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. Now, 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.  Link to tablet here.

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. I went to use my tricks to make Android accessible…and found a lot of them didn’t work on the tablet, because of Amazon’s custom operating system, and I couldn’t use any Android third party applications, which I rely on a lot. So this tablet was definitely going to be for reading only, not using any other applications.

The screen reader

I was surprised how much I liked the screen reader built into the system. It is enabled by touch, instead of needlessly reading through settings. I have to triple click to get to anything, so I decided to disable the magnifier. I normally do not use screen readers, and prefer large print or magnifier tools when possible.

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 (more on that here).

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, especially since I don’t use the Audible feature a lot.

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.  Here are my typical preferences for print materials.

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 the universally accessible EPUB format. I consider myself extremely tech savvy, so 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 (more about that here).


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, this will change.

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. It also includes a special audio adapter so the user can control the system using their voice, something that would have been an amazing feature on this Fire tablet. It also comes with a $20 Amazon credit to defray the cost of the additional adapter, as 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.

Overall, I was not overly impressed with this tablet, especially since I am a devoted Bookshare user, and the service did not work very well with the Kindle. However, I see potential in this device, and if it can improve its accessibility features, or be compatible with the voice control system, it would be a great resource for people with low vision.

Amazon Echo Dot Review

Last month, a new device joined my technology collection, and has quickly become one of my new favorites. I don’t have to worry about making it accessible, because it is perfect right out of the box. I can control it with my voice and get more information about the world around me. This little device is the Amazon Echo Dot, with Alexa technology. Here are some ways it has helped me as a college student with low vision.  This post is in no way sponsored by Amazon, and I received no compensation for writing about it- I just genuinely love this product.

What is Amazon Echo?

The Amazon Echo ($180) and Amazon Echo Dot ($49) are two devices that use Amazon’s voice assist technology, called Alexa. The only difference between the Echo and Echo Dot is that the Echo has a large speaker built in, while the Dot does not. When the device is summoned by saying the name Alexa (or Echo or Amazon, depending on the set wake word- my brother uses the word Computer), the user can request it to complete several different tasks.  I have the 2nd Generation Amazon Echo Dot in white.

How do you set it up?

If you are using the device at home, simply connecting to the wifi hotspot is sufficient. However, if you are setting it up at college, where the wifi requires a username and password, the setup is a little different. My school has a device registration website where the user can register up to five wireless devices that connect to the unsecured internet. By registering the MAC address on the college website, which can be found in the Amazon Echo app, the Amazon Echo can be used on a college campus. I keep my Dot across from my bed, on top of my printer, and it can easily pick up my voice no matter where I am standing in my dorm room, without picking up on my suitemates’ voices in the hallway.

What common functions do you use the most?

I’m constantly asking Alexa what time it is, as I don’t have to worry about focusing to read numbers on a clock. I also can easily set timers and alarms, though it isn’t as easy to get the alarms to turn off, which I think is a good thing because I am prone to sleeping through alarms. I also have found the weather forecasts to be very accurate and helpful. In addition, I have used the Echo to add items to my Amazon Fresh shopping list and place orders through Amazon, or just add a product to my wishlist, something that’s especially helpful when I am reading something. I also love Amazon Music and have that on frequently.

How do you use it as assistive technology?

The talking clock has been a great feature, but the Amazon Echo can be used for other assistive technology purposes. I installed a calculator function on it from the Alexa App Store, and can use it to perform basic calculations, much faster and less frustrating than a traditional calculator. It can read daily news stories from several different news outlets, sometimes with a live feed of the news channel, so I don’t have to worry about reading or flashing lights on the TV. I can also perform simple Google searches and other tasks.

What about those other devices you can hook up to the Alexa?

I haven’t tried any of the lightbulbs, thermostats, or other environmental control devices yet, but I’m hoping to set some up in my room next semester!  They look awesome.

Can you create your own Alexa functions?

Yes! Stay tuned, I will have a separate post on this soon. By using the app If This Then That (IFTTT), you can sync the Amazon Echo with several other apps and devices. I have mine hooked up to my Android phone and iPad.

