A Call For Accessibility Commitment

I just sent the below as a follow-up to the previous correspondence with Amazon. I’ll be interested in their response.


For background, see correspondence with this address, below.

First, congratulations on your commendation from the National Federation Of the Blind for adding talking menus to the Kindle 3. While this is a great first step, I’d submit commendation was, perhaps, a bit premature.
This is a great first step, and there’s no denying that. However, more needs to be done, and much of it, I believe, should be able to be accomplished by firmware updates to the Kindle 3 hardware. At a minimum, all core functionality should be accessible using spoken feedback. This means the ability to browse and purchase from the Kindle ebook store, the ability to browse and select a book, and to begin reading that book. This all begins, of course, with the ability to turn on the voice guide without assistance. A reasonable stop gap measure (and I emphasize that this should not be a permanent solution) would be the ability to ask that voice guide be turned on before the unit is shipped.
Naturally, I completely understand that experimental functions such as the Web browser are less likely to receive attention, and I’m not as concerned about those. Core reading functionality being accessible is the important thing here. While it’s great to have a book read aloud, the ability to have unfamiliar words or terms spelled is essential, as is the ability to find, select, and review sections using spoken output. A straight read simply won’t be adequate for something like a college textbook.
As you are undoubtedly aware, the ability for publishers to disable text to speech is of great concern to the print disabled community. Ideally,we would like to see all books without the ability to have this important functionality disabled. If this cannot be done per individual unit, and if Amazon will not change its policy, so that all books allow text to speech to work, please at least ensure that all books with TTS disabled are designated on their purchase and information pages. I, for one, would be very upset if I bought a book and was then unable to read it. While “The publisher has asked that text to speech be disabled on this book, we apologize to our print disabled readers for their utter stupidity” would be super, I understand it is probably not practical. Still, a notice that “Text to speech is not available for this title”, noted prominently, would be sufficient, I think.
Let me stress here that I am at this time willing, able, and ready to purchase a Kindle 3, if I have some commitment from Amazon that I will be able to use its core functionality independently at some point, and that accessibility concerns are being addressed for this unit. I will add that I am willing, able, and ready to assist you in testing such accessibility improvements on the Kindle 3, should you need such a thing. As a blind computer user and technical support specialist for an assistive technology company, with over 25 years of computer use under my belt, I am happy to help you make the Kindle 3 even more useful to the print disabled community. If these concerns cannot or will not be addressed on this hardware platform and we must wait for the Kindle 4, sadly, I will not purchase a Kindle 3.
I eagerly await your response. Know that our previous correspondence, along with this letter, have been posted to my personal blog for the print disabled community to see. I’m sure we are all eager to hear that Amazon is committed to future accessibility enhancements as soon as is practical.

2 thoughts on “A Call For Accessibility Commitment

  1. I received a canned response from Amazon, thanking me for owning a kindle and submitting feedback, and they hope that my Kindle experience will continue to improve and all that. Clearly this wasn’t at all useful. I clicked the link for “No, this response was not helpful” and submitted the following:

    I’m sorry, the canned form letter response was not useful in this case. I do not own a Kindle, and, in its present state, I don’t believe it will be very useful to me as a blind person. Before I spend nearly $200 to buy this potentially, and at this point it is only potentially, useful device, I need to know that Amazon will continue to improve its accessibility to the print disabled community. I’m sure that I will get pretty widespread agreement on this. Simply stated, I need to know that the current accessibility efforts are more than just a token gesture, and that this version of the hardware will some day be useful to me. If it will not be, I will wait to see what you do with the Kindle 4.

  2. Well, guess there’s no Kindle 3 in my future. I’m also underwhelmed by their commitment to this issue. I understand this is just a customer service guy with limited knowledge, but not even any indication that someone who *does* know would be asked:

    Hello Buddy,

    As we explained, Voice Guide will let you navigate your Kindle with spoken menus, selectable items, and descriptions.

    We have no additional information regarding the development of new features on the Kindle. I’m so sorry, but we can’t offer any additional insight or action on this matter.

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