page through a book using VoiceView.

Currently, the Good Reads, Kindle Free Time, Vocabulary Builder, and the Experimental Browser buttons all report as unavailable. You also can’t access the X-Ray or Share options while reading a book.

“We debated long and hard as to whether to hold the product until it provided access to all of the Kindle eReader’s capabilities or release it in its current version and then update it as we are able to add new features and capabilities,” says Korn. “We decided to go with the option that would allow users to access their Kindle books as soon as possible and then add features going forward.”

As is the case with other Kindle software, updates will happen automatically in the background, assuming the device stays connected to a Wi-Fi network.

Final Thoughts

I found the VoiceView screen reader extremely responsive, and the voice quality was excellent. There is still much work to be done, but I think Amazon has made an excellent start, especially considering the Kindle eReader itself is a fairly low-end processor and memory device.

Already, Amazon’s ground-up rebuild of their VoiceView screen reader is paying dividends, as the company recently announced that their Fire TV devices are now also VoiceView enabled. Stay tuned for a full review. I also look forward to seeing, or should I say hearing, many new features and capabilities on future versions of VoiceView running on their Fire tablets–especially the extremely affordable $49 model.


Guest Post, Darrell Gunter: Accessibility Is The New Innovation

Imagine that the latest book of your favorite book series has just been published, but you are not able to read it or listen to it. Imagine your favorite band has just released its latest song, but you are not able to hear the beat. These are just two of many examples that the disabled community deals with everyday. Recently, the Center for Publishing Innovation held a conference on Accessibility, with the goal of helping publishers, academic institutions and the general public understand the legal necessity and appreciate the great opportunity of making all forms of content accessible to everyone.

As a member of the Board of EIES (Electronic Information and Education Service) of New Jersey for the last three years, I was very excited to attend this conference as EIES of New Jersey’s mission is to provide the visually impaired with the best reading service of the day’s news.

The Accessibility Conference featured an All-Star panel, and due to a last minute cancellation, I was asked to step in and present Eve Hill’s speech. Ms. Hill is the Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division of the US Justice Department. After delivering her speech, I was compelled to write about the conference as I believe that publishing industry is not addressing this topic as aggressively as it should.

2014 Data Points:

The number of people with learning disabilities is quite substantial. The American Community Survey (ACS) report provides the following data points:

The ACS estimates the overall rate of disability in the US population in 2014 was 12.6%.
Rates of disability increase with age. For the population under 5 years old, less than 1.0% had a disability. For the population ages 5-17, the rate was 5.4%. For ages 18-64, the rate was 10.5%. For people 65 and older, 36.0% had a disability.
Of the US population with disabilities, over half (51.6%) were people ages 18-64. Forty percent (40.7%) of people with disabilities were 65 and older, while children and youth with disabilities accounted for only 7.3% (ages 5-17) and 0.4% (under 5 years old).
34.4% of US civilians with disabilities ages 18-64 living in the community were employed, compared to 75.4% for people without disabilities – a gap of 41 percentage points.
Employment rates vary by type of disability. Employment rates are highest for people with hearing disabilities (50.7%) and vision disabilities (40.2%) and lowest for people with self- care (15.4%) and independent living (15.9%) disabilities.
Almost thirty percent (28.1%) of US civilians with disabilities of working-age in 2014 were living in poverty. For US civilians of working-age without disabilities, the national poverty rate was 13.3%.
Hill’s presentation focused on three key themes, first, defining the law and the cases they have presented, second, the challenges of the community with disabilities and finally, the great opportunity for institutions and publishers.

The Law

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires “equally effective communication” with people with or without disabilities. ADA Title II requires that all public and private schools, colleges, universities, and other educational content providers are required to make all their online offerings accessible. Per Ms. Hill’s address she stated that, “schools must ensure that a student who is blind or has low vision acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as sighted services with substantially equivalent ease of use.”

In June 2010, the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights and the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights of the Department of Education wrote to college presidents throughout the country explaining that requiring the use of inaccessible emerging technologies in the classroom violates the ADA.

