Amazon announces VoiceView accessibility for Paperwhite with USB audible adapter

 

VoiceView for Kindle 3Amazon just released VoiceView for Kindle with a brand-new USB audio adapter that will enable blind and low-vision users of the current Paperwhite to hear text-to-speech content and to navigate their Kindles with connected earphones or speakers.

Peter Korn, Amazon’s accessibility architect, announced the new features in a blog post this morning.

“While developing VoiceView for Fire tablets, which uses Amazon’s natural language text-to-speech voices (formerly known as IVONA), we were also working on bringing VoiceView to our Kindle e-readers,” Korn wrote. “We are excited to say that, today, we have brought VoiceView to our Kindle e-readers, starting with the Kindle Paperwhite, so that visually impaired customers can enjoy reading on our Kindle e-readers, too.”

In an interview recorded yesterday that will air on the next Kindle Chronicles podcast Friday, May 13, Korn said VoiceView for Kindle will differ in some respects from the VoiceView that is now part of Fire OS 5, introduced in October of last year.

“The biggest difference isn’t in the VoiceView screen reader,” Korn told me in the interview. “It is in the base UI (User Interface) of the device.”

VoiceView for the dedicated Kindle eReader is simpler to use than VoiceView for the multi-purpose, multi-media Fire tablet, Korn said.

“A lot of older folks who have loved reading all their lives are maybe not as savvy with computers,” Korn suggested, leading them to prefer a dedicated eReader to a tablet. “That simpler interface carries forward with VoiceView on the eReader,” he said.

One VoiceView for Fire feature that will not be available in the first release of VoiceView for Kindle is called the Jog Wheel. An Amazon addition to the underlying Android accessibility tools, Jog Wheel enables a blind or low-vision reader to move quickly though text a character or a word at a time at variable speed.

VoiceView features that will be the same on Kindle and Fire include linear and touch navigation, a broad range of speech feedback rates and earcons, which are beeps and other sounds which have specific meanings in the screen-reading environment.

Because the Paperwhite does not have a speaker or headphone jack, Amazon created a micro-USB Kindle Audio Adapter to enable users to hear VoiceView’s navigation guides and text-to-speech.

U.S. customers can purchase a bundle of both the Kindle Audio Adapter and the Paperwhite here.

“Customers who purchase this bundle will receive a credit back on their account to cover the cost of the Kindle Audio Adapter, so they won’t have to pay extra for accessibility,” Korn wrote.

Amazon’s accessibility architect said VoiceView is coming first to the Paperwhite 7th Generation. When I asked if it will also be added to the basic Kindle, Voyage, and Oasis models, he replied: “I’m going to have to ask you to stay tuned for further announcements. Accessibility work in Amazon devices has been accelerating over the past few years. But you’ll just have to stay tuned.”

A goal of Amazon’s accessibility team is to enable a blind or low-sight customer to set up VoiceView without the assistance of a sighted person. To that end, when the Kindle Audio Adapter is connected to a Paperwhite, VoiceView will automatically begin running, Korn told me in the interview.

The adapter is purpose-built for VoiceView, Korn said. That means it will not enable sighted readers to turn off VoiceView and still use the adapter to hear general Kindle text-to-speech, Audible books, or mp3 files through headphones or speakers.

When I asked him if Amazon might in the future enable those audio features on the Paperwhite and other Kindles without VoiceView, Korn replied, “We generally don’t comment on our future roadmap, so I’m not going to be able to speak to that.”

You will hear lots more about Amazon’s accessibility program in the interview on Friday’s episode of The Kindle Chronicles.

I took the opportunity of the interview to see if David Rothman’s campaign for a bold-font option on Kindle text is getting any traction with the accessibility team. Here is the transcript of my questions and Korn’s answers on that topic:

Q: David Rothman at TeleRead has, I think, been pretty persuasive that, for some readers who have difficulty reading, an all-bold option or a slider to increase font boldness would be terrific on Kindles. I think Kobo has this capability. In your scanning of customer requests or perceived needs from customers is that something you’ve heard much about?

A. We’ve gotten feedback from customers on quite a lot of topics, and font choice is certainly one of those.

Q. I can picture you’ve all kinds of possible advances. How do you decide which ones you’re going to try to implement first and which ones are going to have to wait a while, if ever?

A. We continually evaluate ways we can make reading on the Kindle more enjoyable, more comfortable, more accessible. This led us to create the Bookerly font. This led us to include the open source Open Dyslexic Font, so we continue to evaluate and bring innovations to our customers.

Korn said Amazon has created a new email address for feedback related to device accessibility. It is device-accessibility@amazon.com . For feedback on more general accessibility topics, you can use the email address accessibility-feedback@amazon.com.

Amazon continues to expand its Lab126 accessibility team based in Sunnyvale, California, Korn told me. You can see the listings at amazon.jobs using the search term “accessibility.”

