Why the Kindle 2 is a useless plastic slab for me—and many others with disabilities
August 9, 2009 | 8:35 am
Before I review the Kindle 2, let me review myself.
I’m a 19-year-old senior at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind and have been visually impaired since birth. My retinopathy leaves me with tunnel vision and the inability to read from low-contrast computer screens.
Despite this, I’m a very precocious kid in love with the written word. My favorite authors range from Joan Lowery Nixon to Andrew Clements, V. C. Andrews, Darren Shan, J. K. Rowling, R. L. Stine, Augusten Boroughs, Lois Duncan, and Lois Lowry.
For many months, my fully sighted friends have got their pants all in a knot over the Kindle. Well, I’m here to tell you that, for me and many others with disabilities, the Kindle is a useless plastic slab.
The Kindle’s physical challenges for me
The Kindle’s thinness made my eyes—what eyes I have—bug out. Heck, the device is thinner than a standard print paperback. It measures just 8-by-5.3-.36 inches.
At the top of the Kindle is the power button, and on the right is the volume control similar to a cell phone’s. High up, too, is a headset jack you can use to hear music and Audible audio books. Previous Page and Next buttons are on the side, and what I call a little wheel that can go in four different directions and be pushed in like a button. The back feels smooth, which means the Kindle might slip out of your hands more easily.
Something is missing—notably an SD card slot, for people who want to expand local storage space for e-books. Amazon’s deletion of some customers’ already-bought books should make wise users miss the SD card slot, even if they can use USB connections for sending books to and from PCs or Macs.
You can also use a USB cable for charging your Kindle or connecting it with a wall adapter.
Hard to handle: Why didn’t Amazon consult with people with disabilities?
I’m used to using one-handed devices due to my cerebral palsy. Devices like my iPod and my VictorReader Stream—an audio book, document, and music player and reader—can all be controlled with one hand. With the Kindle I couldn’t do that. It just felt so awkward I didn’t even know why I was trying to in the first place.
You control the Kindle with a little “wheel,” as I call it, on the right bottom side. Its small size made it harder to navigate with my thumb. If it were just arrow buttons, that would have been awesome for me, but the developers apparently don’t have any disabled people on their team or care to consult in depth with any.
A disaster of a screen
The screen is even more of a disaster for me. Whether my nose was kissing it or I had the Kindle some distance away with a magnifier, the screen was still almost impossible to see mainly because of its shades of gray. There is no white on black, black on white, etc—just gray. Since I like seeing things in high contrast, the screen actually looked like a huge block of small ink splotches. Some reading experience.
I borrowed the Kindle from a friend and had to deal with his collection of Stephen King books. I didn’t mind, but I’d have liked variety. Selecting a book was actually not hard because each title had a black splotch under it, which I guessed to be an underline. It didn’t matter how large I made the font—as I said before–-because I still couldn’t even make out half of what the screen said. Thank you, E Ink. I had to get someone to look over my shoulder to help me pick out a book, and even when I did that, the nightmare lingered on.
Reading with a migraine and the Kindle, too
It’s hard to read with both a migraine and the Kindle, especially when one causes the the other. When I opened The Stand by Stephen King, I couldn’t see what was on the screen, even when I increased the font.
The low contrast was a huge barrier that I couldn’t climb no matter how hard I tried. I even tried using a video magnifier, or a closed circuit TV (CCTV) to make the contrast a little bit higher, so I can actually read something. My creative idea didn’t work, so I tried to use the text-to-speech function on the Kindle. No luck.
On many titles the Kindle voices are like me—disabled; in their case, totally. Will Mr. King please complain to Amazon and Random House or whoever else was responsible for shutting off the text to speech?
What a waste! The voices that the Kindle uses are popular in the blind community—Kate and Paul from Neospeech. While the synthesizer for the Jaws screen reader trumps both of them, many visually impaired readers could benefit from the Kindle’s built-in text to speech.
No T-T-S allowed for many books? Then no Kindle!
Now that the text-to-speech feature has been removed from so many popular books from Random House and elsewhere, what’s the point of even buying a Kindle? In fact, the popular screen reader JAWS does the exact same thing with the e-books that I get from e-books.com or something like that; so, by that logic, will all screen readers replace the professionalized quality recording of a stereo audio book? Nah. I don’t think so, but that’s just me.
With no way for to read the Kindle book at all, I just browsed the Kindle store. The prices there can vary but are typically $10 for New York Times bestsellers. I’m sorry, but I can find cheaper e-books online, and I can access them.
Not in my backpack, please
Despite all these problems, some schools want to force kids to use Kindles. “A Kindle in every backpack,” is the slogan from some Amazon boosters. I think school administrators are taking this a little too literally.
Kids should have the freedom to decide what they read with, and shouldn’t be subjected to a device that many of them will hate, even those without disabilities.
Some kids may just prefer their laptops or some other device to read that book their English teachers want to study.
Amazon’s Not-So-Great Wall for the disabled
If I weren’t using my friend’s Kindle, I would sell it as fast as I could. I couldn’t even use it, see the text on the display, navigate through books, or even do much else with it.
In a sense, the Kindle I tested was like the Great Wall of China. So many books are behind this wall.
If you have a vision issue or perhaps a coordination handicap, buy a Victor ReaderStream instead. It’s cheaper, and it also reads documents from your computer.