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).

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, 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.

App Accessibility Checklist for Low Vision


About a month ago, my friend recommended an application to download on my phone. I wasn’t sure if they had thought about this, but there are many apps, even popular ones, that are inaccessible to people with low vision or photosensitivity. Right as I was about to ask, my friend said “don’t worry, the text can be enlarged to your size and there’s no strobes.” I was happy that not only my friend had checked for these things, but that the app developers had thought ahead of time and made their app accessible to people with low vision and photosensitivity.

Too many times, accessibility is considered a last minute thing to add to an application. With so many people identified as having a disability, app developers should be more aware of how important it is to consider diverse users when developing an application. Here are seven accessibility settings I check for when downloading an application, either on my Android phone or iPad. While this is targeted towards users with a disability, this also helps seniors and adults who simply forgot their reading glasses.

Can text be enlarged?

While some applications support the operating system’s default text settings, there are other apps that use their own fonts. Check that these fonts can be enlarged to a legible size- typically, I use a size 24 font, though bigger is almost always better. If there are different font style options, that is awesome too- people with certain print disabilities benefit immensely from weighted fonts like Comic Sans.

Can screen readers be used?

Many users use a tool like VoiceOver (Apple) or TalkBack (Android) in order to access text. Adding alt text image descriptions is also important so the user isn’t left guessing what was in the picture. If the image is purely decorative, write “null” or “decoration.” And please, have a skip navigation option, so the screen reader isn’t reading through unnecessary information.

Is everything displayed?

When the font is enlarged, make sure that all text, as well as buttons, are displayed on the screen in a logical manner. Some apps have text run off the screen, or do not enlarge buttons, which makes it impossible to use the app.

Is there sufficient contrast?

Is it easy to read the text on the screen? Having options to change the colors of the background or other buttons can be helpful in ensuring that users are able to see an app clearly. Having a night mode with a dark color scheme also can help reduce glare.

Are there strobe or flashing effects?

I have used a couple of applications that had random strobe or flashing light effects, or that used strobe notifications that could not be disabled. I even had a phone for about an hour that was a giant strobing mess. These apps were uninstalled immediately, and the strobing phone was returned as well. While a light at the frequency of a car blinker is fine, do not use strobe or flashing light effects, especially in red/blue colors, and give the user no way to disable them. For more information on who can be harmed by these effects, read this.

Can I use my own keyboard?

Some applications prevent the user from accessing a third party keyboard, or even the speech-to-text option. Allow users to be able to use any keyboard for maximum compatibility.

Do I have to think about using this?

If the user has to remember a complex series of steps to take because of accessibility settings being enabled, then the app isn’t worth using. One of the main design principles is that if the user has to think while using a product, then the designer has failed. Make sure users don’t have to jump through too many hoops.

Accessibility is very important to me, and I am always grateful when developers keep users like me in mind. While there are so many other disability areas to remember, I hope developers will continue to remember those of us with low vision and photosensitivity when creating apps.

How Do People With Low Vision…Get Dressed?

A couple of nights ago, I was waiting to get into my school dining hall, where a staff member swipes my student ID to allow me to get in. At the time, the person was way on the other side of the room and told me just to swipe my card on the scanner. I couldn’t see the scanner, which I told them politely and with a smile. As the person came closer and noticed my blindness cane, they apologized profusely for asking me to do that, and told me that I didn’t dress like someone who was visually impaired.

While I have had days where I walk out with two different colored shoes on or wear my pants on backwards, something I once did on school picture day, there are many tricks that I have to making sure I look my best daily. Here are five of them below:

 Stylebook

Stylebook is an iOS app that costs $4 and allows users to create a virtual closet. While it is marketed towards fashionistas, this brilliant app can be used by anyone. Users input photos of their clothes into the device and can tag them with colors, brand, size, washing instructions, and many other labels. Users can also write down the location of the item at the present time- hanging in the closet, sitting in the laundry bin, etc. In addition, users can create outfits or have the app randomly generate outfits for them. While the initial set up time may be tedious with taking pictures of everything you own, the work is well worth it as everything is well organized.

Shoe labels

After I walked around wearing one black shoe and one navy shoe all day, I bought small circle stickers from Amazon in different colors to put on the inside of my shoes. I don’t notice the stickers when I wear them, but they are a good reminder for me to remember to match the stickers when putting on my shoes.

 Pinhooks

Instead of putting all of my necklaces in a box or tangling them, I got a pack of Pinhooks for $8 that I put on cork board in order to hang my necklaces efficiently.

Hanging canvas shelves

I bought one of these when I got to college and it is amazing. I am able to lay out six days worth of clothes for the week and hang it in my closet without fear of it falling over, or stack sweaters easily so I can see them. My exact set is from The Container Store.

Velvet hangers

It helps to have hangers that don’t have clothes constantly falling off of them and that are easy to hang. By having textured hangers, clothes stay put and don’t take up too much space. These can be found anywhere where hangers are sold.

Check out how I do laundry here

5 Apps That Help Students With Low Vision In The Classroom

I started using my personal technology in the classroom full-time in 2013 when I started attending a high school that had wifi access available for students. I gave a presentation my senior year about some of these apps to my school district because so many people were impressed how I integrated technology so seamlessly into doing my schoolwork. Here are five of my favorite apps from over the years.

Notability

This app allows for the user to annotate PDFs and Word documents with drawings or text. The user can also type or draw on their own documents or photos. Afterwards, the user can upload the file to a cloud storage website such as Dropbox or email it to someone. My teachers in high school all shared access to a Dropbox folder and then created sub folders that they uploaded work into for me to retrieve. I have used this app in all of my science classes since I discovered it in 2013 and it has made the process of doing labs very easy. Teachers would email me the document for class or upload it to a shared folder, and I would open it with Notability. It is $2 and only available on iOS at this time.

myScript Calculator

I was actually recommended this app by the technology coordinator at my school two days before a state standardized test when we found out that the calculator app that I used at the time wasn’t actually approved by the state testing group. This app allows the user to write out the problem they want solved, and the app will convert the handwriting to text and display the answer. One thing I really like is that the typed font will enlarge to the size of the handwritten font, so if I write 2+2 so it takes up half the screen, the app will display the text as taking up half the screen. The app can recognize even the worst of handwriting and while it doesn’t support graphing, it is a great calculator that cannot access the Internet. It is free and can be downloaded for iOS or Android.

PicsArt

While it has many capabilities, I use this app in a learning environment to apply colored filters to text so that way I can read what I am doing easier, crop images, or enlarge them as needed. It is like a free version of PhotoShop that satisfies many of my creative needs. It is free and available on iOS and Android.

Clarisketch

This app allows users to create short, 30 second tutorials and draw on images as well as record audio. It is great for explaining simple concepts or for explaining things more in-depth. It does not require an account, and each Clarisketch can be accessed using an unique link. It is free and available on Android only.

Amazon Kindle

I get all of my textbooks digitally and have found that Amazon not only has all my textbooks, but also has one of the best eReading apps I have ever used. There are many study sources such as creating flash cards, but my favorite functions include the ability to enlarge text and adjust the brightness of the app. It is available on iOS and Android.