Over the last six years, the Justice Department has brought charges against a number of institutions and companies. Detailed below is a sample of the cases and the legal resolutions.

2010 – Six Colleges re: KINDLE – As a result of the complaints by the Federation of the Blind, Kindle reached settlement agreements with six colleges that they will not purchase, require or use in the curriculum, the Amazon Kindle DX e-book reader unless it is accessible.
2012 – Sacramento Public Library had purchased several Barnes & Noble NOOK e-book readers for its patrons. The NOOK was inaccessible to blind people so the settlement under ADA Title II required the library to buy at least 18 accessible e-book reader devices to lend to their patrons who are blind or have other disabilities that make the NOOKs inaccessible to them.
2013 – Louisiana Tech reached a settlement agreement with the Justice Department for using a version of an online learning product (MYOMLab) that was inaccessible to a blind student.
It should be expected that the Justice Department will continue to aggressively pursue similar cases to ensure that all institutions are in compliance with the ADA law.

Challenges for the Disabled Community

Imagine you are in your first year of college sitting in your Introduction to Psychology course and the instructor directs the students to a document that is on their computers. When visually impaired, you are not able to read the document. You are immediately put at a distinct disadvantage versus your peers, moreover your education is being diminished, due to your accessibility to the material being limited.

For students with hearing issues, similar challenges are faced, as their ability to hear the lecture is impaired. They are not able to fully participate and contribute to the class discussion due to their hearing disability.

Consider the student taking an online course. They are not able to read and hear the instructor’s lectures, the course materials and the questions from their classmates. In today’s digital world this is a reality for the students and the parents of these students. Students are not the only people that are affected by these digital limitations. There is a growing population of adults with disabilities that are part of the professional workforce and their performance is greatly affected by the mere fact that they are not provided equal access to information due to their disability. How much productivity is lost at thousands of companies due to team members with visual and hearing disabilities that don’t have equal access to information to perform their duties?

The Great Opportunity for Publishers, Institutions and Companies

Publishers are always concerned about managing their investments in their businesses. Anytime there is a new product, service, idea or technology, the scholarly publishing industry always asks the question, what is the return on investment on this project? How will this new technology, product, service, etc., help us to grow our business? Does it make business sense for us to make these upgrades to our platform, our services, our policies, etc., to provide our team members, our partners and customers with the best level of service?

I would suggest that the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Innovation is not limited to adding a new feature, a new business model or a new product. Making your data, website and other services accessible to the disabled community is one of the most innovative actions that the publishing community can undertake.

The Benefits of Hiring Workers with Disabilities:

Proactively hiring people with disabilities can give employers a competitive advantage over companies that do not hire the disabled. Kregel and Tomiyasu (1994) found that employers view employees with disabilities as having a positive effect on their coworkers. The same study also found that employers believe that workers with disabilities provide taxpayers with economic benefits. By employing people with disabilities, a company may be eligible for federal tax credits that can offset accommodation costs. An example of a tax incentive is the Work Opportunity Tax Credit. This allows an employer to take a credit for up to 40% of the worker’s first $6,000 dollars in wages earned the first 12 months of hire. A second program that offers incentives is the U.S. Social Security Administration’s Ticket to Work Program. This program gives companies the opportunity to generate $4,800 in the first nine months of hiring a recipient of social security benefits. Corporate social responsibility has economic benefits as well. A survey conducted by the Gallup organization and the University of Massachusetts’ Center for Social Research found that 88% of the 800 respondents said they would prefer to give their business to companies that hire people with disabilities.

Ms. Hill’s speech provided a number of suggestions to the publishing industry as to how we can be innovative:

Be responsive to your market and claim market share and minimize your customer’s ADA liability risk
Incorporate accessibility in your products and services as a matter of course and as a priority
Build it in, check it, make it easy to use, and tell your customers about it
If your client has a problem fix the problem permanently
Include accessibility in performance evaluations and hold people accountable
Instead of waiting for a lawsuit to spur your company into action, be proactive and take a dramatic leading edge decision that will allow your content to be consumed by the entire world community. As the disabled community continues to grow within our user communities and companies, making your content truly accessible will only help to augment the research value chain. Enhancing the research value chain will raise the tide for everyone and that is truly a win-win scenario.

