What prompted me to write this post?
Well I read Pratik Patel’s very angry blog post about the lack of accessibility on the new Amazon Kindle Fire. Boy was he mad! He really tore into Amazon.
Is such anger justified?
To an outsider this level of anger may seem grossly disproportionate. I too am very disappointed that the new flagship Amazon device has not improved in terms of accessibility, but I am more saddened than angry that it is an opportunity missed.
However, there is a long and inglorious history when it comes to Amazon and the accessibility of the Kindle. It is a history full of missed opportunities, U-turns and vested interests. That goes some way to explaining the fury expressed by Pratik on his blog.
Previous versions of the Kindle have included the ability to use text-to-speech to read books on the device. For people with print disabilities such as visual impairment and dyslexia this offered up the prospect of access to a library of books that they could previously only have dreamed of.
Unfortunately the number of books actually available for use with text-to-speech was severely curtailed by pressure from the Author’s Guild who claimed that text-to-speech would impact on their billion-dollar sales of audio books.
Authors can now choose to have the text-to-speech disabled on their works.
This is a crying shame.
The Guardian’s Books Blog pointed out that:
“Clearly the Authors Guild wants to take a firm position early about the emerging technology, but this campaign seems misguided. If it weren’t, one might expect the first people to side with the Authors Guild to be Amazon, since, as well as manufacturing the Kindle, the company owns Audible, a download site which accounts for 95% of the on-line audio-book market.”
Previous versions of the Kindle were not fully fledged tablets in the way that the Kindle Fire is. The voice aided navigation whilst clunky was manageable with the limited feature set. Users with print disabilities could just about use the device albeit with a restricted range of books.
Accessibility of previous Kindle’s
There is a well balanced review of Kindle accessibility by Serotalk which lists the steps they would like to see to make the product more accessible. These included:
- Ability to turn on Voice Guide independently.
- Implementation of universal text-to-speech setting, eliminating the need to turn on text-to-speech for each piece of content.
- Ability to navigate and select text within a book.
- Ability to highlight or make notes on specific passages in a book.
- Ability to browse the Kindle store and purchase items directly from the device.
This limited accessibility was not enough to prevent trials of Kindles in US universities being stopped.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison and Syracuse University were two establishments running these pilot programs which recently decided not to adopt the device until its features are improved, including access to visually impaired students.
If previous versions were not fully accessible what’s to get upset about when there is effectively no change?
Now that Amazon has released a fully fledged tablet a higher percentage the features on the device are completely inaccessible.
This is a regrettable and retrograde step.
Reasons for the lack of accessibility?
People could argue that because the Kindle Fire is using a version of Android which in itself is not totally accessible that it could be excused.
Others may say that given the huge market pressures to deliver a device in time for the gift giving season that there simply was not time to implement accessibility.
These are really just excuses.
Amazon has completely customised the version of android that the Kindle Fire runs on.
It could have included accessibility in the design specs and the company certainly has the capabilities and the money to make this work.
As I have outlined in previous posts the earlier you plan to make the product accessible the easier and less expensive it is to achieve.
Arguments about not having enough time or resources will not wash either as they had enough time to develop the “silk” browser.
Perhaps I will feel more forgiving is Amazon were to make a future commitment to accessibility and produce a roadmap, I will wait but I certainly won’t hold my breath.
The fire sale idea.
Whilst I am not totally aligned with the tone and anger in Pratik’s blog I was very interested by the idea he put forward to register the disability community’s concerns by ordering and then cancelling the Kindle Fire and giving the reason for cancelling the order as the lack of accessibility. He has created a hashtag on twitter: #firesale
I’m very keen to see accessibility features such as text-to-speech and speech recognition included in mainstream products.
The only way that major manufacturers and corporations will start to take notice is if they can see something in it for them.To demonstrate that there is a viable market for mainstream products designed with inclusion in mind.
Or in this case that they are losing potential sales.
For a major company like Amazon to sit up and take notice it will require very significant numbers of people to participate.
That will include people from outside of the disability and accessibility world.
To persuade Joe public to get involved the campaign must appear as reasonable to them. It needs to persuade them that this is something worth doing and no-one is not going to do that by shouting.
Such a campaign needs to be compelling, measured in tone and charismatic.
I really like Pratik’s idea but if it is to succeed he will need to express himself in a more measured way now that he has vented his spleen.