eBooks have always been a problem for blind screenreader users. Legal eBooks are kept heavily protected to stop you copying or sharing them, which means it’s hard for assistive technology to get into them and read them back. Governments have been lobbied to clamp down on file-sharing sites where you can get eBooks that read easily. And anything complex in layout, like a textbook, usually has shoddy text-to-speech support.
There are ways to do it, like using iBooks on iPad or getting books from Bookshare and other organisations. But that’s not every book, and that means an additional process that sighted users don’t have to follow.
Good news, then, that Amazon has updated its Kindle Apps. This lets you get text-to-speech to read out loads more books, and you can still change the content (colour, font size) to make it easier to read if you have some sight. This includes Amazon Kindle for Windows PC.
All taken from this great write-up at the CALL Scotland blog, which I recommend you go read: Giving your Kindle App a voice.
Pediatrics journal in the USA reviews the evidence for interventions such as tinting the screen for people with various print impairments and finds the evidence wanting:
“Scientific evidence does not support the efficacy of eye exercises, behavioral vision therapy, or special tinted filters or lenses for improving the long-term educational performance in these complex pediatric neurocognitive conditions [e.g. dyslexia]. Diagnostic and treatment approaches that lack scientific evidence of efficacy, including eye exercises, behavioral vision therapy, or special tinted filters or lenses, are not endorsed and should not be recommended.” Pediatrics 2009;124:837–844
You can download the whole report from their website: Learning Disabilities, Dyslexia, and Vision.
It’s clear that strong assertions about the benefit of colour changes as yet lack scientific evidence. AT professionals will know, however, that many end-users report benefits from changing the colour scheme of their display: whether this is a placebo effect or some not-yet-understood mechanism, tinting tools have strong anecdotal support. Since they are fairly inexpensive and easy to use, there seems no reason to drop them from the arsenal of software useful for people with disabilities even being able to reduce contrast is not a panacea.