When do you mute the Amazon Echo?

I mute the device when I will be leaving the apartment for more than three hours or when I’m on a voice or video call with someone who enjoys summoning the device (shoutout to my friend that frequently asks Alexa to add bananas to my shopping list while we are on voice calls together). From where it’s sitting, the Dot can’t pick up on anything going on in the hallway or any other room, only in my room. It can hear if someone on speaker says “Alexa.”

Does the Amazon Echo Dot use strobe or flashing lights?

I have never seen the device use strobe light effects. It uses a mild flash effect when processing information, but not one that is intense enough to cause a migraine or seizure- it’s similar in frequency to a car blinker. Sometimes it may cycle through the color gradient at a slow speed when loading information or syncing, but it will not flash.

Aren’t you worried about the device spying on you?

Not really. My other devices are spying on me anyway. I have taken cybersecurity classes and understand that the device is always listening to me, but I don’t say anything that would cause alarm, or anything particularly exciting.

Overall Review

I love this device and it has greatly helped me with accessing information. Almost anyone can learn to use it in two minutes or less, and it has many great functions that can replace more expensive assistive technology devices, such as talking clocks. I would recommend it to anyone, especially college students and people with low vision.

Amazon PrimeNow

For Amazon Prime users near major cities, Amazon offers free two hour delivery of hundreds of items through a service called PrimeNow. With a minimum purchase of $20, items are hand-delivered by couriers similar to AmazonFresh. Living within the Washington DC/Northern Virginia service area, I have been able to receive high quality products faster than it takes for me to get to the store, get lost in the store, and get back home. Here are some ways PrimeNow has been awesome for me, and why I recommend it to everyone with an Amazon Prime account.

It’s faster than going to the store

While I have reliable bus access here at college to many stores, as well as friends who drive, I find it easier to use PrimeNow for when I need to buy items. I can add items to my cart almost instantly, choosing from my purchase history or searching for items manually through the PrimeNow site. The prices and selection are comparable to my local store, and I’ve never had any issues finding items.
Items that I have purchased on PrimeNow include replacement pads for my portable TENS unit, protein bars, paper, toiletries, chargers, adapters, command strips, and many more.

No poorly rated products

When I came back from school in October, I left both my phone and iPad charger at home. Not wanting to pay $20 at the bookstore for a cable, I bought two highly rated cables for each device plus two wall adapters. All came highly reviewed and at a reasonable price at less than $30 for all items. Amazon would not keep low quality products available on demand, only the high quality bestsellers that are at a reasonable price.

Items can arrive within an hour

For $8 extra, the item(s) will arrive within one hour after they are ordered. While I very rarely do this, my friend once used it to get a laptop cable after theirs was destroyed and said it came within twenty minutes. The fastest delivery I’ve ever had was about thirty minutes.

Brown bag with Amazon PrimeNow logo and items inside
My package has arrived!

I can get items right outside my door

I program the delivery address right outside a restaurant near my apartment. Since users are able to follow where the courier is, I wait until they are within five miles of my address. Then I go wait outside and have the courier bring the items to me. I have a note for delivery that I am visually impaired with a description of what I am wearing (for example, red sweater with gray scarf). Most of the couriers just walk up to me and say they are from Amazon and ask what my name is, and this works well. For users who don’t live in a secured dorm, unattended delivery is also an option.

Excellent customer support

Customer support understands that I have low vision (a member of customer support even follows my blog!) and has been able to help couriers locate me, instead of having me wandering around trying to find someone I’ve never met. When there was an issue with an order I had, they issued me a full refund and helped ensure that the issue would never happen again. I’ve never met a rude customer support person or anyone who was impossible to understand over the phone, and I’ve never been on hold for more than thirty seconds later. Because I know customer support will help in case of a problem, I feel confident every time I place an order that I will be able to get my items.
I highly recommend PrimeNow to anyone who lives within the delivery area for it. I’m so happy that it’s available in my area, and can’t wait for it to expand even more.

