This is a great story. The asthetics of the design might make the original Kindle designers and engineers cringe, but the sentiment and creativity is awesome. I wholeheartedly agree that Amazon and all of the other tablet vendors should do something, whether it's a special design or a special add-on, that can modify their products to better suit the needs of the visually impaired or others who might have trouble navigating traditional products.
Don't keep up on these devices enough to know, so have to ask: Where exactly, if at all, is Apple, et al on add-ons for disabled access to their products? To me, nowhere to be seen or priced out of the reach of most of us, thus the need for a homebuilt. Way to go Glenn!
This is a shameless plug for another Kindle reader solution for someone that cannot use their hands. PageBot is a Kindle accessory that allows one to turn pages by actuating a special switch. Since this is a product we couldn't hack into the Kindle, so we chose to make a universal mount with integrated mechanical actuators to actually press the next and previous page buttons -- short press for next and long press for previous. Yes, it seems silly to do it this way, but Amazon hasn't shown any interest in allowing/providing electronic access. Of course, if one has a computer with special access hardware they can use the free Kindle app.
This solution points out the need for what, for want of a better phrase, I'd call consumer-ready large-type e-Readers. The Kindle actually does allow users to make the font larger, but I guess what I'm talking about is something that will be amenable to people who aren't quite so agile at using tiny keys, as is the case with the user for which this project was made.
Congrats on a practical, useful adaption of a product that solves an ergonomic anomoloy. It refreshing to see something other than turbo powered salad spinners and the like. This is an opportunity for Amazon to sell an auxillary control device that links to the Kindle via bluetooth or some other interface. Good job!
Nugent's comment points out a related, and large, emerging design opportunity. Here we have a design aimed at supporting better usability for differently abled people. At the same time, we have an aging population of baby boomers, many of whom are technologically literate. But as they (we) continue to age, it will become more difficult to navigate small type and small buttons. So there will be a big market for designs with user interfaces amenable to older people. Something to think about for the Amazons of the world. Maybe instead of broadening your SKUs with devices with slightly different feature sets, the smarter way to go would be different modes of UI, for differently abled user cohorts.
That's an excellent point, Alexander. The market for technology geared to older users is growing quickly. This may be a time when Engineers should consider designing, not so much what we'd like to have today, but we're likely to want in the (all too quickly approaching) future.
[Here] is a pretty good review (and a link to a video review) of the Kindle specifically from the viewpoint of the disabled. The site may also be a good source of ideas for those wishing to consider this market, or looking for existing solutions.
I think the large type reading app for aging baby boomers is a great idea. I've been checking out what's available out there in terms of magnifiers, mostly for my mother but also with expectations of eventually needing it myself. For instance, so far my glasses technically work OK for small type, but I get eyestrain after reading a lot of it. What's out there is mostly a royal pain to use. Much of it is also handheld, which can also be a problem for some older people. Much of it that's reasonably priced is essentially cheapo plastic magnifiers, whether floorstanding, tabletop or handheld.
You'd think that someone could manage to make stuff older people can use for a not too insanely high price. So far, that doesn't seem to be the case. What really gets me is, some Boomers can well afford better stuff, but so far marketers seem to be still aiming at my mother's Depression-Era generation. In either case, the quality is not what it could be. I'm about to go looking on Edmund Scientific's site, which will be a lot pricier than First Street or its ilk.
Thanks for the positive feedback, gafisher. On a related note, we don't often think of speech recognition technology as something that's an enabler for older tech users and/or differently abled folks, but in fact speech recognition, which is become mainstream -- and will become even more widely distributed due to Siri in the new iPhone -- is opening up technology to many new users. It provides access both to those with visual or tactile impediments to use of certain devices, and well as negating the need to learn user interfaces which are baffling to those not technologically savvy. This is a long way of saying we take speech recognition for granted, and Dragon, the company which has done perhaps the most to popularize it, should get a lot of credit.
Siri: "I'm sorry, but I could not find any credit unions for dragons in your area."
Two of my daughters earned their medical degrees in the area of therapy for brain-damaged and otherwise severely disabled patients, many of whom could, and some of whom already do, benefit greatly from voice recognition technology. Many of us interact with similar technologies when we pay bills or do our banking by phone. We have come a long way since Clarke's Minisec and Comsole, further since Vannevar Bush's Memex, yet both dreams have yet to be fully realized.
That's an ingenious adaptation of an existing product; well done.
I wonder, though, if one of the touch screen Kindles, which navigate by sliding a finger rather than poking at the small keyboard, would solve the problem for at least some, perhaps many, users with special needs.
It really would be good (at least for many of us) if Amazon built more capability into the USB connector on its Kindles.
You make a good point here, but I wonder - and please correct me if I'm wrong - but, aren't the touch screen kindles all very small? I received a Kindle fire for Christmas and even though I'm very impressed with it, it's tiny. Seems that could stil be frustrating for a person with disabilities.
The active area of the Kindle screen is almost exactly the same as the printed area of the pages in a typical "pocketbook"-style paperback, and of course the fonts can be adjusted from small to very large "print" so readability isn't a problem. Because the entire screen is usable for navigation on the touchscreen models, not only is it unnecessary to compensate for miniscule keyboard buttons (though of course the power switch might conceivably still be a problem) but in effect the "button" area is far larger than most external solutions could provide.
Still, I don't want to fall into the trap of equivolating disabilities; what might work for someone with one need won't necessarily work for someone with another, and the author's solution for his sister's CP may well be the best possible. Since it works for her, and gave the author an opportunity to exercise his talents on her behalf, in no way would I wish to suggest "FrankenKindle" is anything less than brilliant.
If the user suffers from cerebral palsy does that not mean she does not have complete control of her arms, hands and fingers? If that is the case, a touch and slide screen would not only be useless, but very confusing. It seems to me the large buttons are the perfect solution to this particular problem.
Good point, Tool Maker. I would imagine the Frankenkindle was designed specifically for the needs of the Gadget Freak's sister. The needs of those with cerebral palsy vary greatly. I had a friend who was able to type with one toe. Friends of his rigged up a typewriter on the floor to accommodate this need.
Getting into the Kindle and finding the correct connections was quite a task, I would immagine, since I don't think that they are giving away schematics to the Kindle just yet. So it was a great idea and a valuable project, thanks for sharing it with us.
I do wonder about the ultimate packaging, since open circuit boards just invite disasters. Making the package robust enough would probably be as big an effort as making the interface circuit, I would guess.
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