Thursday, August 12, 2010

Amazon Kindle: Part 2

As stated in Part 1 of the review, the Kindle is a slick portable device, easy to use, and capable of delivering reading content in a satisfying book-like reading experience. Most potential users will benefit from the lightweight, portable format, easy-on-the-eyes paper-like display, and the access to an ever-growing library of reading content. Many of the important features to consider when looking at eBook Readers were described in Part 1 but there are key capabilities that may be of use to those with reading and learning disabilities:

Read-to-Me, which was described in Part I, provides support for those who benefit from text-to-speech (TTS) as a reading aid. The Kindle also includes a couple of features that serve as useful study aids. The device includes The New Oxford American Dictionary with over 250,000 entries and definitions. You can look up the definitions of English words without interrupting reading by using the joystick controller to move the cursor to the front of the word and if an extract of the definition is available it will display at the bottom of the screen. Kindle also allows you to add highlights, notes, and bookmarks. By using the keyboard, you can literally “write in the margins of a book.” The notes can be edited, deleted, and exported. You can also highlight and bookmark pages for future reference. Kindle also “remembers” where you stopped reading and will open to the last page read.

The Kindle Software for PC/ Windows has much of the functionality of the Kindle device with regards to reading books and other content. However, some books are not available for the Kindle Software, and periodicals including newspapers, magazines, blogs, and personal documents cannot be read using the software. The software lacks the ability to make notes, highlight or clip text, and lacks the dictionary function. However, you can bookmark and view highlights and annotations made through the Kindle device. Lastly, the Kindle Software is closed to any external TTS programs and lacks a TTS of its own. There are also Kindle versions for various phone/ PDA platforms but as of July 2010, all of these platforms lack any TTS support.

How do other popular eBook Readers compare? Although we have not made a thorough review of other Readers, we can make some observations. No other current eBook Reader has TTS capabilities and many have limited ability for re-sizing text. The Barnes and Noble Nook, although similar to the Kindle in several ways, differs in having a color display with touch interface, an expansion slot for extra storage, and a user replaceable battery. The Sony Reader series includes versions featuring a touch screen and a built in reading light, with all versions having an expansion slot for extra storage and gray-scale display.

Overall, the Kindle is a nice device successfully designed for replicating the book reading experience. The Kindle is the only eBook Reader currently available with TTS capabilities and would appeal to those who benefit from this support for reading.

- Alan J. Knue , Manager of Program Operations, WATP

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Amazon Kindle - Part 1

Author’s Note: This and a future blog post (Amazon Kindle Parts 1 and 2) refer to the Kindle 2. Amazon has just released the Kindle 3 and has stated in press releases that this newest version has text-to-speech enabled menus. Stay tuned for further information on this development in future blog posts.

The Kindle was introduced to replicate the book reading experience on a small handheld device and to that end, the Kindle functions very well. It is slim and lightweight with a 6” screen that is as comfortable to use for reading as a typical magazine or small paperback. The Kindle display has a paper-like quality and is presented in 16-level gray-scale instead of being backlit which makes it amazingly easy on the eyes and reads like real paper without glare, even in bright sunlight.

Beside books, you can load personal documents, such as Microsoft Word Documents and PDF on the Kindle. The newest Kindle version displays PDF documents natively which allows access to a broad range of journal articles and other documents. However, the small screen may not allow the easiest means for reading PDF documents. The Kindle gives you the option of six adjustable font sizes to suit reading preference. The largest should be suitable for some low-vision readers, but the small screen size means that selecting a larger text size will result in more page turning.

The Kindle offers Read-to-Me, a text-to-speech (TTS) option for some books, newspapers, magazines, and other content to be read out loud making content accessible to the low vision, blind and other users. You can choose from three preset reading speeds, the number of words per line, and whether the TTS is a male or female voice. The RealSpeak TTS voices offered are high quality, expressive and natural sounding. However, the fastest reading speed option may not be fast enough for some experienced TTS users. The TTS is also not available for PDF files or for books blocked by the right’s holder or publisher making some documents and books inaccessible to this function.

The Kindle page offers navigation buttons located on both sides of the device for “turning” pages; the buttons are relatively large and can allow for one-handed operability. The device’s menus are navigated using a simple small joystick. When pressed, you can select an item or action and move the on-screen highlight or cursor up, down, left or right. The size of the joystick and navigation buttons may make it difficult for some users who have limitations in movement and dexterity to successfully navigate menus and reading materials. The Kindle lacks any USB slots for connection of peripheral devices such as keyboards, Braille displays and switches nor are there SD slots for various media cards for extra storage of reading materials. Lastly, there is no TTS support for navigation, and thus it is impossible for blind users to independently access menus or navigate through reading materials.

Several universities have shelved the Kindle due to its lack of support for blind students (see For users with mobility and dexterity limitations the size of the Kindle and lack of options for attaching external switches and other supportive AT currently make the device inaccessible and until navigation has TTS support, blind users will not find the Kindle a good choice for an eBook Reader. However, like all technology the Kindle is continuing to evolve and Amazon has publically stated that a future updated version will have additional features, including TTS for navigation controls, making this slick, portable reading device a viable option for many more users.

Alan J. Knue, Manager of Program Operations, WATAP

Monday, August 9, 2010

WATAP booth at the Zoo!

WATAP staffers sitting at booth: Debbie Cook, Samantha Murphy, Thaddeus Jackson.

The Washington Assistive Technology Act Program joined a community celebration of the 20th anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act at the Woodland Park Zoo. The event was sponsored by the Alliance for People with disabilities and featured speeches by local disability advocates and proclamations by government representatives. It was great to talk with people interested in Assistive Technology and provide them with resources they need. The venue and warm weather punctuated a great event, the only down side was not being setup next to the petting zoo.

We’ll be posting upcoming events to Facebook and Twitter, we look forward to meeting you at our next outing. In the photograph are WATAP staffers (from left to right): Debbie Cook, Director; Samantha Murphy, Program Operations Specialist; Thaddeus Jackson, Office Assistant. Photo taken by: Gaby de Jongh, Assistive Technology Specialist.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Welcome to WATAP

Welcome to WATAP’s social media initiative. We are the assistive technology program in Washington and we want to create an easy to access place for Washington residents to get information about assistive technology devices and services in your state. We are counting on Washingtonians to share your experience and knowledge to help make this online community a positive and enriching environment. You can connect with others in your area and across the state to learn how AT can increase access to daily living, recreation, education and employment. Join the conversation today by subscribing to our blog and following us on Facebook and Twitter.