As a user with low vision, I love being able to access audio content nonvisually without having to press any buttons or navigate a confusing visual layout with a screen reader. Amazon Echo devices and Amazon Alexa have several awesome options for reading and interacting with text-based content, and today I will be sharing my favorite options for how Amazon Alexa can help you read content from a variety of sources, including purchased books, library books, and more.
Alexa, Read from Kindle
Asking Alexa to read from Kindle will open up the most recent book in the Kindle library and start reading from the last saved location in the book. Books are read out loud with Alexa’s voice and users can adjust playback settings with their voice, including:
- Asking for a specific Kindle book title
- Sharing more information about the book being read
- Pause, stop, or restart reading the book
- Navigate through the book by chapters, or by time intervals
- Slow down/speed up Alexa’s reading speed
- Set or cancel a timer for Alexa to stop reading
To enable playing Kindle books, users will need to enable the Kindle Assistive Reader in the Alexa app, which can be found in the Settings menu under Accessibility. Titles must have support for text-to-speech to be compatible with the Amazon Alexa.
Users who download books to the Kindle app from Libby/OverDrive can have their content read out loud with Kindle Assistive Reader.
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- Digital Library Resources For Vision Impaired Patrons
Alexa, Read from Audible
Another option for reading books on the Amazon Alexa is to ask to play books from the user’s Audible library. Users will need to ask for a specific title from their Audible library and have an active Audible subscription to use this skill. Audible books are played as they were originally recorded with human narrators and do not use Alexa’s voice to read content, and offer similar voice control options for pausing, adjusting the speed of content, and setting timers for reading.
Bookshare Reader for Amazon Alexa
Bookshare is an accessible online library for users with print disabilities that impact their ability to access standard print. The Bookshare Reader allows active Bookshare users to listen to content that is added to the reading list “Amazon Alexa”, which can be done online or using voice controls with the skill. Bookshare books will need to be downloaded in an audio format to be used with the skill, though it’s worth noting users can download the same title in multiple formats without it counting towards their monthly download limits. I’ve linked Bookshare’s guide to using the Bookshare Reader skill below for further reading.
- Read with Smart Speaker | Bookshare
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- Ten Cool Things You Didn’t Know About Bookshare
Reading Wikipedia with Amazon Alexa
Wikipedia entries can be tiring to read for people with print disabilities or eyestrain, though there is an option with Amazon Alexa to access Wikipedia without having to look at a screen. This can be done by saying “Alexa, Wikipedia” followed by the topic or title of the article they want to read, or by saying “Alexa, look up (topic) on Wikipedia.” It’s worth noting Alexa will not read the full Wikipedia article, it will just provide a synopsis.
Ask Alexa for the news
Amazon Alexa can create a flash briefing for users that can read top news stories from popular news sources which are chosen by the user. Other Amazon Alexa skills can be added to the flash briefing as well such as the weather, local news, or other information. This is a great option for people who are sensitive to flashing lights, as there’s no need to worry about surprise strobe lights or a shot of several police cars with their lights and sirens on when browsing video content on local/national news websites.
To set up Flash Briefings for Amazon Alexa:
- Open the Alexa app
- Open the More menu and select Settings
- From Settings, select Flash Briefing
- Select the toggle next to each news service you want to add to your Flash Briefing.
- To change the order of your selected news programs, select Edit.
Reading content from Pocket with Amazon Alexa
Pocket is a free app that allows users to save articles, webpages, and videos from the internet for offline viewing at a later time. After saving an article, the content is sent to the user’s Pocket list which is synchronized across devices, and simplifies the visual display of articles so that they are easier to read. Users can access Pocket content with Amazon Alexa and listen to their three most recently saved articles with the official Pocket for Amazon Alexa skill.
- Using the Pocket Skill for Amazon Alexa – Pocket Support (getpocket.com)
- Pocket App Accessibility For Visual Impairment
Using Amazon Echo as a wireless speaker
Want to listen to content from another application like Libby, Voice Dream, Capti, or another audio reading app that doesn’t support Amazon Alexa? Connect a computer, tablet, or smartphone to Amazon Alexa via Bluetooth and use the Amazon Echo device as a wireless speaker. This can be done using the same methods for connecting other types of wireless devices such as headphones.
Alternatively, users can also connect to their Amazon Echo device with a wired connection using a 3.5 mm audio jack cable.
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More ways that Amazon Alexa can help you read
- RNIB Talking Books is another accessible library that has an Amazon Alexa skill for accessing thousands of titles, though I have not personally used it since I live in the United States
- Amazon StoryTime is a free skill that can play bedtime stories for kids 5-12, though I have removed it from my recommendations as there is no way to filter by age group, which could potentially expose younger users to age-inappropriate content
- Alexa offers a built-in dictionary so users can ask Alexa to define a word as they are reading by asking “Alexa, define word” or “Alexa, what does word mean?”
- Another fun skill is to ask “Alexa, read me a poem” which will read a poem out loud and send a copy of the text to the Alexa app for further reading