Amazon Kindle for people with disabilities

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2007 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
Also posted on: Accessibility

In a previous blog Kindle and Surface new interfaces accessible? Usable? I wrote about Microsoft Surface and promised to extend the discussion to Amazon’s announcement of Kindle as they represent two new user interfaces that may be of interest to people with disabilities.

Kindle is a new electronic book reader sold by Amazon, which has some interesting pluses and minuses in comparison to previous attempts at electronic books. The major features are:

  • It is about the size of a standard paperback but lighter.
  • It uses electronic ink technology so the display looks very much like a standard printed page (with four grey tones but no colour). It has no back lighting but is read using ambient light; this means it can be read in bright sunlight just like a book and is probably less of a strain on the eyes than the glow from a standard screen.
  • It has a direct connection to Amazon via a mobile phone network. The connection is free, you just pay for the books, or other content, you download.
  • You can download and listen to music and audio books.
  • There is a built-in dictionary, click on a word to get a definition.
  • Buttons along both edges controls the page turning.
  • The text can be sized.
  • You can add bookmarks and notes to any document.
  • If you want to add your own documents (Word etc) then you mail them to a special address and they are translated and downloaded for a charge (0.1 USD in the US).
  • There is a full keyboard for writing notes and searching the libraries.
  • The books are in a proprietary Kindle format.
  • Kindle supports listening to audio books but does not have a text to speech function.

Given this brief description the question is how can it help and support people with disabilities.


There is no text-to-speech or Braille support so this is not of any interest to people who are blind. What is more worrying is that it appears that the large library of electronic books and periodicals is in a format that cannot be used by technologies that turn electronic text into speech or Braille. As Amazon adds content to this library the lack of access will become more noticeable and unfortunate.

Partially Sighted

The fact the text can be sized may be useful to some people with limited vision. However, it seems that the increase in text size is limited and so probably only useful to someone suffering from eyestrain rather than any significant disability.

Limited Dexterity

Many people with limited ability to use their upper arms may find this a very attractive product. If the device is laid in the lap or attached to a simple stand the user can turn the pages by pressing a button. There are many people who find holding a book difficult and turning pages even more difficult but still have some manual dexterity and this format will be a boon to them.

Other people who are more severely disabled may still find that a simple stick will enable them to use this device.

A simple voice activated control option could further extend range of disabilities supported.

Cognitive disabilities

The ability to easily access dictionary definitions could prove of some assistance.

However, a text-to-speech option that reads the words aloud and highlights the text would be of much greater benefits to people with learning difficulties and might also aid people with limited vision or dyslexia.


Kindle seems to be a very interesting first generation product. There is no real indication that the needs of the disabled have been explicitly considered. It so happens that the device will be attractive to some users with limited dexterity.

I believe that if accessibility had been considered from the beginning more people could have been supported and the overall device would have been more usable and attractive to everybody.

I hope that the design of version two will explicitly consider and include accessibility needs.