New Amazon Kindle tablets to include accessibility

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Friday, 27 September 2013 15:51pm

After promising last year, Amazon announced on Wednesday that its new Kindle Fire HD and Kindle Fire HDX tablets will come with improved accessibility features.

Both the updated Kindle Fire HD and the new Kindle Fire HDX will run on the Fire 3.0 operating system (Fire OS 3.0) called ‘Mojito’. The OS is a version of Google Android and will allow Kindle Fire tablets to be compatible with some Android apps. While Kindle Fire HD will come with a 7 inch screen, Kindle Fire HDX will come in 7 inch and 8.9 inch options.

The accessibility features in Fire OS 3.0 include:

  • Voice guide: This feature activates the built in screen reader IVONA and when used with Explore By Touch, guides users by providing audible feedback for things on the screen. IVONA is text to speech software which uses a natural talking voice. 
  • Explore By Touch: This will provide audible feedback for text as well as elements on the screen as a user moves their finger across the screen. Explore by Touch will also work with accessibility gestures that act as commands or shortcuts to different parts of tablet.
  • Adjustable reading speed: adjustable speed relates to the spoken feedback of both IVONA and Explore by Touch.
  • Screen magnifier: This will allow people with vision impairment to enlarge the screen to a comfortable setting.
  • Larger Font size: There are five font size options for emails and 11 font size options for eBooks.
  • High contrast: This will allow people with vision impairment, including colour blindness to adjust the colour contrast settings.
  • Closed captioning: Closed captions are available on some videos in Amazon Instant Videos, a video-on-demand service offered by Amazon and available only in the U.S
  • Stereo to Mono Audio options
  • Bluetooth navigation: This will allow users to connect alternative keyboards to the Kindle

In addition to these features, the Accessibility User Guide is available on the device and provides further guidance on how to use these features.  Amazon has also introduced a new feature on both tablets called Mayday which has been reported by Gizmodo as a button that enables a user to video conference with a member of Amazon’s technical assistance staff. Unfortunately, the Mayday feature is unlikely to be made available in Australia.

While the accessibility of these new products is encouraging, it is worth noting that the company only promised to include access features after a protest by the USA’s National Federation of the Blind in December 2012.

Earlier this month, Amazon and other eReader manufacturers Kobo and Sony launched a petition to seek exemptions from the United States 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act 2010. The act requires devices that play video be made accessible for disabled users.  However, Amazon, Sony and Kobo claimed the addition of accessibility features would compromise the low price of their tablets. This reasoning was debunked by a technology expert at the Royal National Institute of the Blind.


The 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX, 8GB is available for $US 379 while the 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX, 8GB is available for $US 229. The Kindle Fire HD is available for $US 159. Australian prices and shipping dates are yet to be released.

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