Amazon introduces a hardware solution for accessibility

access_pwIf you’ve still been hoping for Amazon to bring back the text-to-speech for the e-ink Kindles, you may be out of luck. The death knell for that sounded today when Amazon announced it’s new VoiceView For Kindle feature today.  The feature uses Amazon’s text-to-speech language system (Ivona) to help visually impaired customers navigate the Kindle Paperwhite.

Previous generations of e-ink Kindles offered by Amazon used speakers are or a 3.5mm jack to provide the sound for text-to-speech. This solution uses a separate USB dongle that requires the use of headphones. According to Amazon’s blog:

Visually impaired customers will be able to use VoiceView for Kindle with the new Kindle Audio Adapter—an Amazon-designed USB audio dongle—to connect headphones or speakers, which then allows the ability to listen to and navigate the user interface, in addition to listening to books. The Kindle Audio Adapter was designed specifically to be used with VoiceView for Kindle.

The new Kindle Audio Adapter is available now as part of the Kindle Paperwhite Blind and Visually Impaired Readers Bundle.  The bundle includes the Kindle Paperwhite with Wi-Fi and Special Offers and the Kindle Audio Adapter. According to Amazon, purchasers receive a $19.99 Account Credit back for the purchase of the adapter, “so they won’t have to pay extra for accessibility.”  The dongle is promised to be available at a future date for other Kindle e-readers.  Update: the adapter is now available separately for $19.99. New story here.

My reaction to this? I am seriously underwhelmed. IMHO, the hardware dongle is the wrong approach and one much too late in coming.

As a bit of background, I should note that I myself am vision impaired. In the past, I worked managing federal grants (which included monitoring ADA compliance issues) and had also represented my community at an Easter Seals Project Action Seminar. So this is an area that really interest me, personally and professionally.

Text-to-speech has been a thorny issue for Amazon since the feature was first introduced on the Kindle 2. The Authors Guild strenuously objected to the feature and claimed it was, in fact, illegal. Amazon finally backed off and let the publishers decide whether text-to-speech should be enabled on a title. While the Kindle Keyboard, the Kindle DX and the 2012 Kindle Touch were text-to-speech enabled, subsequent models have not included the feature.

The hardware USB dongle approach is problematic for several reasons. First, the dongle solutions limits independence. It means that, at least for right now, I have to buy a special Kindle bundle in order to have accessibility instead of all Kindles providing that accessibility. In order to use the dongle, I would also have to purchase or provide headphones or a speaker in order to make the device in order to use the disability features. (This is a barrier a sighted person would not have if using a Kindle Paperwhite.)

What about people who already own Paperwhites? The Kindle Audio Adapter is not available separately so that I could make one of the Paperwhites I already own accessible. From the product page: 

Kindle Audio Adapter [is] only compatible with VoiceView enabled Kindle e-readers (does not support music or audiobook playback)

Will there be a software update for current Paperwhites? It will be interesting to see how Amazon handles that issue (if at all). According to ADA regulations, Amazon can’t legally charge for the adapter,  so I really doubt that we will see the item available separately.

This hardware solution also seems to dramatically affect battery life on the Kindle Paperwhite. According to the product page:

A single battery charge provides up to 6 hours of continuous reading while using Kindle Audio Adaptor [sic]

Notice the difference in battery power. Current Paperwhites are supposed to get 30 days use at a half an hour of use per day or the equivalent of approximately 15 hours. That’s two and a half times the battery life you will get when using the dongle.

That battery life becomes a real concern as the dongle is using the same port that the Kindle uses for recharging. That means that you cannot use accessibility features and charge the Kindle itself at the same time. I see that as an issue that is going to severely limit the usefulness of the connected Kindle.

I intend to be watching this feature very closely to see how this story develops. We will see how this new feature actually performs in practice. It will be interesting to see if Amazon opens this up to existing Kindles and just how quickly it rolls out to other Kindle models.

Found via KindleChronicles / Teleread

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Many low-income students use only their phone to get online. What are they missing?

By Crystle Martin, University of California, Irvine 

For many of us, access to the Internet through a variety of means is a given. I can access the Internet through two laptops, a tablet, a smartphone and even both of my game systems, from the comfort of my living room.

However, this access is unequally distributed. Although nine out of 10 low-income families have Internet access at home, most are underconnected: that is, they have “mobile-only” access – they are able to connect to the Internet only through a smart device, such as a tablet or a smartphone.

A recent report, “Opportunity for all? Technology and learning in low income families,” shows that one-quarter of those earning below the median income and one-third of those living below poverty level accessed the Internet only through their mobile devices.

This leads to limited access: A third of families with mobile-only access quickly hit the data limits on their mobile phone plans and about a quarter have their phone service cut off for lack of payment.

So, what impact does this type of access have on youth learning?

What changes with a computer connection

My research has explored underserved youth’s use of technology to discover and participate in content related to their interests. Having access only through their mobile devices means that low-income families and youth do not have the same access to the Internet as those with other Internet connections.

