An AARP staffer is contacting Amazon to see what it will do about the Kindle’s lack of all-bold capability—needed by so many older owners and potential owners with contrast-sensitivity challenges.
One of the people she is writing is Peter Korn, the Amazon accessibility architect mentioned today in Len Edgerly’s post on new TTS capabilities for blind people.” VoiceView-related audio enhancements are laudable in various ways, but far from a full solution, a point I’ll flesh out here later.
While AARP cannot directly control what Amazon does or does not do on accessibility issues, it enjoys a business relationship with the e-book and e-tail giant by way of its Membership Advantages program (“50% off Select Kindle books”—go for it!).
This is like wearing best pair of eye-glasses for you. Sadly, you won’t even realize what you’ve missed unless or until you get the right prescription.
Meanwhile I’ve alerted AARP that Amazon’s rival Kobo deals with the perceived contrast issue through a slider control to vary the amount of bold—an even better solution than a bold-on/bold-off switch. That, in turn, makes Kobo e-readers more attractive than otherwise as purchases for schools and libraries.
While Jeff Bezos talks about caring less about competitors than about his customers’ needs, this is a great example of where the two goals fully converge.
Stay turned for further details in the next week or so about AARP and the all-bold question. May AARP persist! And may Amazon do the right thing for itself, my fellow AARP members, K-12 kids and others rather than thinking: “Meh. Kobo has already done it”!
You can’t make the Kindle show all-text boldface without adding it to individual files, a challenge for nontechies, especially older people on the wrong side of digital divide who may lack both the right hardware and skills. On top of that, you can’t enhance DRMed files with all bold without violating the DMCA, the federal law that bans circumvention of DRM. Via Kobo’s slider control, as noted, seniors, K-12 kids and others can vary the amount of boldness. No need to be a techie.
Amazon’s Korn: Dancing around boldness question
Talking to Peter Korn, Len noted the Kobo’s bolding features and our hope that they could reach the Kindles. Len is huge Kindle booster as well as host of the influential Kindle Chronicles podcast for which he questioned Korn for the forthcoming Friday episode and posts for TeleRead and the podcast. The relevant stuff:
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.
Open Dyslexic, whatever—I’m in favor of it. But that certainly won’t help elderly people, K-12 kids and others who instead suffer contrast sensitivity issues. Again, we return to the eyeglasses comparison. One Rx isn’t for all. I’m disappointed that Korn danced around Len’s question.
I don’t think Korn needs the photo at the top of this commentary to understand the useful of boldface to the contrast challenged, but via a LinkedIn e-mail, I’ll still point him to it with the hopes he’ll ask Kindle designers to include either the bold switch or the preferred slider through an easy-to-make firmware update. If need be, Korn hiself should reach out to email@example.com.
Korn needs to decide. Is this just another technical job and maybe even mostly a way to reduce Amazon’s brushes with regulators on technical matters, or does he genuinely care about the needs of older people and others with fading eyesight? And about the bottom line. Accessibility in this case, as shown by the prominence of older people in the e-reader marketplace, is good business. It’s also good PR and, as noted, good government relations. Lack of it isn’t.
Sooner or later the media and regulators will awaken from their slumber on the contrast issue, and before that happens, Korn ideally will be proactive in line with his self-description on LinkedIn: “…effective in legislative and regulatory domains, driving governmental policies and regulations on accessibility that maximize social benefits while being achievable at the lowest operational cost to industry.”
Notice the seven words I’ve italicized? At least here, Korn doesn’t even mention the revenue opportunities of accessibility—the very argument that might have been on Kobo’s mind when it added the slider to adjust the amount of bold.
Granted, I can imagine Korn saying, “Don’t you think we should focus most of all on the needs of the blind?” to which I’d respond: “Blindness often comes in stages. Contrast sensitivity issues may precede it.” Simply put, a slider or a bold-on/bold-off switch would help plenty of elderly people enjoy their Kindles more before they went blind through conditions such as macular degeneration, a condition from which millions suffer now or will in the future.
Furthermore, how about the K-12 who are not blind or dyslexic but who need and deserve bold Open Dyslexic? This is why Amazon should offer an on/off switch or, better, a slider that would control the amount of bold on all fronts, including this one.
Let me anticipate one other excuse from Amazon. It might say, “Oh, we offer high contrast through white text against a dark background.” Yes, some people may prefer that. But far, far more would like the ability to control the amount of bolding in black-on-white text, the kind they grew up with.
A long way, too, from a full TTS solution
Via Len’s post and links from it, you’ll also notice that Amazon is long way from offering a full text-to-speech solution. It has focused on working with VoiceView tech of special useful to blind people. In fact, Amazon has dumbed down its special USB adapter for Paperwhites to reduce the adapter’s usefulness for the nonblind—either out of callousness or because it has forgotten that full blindness does not necessarily happen at once. I’d prefer to think the latter. Here’s more of Len’s post:
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.”
Tough luck, then, if you’re doomed to be blind but aren’t there quite yet, and meanwhile would like to enjoy TTS. Similarly commuters and exercisers lose out. Not to mention some more important people—millions of dyslectic K-12 kids and others for whom VoiceView will not work out.
For now, I hope that TeleRead community members will consider following up on some other information from Len:
Korn said Amazon has created a new email address for feedback related to device accessibility. It is firstname.lastname@example.org . For feedback on more general accessibility topics, you can use the email address email@example.com.