Making your content fully accessible will greatly improve the entire world’s user community’s access to your content. It will demonstrate to the disabled community that you are an employer that values everyone and your company will gain a new productive and committed workforce. Just as important, making your content compliant within the ADA guidelines will put your company in compliance with the law.

Accessibility is the new wave of innovation and it is the right thing to do.


Why We Decided to Make Devices for People with Disabilities

Would you purchase a basic digital camera connected to a 22″ LCD monitor for $3,000?

How about a GPS unit to announce your location for $800?

Unfortunately, a hugely overlooked segment of the population has no choice but to pay these prices for outdated technology – namely, people with disabilities.

Commercial technology has taken off in recent years while assistive tech has remained flat in both innovation and competition. The gap between those two curves is opportunity. The Maker community is in a position to access and transform this market and significantly impact many lives in positive ways long before the major manufacturers intend to devote their focus.

We at Furenexo believe it’s time for Makers to become advocates, and recently launched our Kickstarter campaign to develop low-cost, highly accessible assistive technology using open source hardware and software. We see an amazing opportunity to empower Makers to become “enableists”, and make better things — and things better — for our world.

Why Make Assistive Devices?
– Because advances like Arduino, 3D printing, and object/face/voice recognition are making concepts that were only pipe dreams a few years ago possible.
– Because the challenges faced by people with disabilities have been ignored for so long and any progress could have a deep impact.
– Because nobody needs an “Uber for dry-cleaning” or yet another disco light set-up for Burning Man.
– Because engaging with disability at any level could be a personal challenge outside your comfort zone.
– Because around 49 million Americans (3.8 million of whom are veterans) are affected by some physical or sensory impairment. The economic impact of even slightly reducing some of these challenges people with disabilities face could be profound.
– Because just making something to help a neighbor could earn you a smile and thank you to light up your day, and every day.

How Do I Start?
1) Extend your “designer mind”.
Many of you already approach making with the mindset of form-follows-function. You build tools or projects tailored for how you wish to use them. Adjust this slightly to consider how those same devices would work for someone else – in particular someone who requires a wheelchair, or may not have use of their hands or even their eyes. It’s often easiest to envision a friend or loved one and ask yourself, “How would Nana handle this?” or, “How would my neighbor, John, use what I’m making?”

2) Ask and engage – don’t assume.
This is a terrific general rule that becomes even more crucial when working with people from disabilities communities. If you want to create something for a neighbor or friend – be sure to get their feedback before, during and after the process. Many physical issues a person with disability deals with every day could thus be uncovered and incorporated into your design plans. Just as important, in some cases the person with a disability may be embarrassed to have their disability pointed out, particularly if they work hard to main their independence. It’s quite possible that they’d rather not have the attention until they have established a trusting relationship with you.

3) Add to your skill set.
Coursera and Thingiverse are fairly well known. But new platforms like have emerged to solve real issues for people with disabilities, along with ideas and open source solutions that need your improvement and collaboration.

4) Bring solving a disability challenge into your day job.
Technology advancements are unlocking new approaches to design that have never existed before. For one, the notion that designing for the most challenged individuals will lend solutions to other products is now a reality.

If a seat is designed to be comfortable enough for a wheelchair-bound person to use for 16 hours, what airline or furniture manufacturer wouldn’t want to check it out? A system for enabling blind individuals to “read” signs or warnings in their neighborhood could certainly be incorporated into driverless cars.

SoundSense uses vibrations to give people with hearing impairments more information about the world around them.

Where you can make a difference is remembering that the design approach doesn’t work in reverse. Designing enhancements purely for luxury cars will not lead to that newfangled wheelchair or enhanced in-home experience for people with disabilities.