AmazonFresh Review

I was overjoyed to discover last semester that AmazonFresh expanded their service area and was now available in Washington DC/Northern Virginia. I’ve been able to keep healthy snacks and frozen food for when I get stuck in my apartment thanks to this service, and it has been invaluable to me as a college student with a disability. Here are some reasons I enjoy using it.

How it works

AmazonFresh is a service available in select cities that allows users to have unlimited grocery deliveries (minimum purchase of $40) for $15 a month in addition to their Prime membership (Prime Student also counts). Users can choose from thousands of different products to add to their order- things like yogurt, fresh strawberries, dried pasta, ice cream, and pantry staples, all at prices comparable to what they would be at the store. After all of the items are chosen, the user can reserve a two-hour window in which the groceries will be delivered to their door in special insulated bags. While there is an option to just leave the packages by the door, I’m on a college campus and use the attended delivery option, meeting the courier outside my building (side note- I write that I use a blindness cane and that the courier should yell my name or some other way to get my attention, instead of just waving). I then bring the items inside using a hand cart and put them away. The courier is happy to help bring in items if needed.

Three green cubes on a cart
My groceries are here!

Shop anytime

Having low vision, I often rely on public transportation in order to get where I need to go. However, it’s very difficult to schedule a grocery trip when the bus only stops at the grocery store every 45 minutes, and carrying groceries back on the bus, along with a blindness cane, is not a pleasant experience. Walking a mile to the grocery store and attempting to carry back groceries, even with a human guide, is more frustrating. With AmazonFresh, I can shop anytime and schedule deliveries for as soon as the next day. For my most recent order, I ordered items at 11 PM and I had them in my hands by 10 AM the next morning.

No expired food

I can’t always read expiration dates very well, so I often buy food that expires quickly by mistake. All of the food that has been delivered to me by AmazonFresh has been well within its expiration date. Cold food arrives cold, no issues with thawing while they are in the coolers.

Carton of milk sitting in bright green cooler with ice packs and a hand reaching out to grab items
Refrigerated items in their cooler, featuring my hand

Nothing gets crushed

In my rush to pack groceries at the store, I’ve often squished food, and one time managed to explode coconut water all over my other items. Everything is packed in the coolers carefully, and they use extra coolers if needed to keep food that is easily crushed separate. In my order today, I received three coolers, with one cooler dedicated to coconut water and juice boxes that could be crushed under the weight of other items.

No getting lost in the store

My friend and I were at the store when we realized we had to find something in another aisle, and we didn’t communicate which aisle we thought it was. Next thing we knew, we were far apart and I couldn’t find them, and I also couldn’t find the item we were looking for to begin with. After that experience, my friend found a complimentary balloon and tied it to my wrist so I could be found easily.
With AmazonFresh, there is no store to get lost in, as everything is online. Everything is organized easily by category, and users can search for items easily using the search bar. I was able to find most of the brands I enjoy, while trying new things at the same time. Some people have complained about the limited section, but I’ve never had a problem with it.

Less risk of injury

Since I have limited peripheral vision, the amount of times I’ve run feet over with shopping carts is very high, as is the number of times I’ve crashed the cart into edges of the aisle. For people with chronic illness or mobility impairments, AmazonFresh can allow them to shop safely from home and not have to worry about navigating a store.

Amazon Dash

While I don’t have one of these yet (it comes in next week!), I have seen them used by others. The Amazon Dash allows users to say or scan items that they need and it will add them to the Amazon cart. While it does not automatically purchase items, and the user still has to adjust quantities, it is a great way to make sure you never run out of essential items.

It saves money

Instead of buying whatever I see first or what is easiest to reach, I am able to compare prices by ounce or unit of identical products and determine what size best meets my needs. I also don’t worry as much about impulse purchases. I order items about three times a month and stock up on things like protein bars using the service as well.
Overall, I am extremely satisfied with this service, and anytime I have had a problem, Amazon has been fantastic about handling it and solving any issues. I wish the monthly price was a bit lower, but it has not stopped me from using the service.  I would recommend this service who has issues accessing a normal grocery store, and I look forward to the service expanding to my hometown so my family can see how awesome it is.