Kindle Fire Adds Accessibility Features

December 10, 2012

Accessibility is one of those issues that often needs a headline to grab attention. Too often, the headlines we see are about public institutions that didn’t heed warnings and are facing litigation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This year saw the resolution of two suits filed against libraries lending inaccessible ebook readers, one settled in August with the Sacramento Public Library and one settled in October involving the Free Library of Philadelphia.

As of right now, pretty much the only general consumer reading devices that meet accessibility standards are the Apple iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch families. Amazon recently announced new accessibility features that should help bring the Kindle Fire line of tablets into compliance. While the E Ink versions of Kindle have had some text-to-speech capabilities for content (if the publisher allows it), the inaccessible menu system has left the devices with an overall failing grade. The new features, available early next year, will also bring text-to-speech to menus and other interactions. iOS has had Voiceover, zoom, and other features to help make menus and content accessible to users who are blind or visually impaired for a number of years.

The US Department of Education has an FAQ about accessibility and ebook readers that can help your library avoid becoming the next headline. The FAQ clearly establishes that students (or patrons) with disabilities:

must be afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as sighted students. In addition, although this might not result in identical ease of use compared to that of students without disabilities, it still must ensure equal access to the educational benefits and opportunities afforded by the technology and equal treatment in the use of such technology.

Obviously, the answers in this document and the initial &lquo;Dear Colleague Letter” that the FAQ addresses will require a deeper review by a library board (and probably legal counsel) but here is the really rough gist of things. If you are supplying readers for patron use, there has to be support for those needing an accessible reader. And, starting early next year, it looks like the Kindle Fire tablets might join iOS devices in meeting accessibility standards. But E Ink readers like the original Kindle family and the Nook Simple Touch still don’t pass muster.