Veronica With Four Eyes

Kindle Fire for Low Vision Review

A few months ago, Amazon did a special where you could purchase a refurbished Kindle Fire 7″ tablet for about $30. I’m a huge fan of the Nook e-reader, and have been since it first came out, but I had been curious about Prime Reading and Kindle Unlimited, especially with the audio features. So I decided to try out the tablet, and here’s what I discovered. I was not compensated in any way for this review.

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First impressions

Having been an Android user since Eclair (2010), I naturally thought that the interface would be very familiar to me, especially since Android has been accessible to low vision in the past.

When I went to use my tricks to make Android accessible and found a lot of them didn’t work on the tablet. This is because of Amazon’s custom operating system. I couldn’t use any Android third party applications either. I knew I was going to be using the Kindle Fire for reading only, and not for any other apps.

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The screen reader

I was surprised how much I liked the screen reader built into the system. It uses a gesture-based layout very similar to VoiceOver and reads information at a natural pace. I don’t normally use screen readers often, so I was very impressed with this one.

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Magnifier

I had to disable the magnifier on the Kindle Fire because I kept accidentally activating it. The Kindle Fire requires users to triple tap the screen to activate the magnifier, which is very easy to do by mistake. I found that the font on the screen was sized generously enough so I didn’t need the magnifier much.

Viewing the library

Because of the small screen, I decided to view what was available for the Kindle on my computer. As a Prime member, I have access to several titles for free, a lot of which I recognized from popular series, and can check out an unlimited amount of books with this service. I can also check out one book a month with the Kindle lending library. A handful of books are synced with Audible narration, so I can alternate between reading and listening- not many are, though. There’s also magazines available, but I prefer to read those using the Zinio app.

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Kindle Unlimited

There’s another feature available called Kindle Unlimited, which gives users unlimited access to about a third of the catalog for $10 a month. A lot more of these titles have Audible narration available, which is fantastic for users who prefer audiobooks. This is especially helpful for users that are blind that prefer natural speaking voices, as opposed to the screen reader. ¬†However, a majority of the titles can also be found on Prime Reading, so it doesn’t make much sense for me to have it.

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Actually reading

I kept the screen reader turned on when reading, but found it extremely difficult to turn pages. I ended up turning it off and using the Audible narration built in. I’m sure there’s some trick to page turning that I don’t understand yet, but the large print was generously sized enough for me.

Using other services

I use Bookshare, a special service for people who are blind or have low vision to receive accessible books. I had problems trying to load these books onto the tablet, even though they were in EPUB format. Since I consider myself extremely tech savvy, this was a strange experience. I did not see any accessible reading apps from Bookshare available on the Amazon app store either. OverDrive, a book service my library subscribes to, worked very well on the Kindle though.

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Kindle for low vision

After doing some research, I discovered that there is a Kindle system specifically configured for users with low vision or blindness. It comes with a Kindle PaperWhite, which does not display color. There’s also a special audio adapter so the user can control the system using their voice. It also comes with a $20 Amazon credit to defray the cost of the additional adapter. This is because Amazon believes it shouldn’t cost extra to have accessible materials, something I really appreciate. I have not tested out this system, but it seems to be a much better layout for people with low vision.

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Review

I found the Kindle Fire to be a good tablet with a bit of a learning curve. It’s not the most accessible tablet for people with low vision or blindness, though. I am going to keep using it to see if it improves over time, but for right now my recommendation for eReaders has not changed. I continue to recommend the Nook GlowLight for books and for using Bookshare, and iPad for textbooks and magazines. If Amazon improves navigation with the screen reader or gives users larger text options, I’m sure I’ll like it better.



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