One-fifth of families who access the Internet only through their mobile devices say too many family members have to share one device. This means that the amount of time each individual has to access the Internet is limited.

This can be a barrier to learning for young people. It can limit their access to resources to complete their homework, as well as create barriers for other learning. Thirty-five percent of youth who have mobile-only access look online for information about things they are interested in. But this goes up to 52 percent when young people have access to an Internet-connected computer.

When young people have access to an Internet-supported computer, it facilitates their learning.
leah, CC BY-NC-ND

When young people have their own access to the Internet, they have an opportunity to engage in connected learning – learning that is based on interest, is supported by peers and has the potential to offer better opportunities for the future.

A 2014 paper on the use of digital media as a learning tool highlights how learning around interests can be supported through online resources.

The paper tells the story of Amy, a participant in an online knitting community, Hogwarts at Ravelry, which combines both interest in knitting and the Harry Potter series. Amy finds inspiration in the vast knitting pattern library of the group and receiving support from others in the community. She begins to develop, design and write patterns of her own. And, as a teenager, she begins selling her patterns online.

Amy’s access to a stable Internet connection and her own dedication allowed her to dive deep into the activities of the community. Over time, it allowed her to become more active and engaged in knitting.

Another example of what youth can accomplish online comes from my 2014 research on a professional wrestling fan community, a set of forums where professional wrestling fans get together virtually to discuss the many facets of professional wrestling.

Maria, a professional wrestling fan, seeks out an online community because she lacks local support for her interest. Through her participation, she realizes her deep enjoyment of writing. She carries this back into her English class and the school newspaper. This eventually leads her to take creative writing as a second degree in college.

Maria spent hours on her computer carefully crafting her narratives while participating on the forum. With a mobile-only access, she would not have had the amount of time online, or the amount of bandwidth, required for this work. This is supported by the fact that only 31 percent of children with mobile-only access go online daily as compared to 51 percent of those with other Internet access.

How low-income youth get left behind

Mobile-only access to the Internet can create serious barriers for youth who want to access content and educational supports.

As part of my research, I have been conducting workshops in libraries located in low-income communities, using an online coding program that is not yet available on mobile devices. In one of the workshops, students needed to work on projects outside of the sessions.

Because of the limited technology access at home, the librarian held additional open hours so the youth participating in the workshop could work on their projects outside of the workshop hours. A few youth had access to their own computers, but the majority had only mobile access.

Young people who have computer access create may better projects.
Jeff Werner, CC BY-NC-SA

The youth with computer access at home created more complex projects. This was partly because they had more time to develop, modify and problem-solve their projects. But it was also because the coding program was available to only those with computer access. These youth also seemed to develop a deeper interest in coding potentially due to this greater level of exposure.

Need for better understanding

What becomes evident from the data from “Opportunity for all? Technology and learning in low income families” and from the examples from research is that having access to the Internet only through a phone can have an impact on young people’s access to learning opportunities.

Designers, educators and researchers need to be aware and continually create more equity through mindful decision-making.

Amanda Ochsner, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Southern California who studies how underrepresented groups of young people engage with games and digital media, argues that when designers and developers take the time to understand young people’s digital lives, they are ultimately able to make better tools. As she said to me:

In offices where the most recent models of laptops, tablets, and iPhones are abundant, it’s far too easy for those of us who develop educational tools and technologies to misjudge the technological realities of the young people the education tools and technologies are designing for.

Just how young people access online, in other words, matters – a lot.The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Reposted under a CC BY-ND 4.0 license.  Read the original article.

Daily Links: Paper, ereader, tablets, phones: Reading goes eclectic

daily_links_1Today’s links and finds:

Paper, ereader, tablets, phones: Reading goes eclectic (Vancover Sun) – As far as e-reading nowadays, anything goes.

8 Nook And Kindle Hacks You Need To Know About (Bustle) – Good tips for e-reading, especially converting back and forth between PDF, .epub and .mobi.

People are in denial about using devices while walking and being bad at it (Ars Technica) – Yeah. Just yeah.

To Push Moments, Twitter Starts Shoving The Notifications Tab To The Side (Techcrunch) – Seriously, somebody moved the furniture…. Hate it when that happens!

Access Denied (The Awl) – This adds an interesting dimension to the tension between publishing and technology. It also suggests that ad blocking may not be the only factor in magazine and website money woes.

As one of today’s deals, Amazon has a Kindle Fire HD 7″, HD Display, Wi-Fi, 8 GB (Previous Generation – 3rd) for just $99. This is the 2013 model (presumably new as it does not say refurbished). This model does not have a camera, microphone, HDMI port or the Mayday function.  This model is has no special offers ads.  The device has a 1280×800 screen resolution resolution at 216 ppi.

Daily Links are interesting links I discover as I go about my online day. The frequency and number of links posted depend upon the daily news. I also post other, different links of interest on Twitter and on the Google Plus eBook Evangelist Page.