Product Type: Amazon Tablet PCs / eBook Readers
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A guide to using the Kindle 4 for people with keratoconus and other visual problems
Amazon Kindle 4
Member Name: wigglylittleworm
Amazon Kindle 4
Advantages: screen not backlit, change font sizes
Disadvantages: high price of E-books, some niggles
I am late coming to the world of digital books; one of the things that stopped me taking the plunge was that I wondered how well I would get on with the device as someone who lives with Keratoconus. This is an eye condition which causes poor vision as well as extreme sensitivity to light. My corrected vision is reasonably good, I am still legal to drive for example, but I have been increasingly finding reading standard print books a bit tricky to read. I am also increasingly finding that the light from TV or computer screens causes pain after using them for short periods of time and that I see flares of light coming from those screens distorting the image I see.
I am going to aim to answer the questions I had about using the Kindle before I owned one, whilst my experience is as someone with Keratoconus I hope that it helps other people with visual problems decide whether the Kindle 4 is suitable for them or not.
The Technical Bits
There are a number of different aspects of an E-reader which determines how readable it is to people with different visual problems. I will outline some of those below and tell you how I have found using the Kindle 4.
Screen size: The Kindle 4 has a screen size of 6 inches which I have found to be smaller than I would like, especially when you are using a larger font which means there are fewer words per page and you have to turn pages very frequently.
Fonts: There are 3 different fonts to choose from, regular, condensed and sans serif. People with low vision generally find sans serif fonts easier to read since the letters do not have extra lines on them. I am not an expert on fonts (but my graphic design daughter is a bit of a font geek) so while I know that the Kindle does not have any of the fonts specifically designed for low vision on it, it is still very readable. The fonts are specially designed for the E-ink screen.
A lot of people with low vision find that text written in all capital letters is easier to read than standard text. Unfortunately, the Kindle 4 does not allow you to change the text to all capitals.
Letter sizing: The Kindle allows you the ability to choose between eight different font sizes from teeny tiny to huge. The largest font size allows only between 1 to 3 letters per line and 4 lines per screen in landscape orientation so you can see that reading a book while having to turn page every 12 or so words would be a chore. I personally use the 3rd largest font which allows 10 lines of text in landscape and 14 in portrait and while it means fairly frequent page turns it is something that is easy to do without making me enjoy reading any less. The characters on the screen look just as good in large as small fonts. It should be noted that it seems like you cannot change the font size on the menu which could cause problems for some people.
Luminosity: The Kindle 4 screen is an E ink display which is not backlit, this is fantastic for me who is extremely light sensitive as it means I can read for long periods of time without developing eye strain and I never see flares from the screen. It does of course mean that the Kindle is impossible to read without external lighting but I have found it easy to read in normal conditions.
Contrast: The Kindle 4 has a low contrast screen which means that it has a light grey background with dark grey text. This is great for me as the grey screen causes less strain than a white background would. Others with low vision rely on high contrast or reversed text where there is white text on a dark background; others find different coloured backgrounds work better for them. Unfortunately there is not the ability to change the contrast ratio or background or font colours which could make things easier for a lot of people.
If you go to the shelf marked "large print" in the library, you will notice that there is very little choice there. This is where the Kindle excels as it has over 1.5 million titles available for download so almost anything that you are looking for is available.
The only real grumble I have with my Kindle is the cost of some E-books, especially new releases. I am aware that we need to pay 20% VAT when we buy an EBook as opposed to a print book but this does not fully account for the high prices. If Amazon can send me a printed book for, say £10, including postage charges and all the costs involved in producing and distributing a physical book then I would expect the E-book to be cheaper but it often is not.
Having said that, there is a huge collection of material available for free although I have downloaded some free material to find that it is poorly written or simply the chance for an author to advertise their other works. There are also frequent special offers on books available on Amazon; there are several modern titles available for 20p each for example. It is possible to build up an extensive library for your Kindle at a reasonable price.
Amazon itself operate a lending library for those who sign up to its premium service, Amazon prime which allows you to borrow one book a month for a small fee. Many local libraries have started to offer E-books to their patrons but I note with disappointment that my local library seem to support all E-readers except the Kindle. Check with your local library service what format, if any, of E-readers you can borrow books for if this is something that you are interested in accessing.
I am somebody who has fallen in love with my Kindle 4, I am surprised that I do not miss the feeling of reading paper books but the portability and ability to change the screen to suit my own eyesight has won me over and I now carry my Kindle with my everywhere I go. It works for me as a person with Keratoconus as the E-ink display is not harsh on my eyes and I can read for far longer than I could with paper books without experiencing tired eyes or glare from the screen. I think that E-readers in general can open up a world of reading for people with visual problems that could otherwise be difficult for them to access and therefore can only be a good thing.
The Kindle 4 will not work for everyone with low vision; there are other E-readers out there. If you are someone who struggles with any kind of visual loss then your best bet is to attempt to try as many of the devices as possible so that you can find the correct one to suit your needs.
Summary: it works for me
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