While many people associate assistive technology with specialized devices that are expensive or hard to find, many mainstream technology devices have started supporting accessibility features and built-in assistive technology that can make specialty tools more financially and publicly accessible for all. One of my favorite examples of this is the eReader, which has revolutionized how I access printed materials and given me access to more books than I ever could find in the large print section at the library. Here are features to look for when buying an eReader for users with vision loss, as part of my ongoing Mainstream Technology and Low Vision post series.
Screen type- LCD vs eInk display
eReaders traditionally come with one of two types of displays, LCD and eInk. LCD displays are similar to the displays found on smartphones and tablet computers and are optimized for reading in indoor environments or areas with limited lighting, while eInk displays mimic the appearance of a book page and are optimized for use with other environmental lighting such as a lamp or outdoor reading. Some eInk displays may have an optional backlight feature for providing additional illumination. In general, eInk devices offer a longer battery life compared to LCD devices.
Personally, I prefer to use devices with an eInk display, because I can read on them for longer periods of time without eye strain compared to an LCD screen. I typically read novels and other books that have limited visual content on my eReader, so the paper-like black and white display works well for this type of content. If I want to read something that has a lot of visual detail, I will read it on my tablet.
The most common screen size for eReaders is six inches, and devices that have this screen size are close in size to a traditional paperback book. Larger and smaller screen sizes are available, and users can adjust the margins of text on their device to narrow the viewing window if needed. My current eReader has a screen size of around eight inches, though there are devices that offer up to a 10 inch eInk or LCD display as well.
Font sizes and formatting options
One of the main reasons why I love my eReader so much is because I can adjust the font size of any digital book to a size can read it at, as well as adjust other formatting details. While exact features may vary from brand to brand, eReaders generally support the following customizable display options:
- Large font sizes, typically up to size 48-pt font on eInk displays
- Adjustable line spacing
- Adjustable margins
- Support for a selection of different fonts, including serif, sans serif, and OpenDyslexic fonts
- Line justification
eReaders with a LED display also give users the option to change the page color and adjust screen brightness. These settings can be configured within the Text Options menu, which can be accessed from the reading toolbar inside any book.
Screen reader/text-to-speech support
Screen reader support and text-to-speech are generally not available for eReaders, though these features may be available within other eReading applications for Android and iOS. Some LCD devices like the Kindle Fire have text-to-speech support, but I would recommend using an iOS or Android application over an eReader for people who use screen readers or prefer to listen to content.
- Low Vision Accommodations For Print Materials
- Choosing High Contrast Color Schemes For Low Vision
- Paper Colors And Low Vision
- Ways To Read Webpages Without A Traditional Screen Reader
Ability to add EPUBs from outside sources
I download EPUB books from Bookshare, an online accessible library for people with print disabilities, so it’s critical that my eReader has the ability to let me download books from an outside source. I add books to my eReader by connecting the device to my computer via USB, and copying files using the File Explorer application. Bookshare books do not require any additional software or converting tools to be added to an eReader, provided that the user downloads books in an EPUB format.
As of 2022, Kindle eReaders now support EPUB file formats, but has not made the process very straightforward for loading them onto devices. The most reliable method I’ve used is using the “email file to Kindle device” option, which allows users to send files to their device’s unique email address and have them automatically loaded into the device library.
- Fast Facts About Bookshare
- Ten Cool Things You Didn’t Know About Bookshare
- Reading Bookshare Titles With Microsoft Word
Most eInk displays do not support additional applications or internet access beyond accessing the device bookstore. LCD devices typically support additional reading applications such as Libby for libraries as well as web browsing capabilities.
Summary of features to consider when buying an eReader with low vision
- Screen type. LCD displays mimic tablets/computers and provie a backlit display that can be read in low lighting environments, while eInk displays mimic paper and rely on environmental lighting
- Screen size. The most common screen size for eReaders is six inches
- Font size and formatting options. Users can customize the text size, font style, spacing, margins, and line justification for books on their eReader. Most eReaders do not support text-to-speech or screen readers
- Ability to add books from outside sources. Ensure that the device supports EPUBs if users are interesting in downloading books from outside of the device’s bookstore
- Support for additional applications. eInk devices typically do not support additional reading applications, while LCD devices do