Blind Bargains

Blind Bargains Top 10 Stories of 2012: 9. Amazon, What are you Thinking?

We're on our way to revealing the top story of 2012 in our Blind Bargains top 10. This year's panel included participants from across the assistive technology scene: Darren Burton, Jason Meddaugh, Wayne Merritt, Jamie Pauls and Joe Steinkamp. We'll post a new story every day until we reach number one. Also, we've partnered with SeroTalk and will be participating on their year in review show coming in early January, so stay tuned. In case you missed them, you can read our earlier stories on our countdown. Number 9 involves another colossal accessibility failure of the year.

Stop me if you've heard this one before. So this company releases a new Kindle and it's just as broken and inaccessible as the last one. Our panel wasn't as angry this year to make this continued lack of access number one like it was last year, but perhaps it's because they've become so used to the charade and just given up.

You ever go to a convention or conference and see a new product and think, "I bet this was never tested by a blind person?" This is the feeling that many get when trying out the various iterations of the Kindle. Amazon has promised increased accessibility on a few occasions, but every attempt has fallen quite short. The NFB even protested in front of Amazon's Washington state headquarters in December.

It's easy to say that blind people should just support eReaders that are accessible, but these sadly are few and far between, short of smartphone tablets which cost much more. The Amazon problem is magnified by schools, libraries, and other institutions who are increasingly using them for textbooks and other materials. A $500 iPad should not be the only option in this space.. We'd like to say that we look forward to changes in 2013, but past experience makes us quite weary to make such a statement.

For some more discussion of the Amazon issue, check out Serotalk Podcast 135 from December 19.

Don't worry, our entire top 10 isn't this negative, and we have a lot of great stories coming up. Be sure to come back to find out who ranked in the rest of our countdown and post your thoughts in the comments.

Category: Articles
Displaying 9 comments.
darknexus Wednesday, 26-Dec-2012 04:23 AM ET:

Actually, supporting the companies that make accessible products *is* easy, and the only right thing to do. Look to Apple, and look to BN who have made their iOS Nook app completely accessible. As for schools, well, these days what would you rather do: carry around two devices (an E-reader and a computer/tablet) or just one iPad? I know which one I'd rather do. One final thought: It's darned rich to see the NFB up in arms *now*, more than two years after the issue first started. I told them what would happen when the Author's Guild started the mess over Kindle TTS. I told them, others told them, half the blasted blind community told them. Did they even try to help Amazon stand up to the AG? Did they even get involved? No, they sat there and were content to just use BARD and their Victor Reader Streams. Now they're protesting Amazon when they should be praising BN for what they've done with their Nook app. Feeling a little irrelevant, perhaps? Personally, I'll be using Nook and iBooks. Nook and Kindle are darn near close to comparable where content selection is concerned in any case, and we'll be far more effective if we're vocal about what *does* work as opposed to threatening Amazon. Amazon has made their choice, and the NFB made theirs several years ago. We've moved on, and if you want Amazon to change, let's show them what does work. Examples are far more effective than force, even though they do take longer.

Will Case Wednesday, 26-Dec-2012 11:30 AM ET:

Why is it that everyone is complaining only about the Kendall, when they should be complaining about the Sony Reader or the Nook, or other Ebook Readers? Instead of focusing on one product, and complaining about it, start doing something about the rest of the Ebook Readers. Quite frankly, i'm tired of hearing the blind community complain about non-rellivent things, or being narrow minded and only worrying about one product that isn't accessible.

Kyle Wednesday, 26-Dec-2012 12:53 PM ET:

Tablets no longer cost more than Amazon's basic Kindle offering. I just purchased an Android 4.0 tablet for my daughter for Christmas and paid $70. This is a full tablet that can read books, play games, etc., and I was able to use it to get apps installed and navigate the system quite easily. No, a $500 piece of a rotten apple is not the only choice, and it's time that we as blind and visually impaired individuals started shouting this from the rooftops.

darknexus Thursday, 27-Dec-2012 07:06 AM ET:

