Access and Inclusion through Technology

Access Technology - Today and Tomorrow

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The Kindle Fire, changing the gameplan for access ?

The new Kindle Fire was released this week to a fascinating mixture of responses, pundits thought it was great, apple Fanboyz derided it and the blind community attacked its lack of access for the visually impaired with righteous indignation and anger, this following the same community lauding Steve Jobs for apples work on providing access.

I dont know to what extent the community has had its hands on the kindle fire - many of the pundits were not able to get hands on, but lets assume that the new device has little or no TTS functionality.

Let me be upfront - Im a bit of a Kindle Fan - my ebook reader is a tech I use every single day and I love it - as an expatriate living overseas the access it provides me to a widely ranging bookstore is a significant part of my quality of life. But it is the channel that it provides to content that is important - not the device per se

Which leads us to our debate around accessibility, whilst we may well be annoyed that such a new and low cost device does not have full screenreading functionality, this may well be the wrong debate. Our question perhaps should be, is the content that Amazon distributes, available to all people regardless of needs. Kindle has a hugely diverse range of channels to its content with software (free) for every major platform to read content as well as the traditional reader and now the Fire.

I havent tested all of these but Im going to look at which of these work well with screenreaders and offer support to blind and people with low vision. Because perhaps the debate now should perhaps be - does Amazon (or apple or whoever) offer access to the same content for no greater cost than a person who is not yet disabled in anyway ?

This is more or less the case for other forms of accessibility, access to a building doesn't require that every entrance has a ramp, access to disney rides doesn't require that every cart is wheelchair accessible and access to the cinema doesnt require that every seat is removable for wheelchair access. In all cases there is a compromise that is being offered.

I imagine that the first response Im likely to get is that all people should be able to use all channel as a matter of having a range of  choices. Im not entirely convinced by this, my choices are limited by a range of factors, including cost, but also my language, my age (and increasingly weak hearing and sight) and my location. Like all users I have to weigh up all of these factors in making a decision and it may well be that other members of my family would opt for a different way of accessing Amazon to the one that suits me. 

I do understand the frustration of the blind community, but the debate needs to be mature. The Kindle Fire may not be a solution for people with a visual impairment, I dont know - what I do know is that a lightweight reader for books and other media is helpful for people with conditions such as arthritis, a simple touch and  go interface works for people with learning difficulties or seniors and that Amazon content with subtitles is a valued service for the deaf.

Amazon needs to savvy up to these issues and be clear on the routes it is offering to its content for people with a variety of needs, but perhaps those of us in the accessibility world need to be thinking increasingly of promotion of access to content across a matrix of options, rather than each device independently.

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