That’s how he found his job as accessibility architect, a position he has held since October, 2013.

[I am cross posting this story at TeleRead]

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Comments 11

  1. Jim Sullivan wrote:

    Len,

    Does this make text-to-speech available on the Paperwhite?

    Posted 10 May 2016 at 11:54 am
  2. Len Edgerly wrote:

    Unfortunately, no. With the adapter connected, you cannot disable VoiceView.

    Posted 10 May 2016 at 11:57 am
  3. Tom Semple wrote:

    If one is only interested in TTS, then surely you just plug it in when you want it and unplug it when you are not. Wonder if there are buttons on the dongle to pause/resume, volume, etc.

    I would expect this to be a Bluetooth thing with Oasis: having a wire hanging out of the USB port would defeat ergonomic benefits.

    I’ll be interested to get the dongle when it can be purchased separately and the software update is available.

    Posted 10 May 2016 at 1:04 pm
  4. Len Edgerly wrote:

    I think plugging in the dongle automatically starts VoiceView and you can’t turn it off. This is an advantage to blind people, for ease of setup. This project seems driven by accessibility team, which would not have had as much interest in technology that benefitted general readers. I expect there are going to be lots of questions about this.

    Posted 10 May 2016 at 1:44 pm
  5. Dan Meyers wrote:

    Here’s a link to just the dongle.

    http://amzn.com/B00ZGVVG92

    Posted 10 May 2016 at 6:03 pm
  6. Len Edgerly wrote:

    Thanks, Dan!

    Posted 10 May 2016 at 9:10 pm
  7. Tom Semple wrote:

    I ordered the audio adapter.

    I think if enough people get one and make it known to Amazon that they’d like ‘TTS only’ to be an option, Amazon could add that feature relatively easily. I don’t care about audiobook support

    Hopefully they will also update the other current Kindles for this as well, particularly the $79 one. People with vision impairment probably have no use for front lighting, and if anything text is bolder and easier to read on the non-front lit Kindle.

    Posted 11 May 2016 at 3:35 pm
  8. Len Edgerly wrote:

    I agree, Tom. Well said.

    Posted 11 May 2016 at 3:52 pm
  9. Joe Clark wrote:

    “Bold font” – the phrase is so vague it’s a problem in itself – will not remedy any of the Kindle’s massive list of typography defects. And, as I keep explaining to the TeleTwits at TeleRead, the issue you have to begin to understand is single-pixel stems.

    The idea that “bold font” is your A-number-1 fix, while proper justification, or simply the ability to turn off right justification forever, is not, suggests your priorities are askew here.

    There are quite a few of us who know about onscreen typography. We are willing to tell you everything we know.

    Posted 11 May 2016 at 8:39 pm
  10. Tom Semple wrote:

    So Nate worked out that off-the-shelf parts are all you need to enable the feature, and it works on Voyage and Oasis as well (with voice data that is available at Amazon).

    So rather than wait for the official Amazon audio adapter to arrive next week, I stopped by Fry’s and got said parts. It works perfectly fine and I’m very impressed with the implementation.

    Having played with screen readers before, I found it intuitive and easy to learn, and I would say easier than picking up VoiceOver on iOS or MacOS, TalkBack on Android, or VoiceView on the Fire tablets. The included Tutorial takes only a few minutes and you are off and running.

    When VoiceView is enabled some features are disabled, leaving only those which have been wired up for the voice assisted navigation. But this includes navigating the Library, Search with keyboard entry, dictionary lookup, X-Ray, Go To, Bookmark creation and of course reading out text.

    VoiceView Settings button replaces Settings button in the Quick Actions panel, so they are easy to get to and adjust. That is where you can turn VV off and on, adjust reading speed and volume.

    If you turn off VoiceView, you can leave the cable plugged in and it will resume ‘normal’ operation. At first I thought that you could put it to sleep and it would remain off, but it seems if it is more than a few minutes VoiceView is back on again when you wake the Kindle. Of course the other way is to just unplug the cable, but probably best not to overdo plugging and unplugging.

    The basic Kindle probably lacks the required hardware to work with this, though I might try it just to make sure. But there is supposedly a replacement on the way, maybe shipping in the fall, and I assume this will support this feature.

    They need to make voice data for other languages available as well, and it would be stellar if they could ‘enable’ note taking and sharing in a future release, but what is here is a great start.

    Posted 13 May 2016 at 1:12 am
  11. Len Edgerly wrote:

    That’s fantastic information, Tom. Thanks very much for posting. I finished the audio at midnight for today’s show, so I won’t be able to catch up with this until next week. I am also forwarding your info to Peter Korn, who I am sure will be very interested in what you found out and have to say about VoiceView.

    Posted 13 May 2016 at 7:32 am

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