@Kyle: So, the Nook Android app is accessible is it? How about Google Books? They all offer the same seemless experience as the iPad? I wish they did, but to my experience, that hasn't been the case. Even with Jellybean, Android is still laggy in basic areas such as web views, and some of Google's own offerings aren't even up to par where access is concerned. Believe me, I want this situation to change. While I like Apple, I don't want to see only one option for blind people any more than you do. Lack of competition results in no advancement. At the moment though, if you want quick access to the widest selection of Ebooks and other accessible content, iOS is the way to go especially for those who are non-technical and may not understand the challenges still facing Android's accessibility. I'm technical and I really love to use every platform I can, but when I just need to do some serious reading or other work, I go to Apple at the moment. I'd never buy a $70 Android tablet for myself though, for hardware reasons and update concerns. I'd go straight to Google and get a Nexus tablet if Android is the way you want to go.

darknexus Thursday, 27-Dec-2012 07:10 AM ET:

@Will Case: Easy answer: because Sony E-Readers don't really have an ecosystem around them and because as of a few weeks ago, the Nook app is accessible as is all Nook content on iOS. Kindle is the highest profile E-Reader on the market, so it naturally receives the most attention. Plus, few companies have been as straightforward as Amazon in their disdain for accessibility. Sony E-Readers are unimportant in the big picture, and Nook is now a perfectly viable option for us all be it not the Nook tablet itself. At the moment, the only major Ebook ecosystem to which we are closed off is Amazon's, so naturally that is where the focus has settled and is likely to remain until the situation changes.

LynnZ Thursday, 27-Dec-2012 10:22 AM ET:

And because Amazon has been pushing their products into schools where a blind student would be completely excluded. Really, the schools should not be allowed to employ inaccessible products, but we don't have a good process for preventing or fixing the millions of violations of access laws, so going after the source of the problem is probably the most potentially effective remedy

darknexus Sunday, 30-Dec-2012 07:12 AM ET:

@LynnZ: If schools are your prime concern, then that's the source you need to go to, not Amazon. Inform the schools, and let them know what risks they are taking by using inaccessible products. If the schools stop buying, Amazon will have to address the problem. As it is, protesting is just noise. Noise can be tuned out. Money, on the other hand, is far more persuasive.

Kyle Tuesday, 01-Jan-2013 2:49 PM ET:

I still say that Apple is by far not the only choice, not to mention the fact that although they are OK when it comes to accessibility, they have much worse problems with their business practices and ethics that frankly makes their products extremely bad choices. And I'd take a $70 tablet with expandable storage any day over something that once the storage space runs out, you have to go and purchase a whole new device. This is why I don't like the Nexus line. I'd pay about the same price or maybe just a bit more and get one of the Asus Transformer tablets or something from, both of which can be expanded with MicroSD cards, and I'm not aware of any more advanced tablet that costs more than the iPad's far inferior hardware and vendor lock-in, and all the ethical concerns that come with it. As for book reading software, what is wrong with Go Read? Not only does it read Bookshare books, (it is the official *free* Bookshare app after all), but it also reads epub books which can b downloaded from Project Gutenberg and purchased from many other sources. I use it on my phone with no trouble at all, and I don't even use Bookshare. Also, the latest Jelly Bean version, from what I have read, has greatly improved access to web views and such, and it's easier than ever to make an app that is accessible to Talkback out of the box. And the operating system is free open source software, so instead of complaining about how you don't like aspects of the accessibility and such, and instead of paying more money to purchase inferior hardware and locked down software from a company who pays their employees in China $8 per device and exposing them to harsh chemicals known to cause cancer and other illnesses,, try learning a little about how you can help fix the source code for the better alternative OS. I'm not saying that Apple is the only device manufacturer who does this to their employees, but with Android devices, at least you have the choice to make your purchase based on responsible, ethical and environmentally friendly manufacturing practices.

darknexus Thursday, 03-Jan-2013 05:22 AM ET:

@Kyle: You can maintain whatever opinion you like, but you still did not answer my question. I'll state it clearly: Is there an accessible mainstream Ebook reader for Android, with a mainstream ecosystem around it? Since we're discussing Ebooks here, that's what I want to know. I'm not interested in open vs closed, Apple vs Google. I'm interested only in what each platform is capable of from an accessibility standpoint and so far, I've not found any mainstream Ebook readers on Android that even come close to being fully accessible.

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J.J. Meddaugh is an experienced technology writer and computer enthusiast. He is a graduate of Western Michigan University with a major in telecommunications management and a minor in business. When not writing for Blind Bargains, he enjoys travel, playing the keyboard, and meeting new people.

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