Did You Know You Can Convert Kindle eBooks?

This post will discuss the Kindle eBook format, and the ability to convert and import the said materials into alternative readers such as Voice Dream Reader, iBooks and other reading software. The software required to complete the subsequent instructions is called Calibre, and you will need an additional extension which I have provided a link to.
This post assumes that you already have an account with Amazon, and you are able to download Kindle eBooks without issue. Also, the instructions provided have been verified to be accessible and work on a MacBook, but I cannot guarantee that the said instructions can be replicated on other operating systems such as Windows.

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Conducting Research While Using Assistive Technology… It IS Possible!

In this post I would like to discuss the activity of conducting research on the internet with assistive technology. Researching is an inevitable task when you are in college and/or university. Whether you are attending a class, completing an assignment or preparing for a presentation, you will need to conduct research. There is a specific process to follow when researching, and you can visit this link to find out more about the said process. Gaining access to printed materials is almost unavoidable when you are researching a given topic or subject, but using the previously discussed OCR methods should enable you to access such materials. Also, some college/university library’s offer scanning services for students, and this may be of benefit to you depending on your individual needs. I should point out, your lecturer/teacher will inform you as to how you should carryout research, and they will tell you the best sources from which reliable information can be ascertained. Therefore, this post will be written assuming that you understand the research process.

This is an image of a magnifying glass which symbolises research.

Magnifying Glass Symbolising Research

Getting the Best Search Results:
Conducting research on the internet is different to searching for things on the internet. For example, if you are given a project based on the climate within a business, and you put the word climate into your favorite search engine the results will not be what you intended to find. Whereas, if you searched for “business” AND “climate”, your results would be much more suited to your area of interest. The use of quotes before and after each word in the previous example, will tell a search engine to only return results which include the terms I have used. The use of such punctuation is explained in more detail at this link. Using the correct Search Operators, Symbols and Punctuation in your searches, can make the research process much more efficient and less time consuming.

Your New Best Friend Google Scholar:
You can think of Google Scholar as a college/university version of the normal Google Search Engine. Scholar will only return results which are related to books, journal articles and/or other research related documents. In my experience, you will not find advertisements for companies relating to your search. There are many additional tools to improve your results in scholar, but at a basic level, incorporating the above Search Operators will narrow-down your results a great deal. Again, your lecturer/teacher will tell you the best way to use Scholar for your given course, and they will tell you how to login with your college/university credentials so that you have access to more information. In general, Google Scholar is a much better way of getting reliable information in comparison to using a standard Search Engine. You can access Google Scholar by visiting this link.

Don’t Ignore Your Library’s Website:
It is more than likely that your college/university library has a website, and you should become acquainted with the way this site works and its accessibility with your assistive technology. From those that I have visited, library websites usually have an online catalogue, online journals, eBooks and a search facility. The online catalogue is normally a collection of all the books that the library has on its shelves, and you are able to search this catalogue and reserve an item if it is available. The online journals are a database of journals and journal articles, and similar to the catalogue, they can be searched. In addition, if the journal article is online, you can access it instantly, and sometimes you can save the article for offline use. I have less experience with the eBook and general search sections as I normally found what I needed in the catalogue or journals, but any member of staff in your library would be more than happy to explain such features. My lecturers often arranged presentations from the library staff in my college to explain the various features of the library website for my entire class.

Be prepared to Scan Printed Materials:
Even though it is true that a lot of material is online, there is some which is still only available in a physical printed form. Such materials may include books and journal articles which are older, but may contain information which is just as relevant as online information. Therefore, it is not advisable to ignore information which is in books and journal articles just because it isn’t online, and isn’t immediately accessible. You will need to scan the information which is offline, and use an OCR application to recognise the text present on the page. Kurzweil 1000 is the programme which I have experience with, but there are many alternatives you can choose from. There is even a mobile application called KNFB Reader, which works on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. KNFB Reader is expensive, but it is very versatile and may be ideal in a library situation. You can read more about KNFB Reader at this link courtesy of Applevis.

EBSCOHost is a Brilliant Companion for Your Library Website:
EBSCOHost is an application for iOS Devices (iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch), which has a simple interface that enables you to search many of the databases linked with your library account. After you download the app you will need to visit your library’s website, open a link which is related to EBSCOHost for Mobile, and then you will be emailed a code to authorise your app for 6 months or a little longer. I have found this app to be very handy when I used it, but it is not essential when you are conducting research; so don’t worry if you do not have access to it. If you do use the app, keep in mind that there is a feature for downloading and viewing a PDF version of the article your reading. This feature is inaccessible with VoiceOver, but this is a small feature of the app and doesn’t affect its functionality. Visit this link to view EBSCOHost on the app store.

Don’t Forget About Kindle, CourseSmart and Other Sites for Accessible Books:
If you are finding it particularly difficult to scan physical books, or find books which relate to the topic you are researching, don’t forget that you can access accessible books via Kindle, CourseSmart, Audible etc. As I mentioned in my previous post, the titles which are available on the mentioned providers can vary, and you will have to search around to find the desired content. In my experience, Kindle is great for finding books regarding Research Methodology and other academic subjects which are accessible.

JAWS Research It Might Be Useful:
I have known about the Research It feature in JAWS for a long time, but I have never used it for personal use or research purposes. I would imagine that Research It is best for researching current topics which are in the news. If a lecturer/teacher requests that you research a current news topic, JAWS Research It would be an ideal place to begin your search. Research It is a feature which is only available on the JAWS screen reader, and the key command CTRL + SPACE + R will activate the Research It feature.

Bookmarks Are Great:
When I find an online article or book I am particularly interested in, I always create a Favorite or Bookmark which I can refer back to later. It is also a good idea to create Favorites or Bookmarks of your most used research databases, online journals, Google Scholar and your library’s website. This will make it very easy for you to access certain features instead of searching through the various links and headings of your library’s website. If you are using an iOS Device, I have found it beneficial to create Safari Bookmarks on your Home Screen, and store a group of Bookmarks in a Folder.

I genuinely hope that you can improve your research by using some of the mentioned resources, and if you have any further queries just get in touch.

As it can sometimes be difficult to find what you are looking for while researching, I think the song I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For by U2 is quite appropriate.

Using Assistive Technology to Read Academic and Non-Academic Books

As suggested by the title, this post will consider the number of different ways assistive technology, and general technology which is accessible, can help you to read both academic and non-academic materials. This aided reading can apply in a college or university setting, and it is equally applicable in the case of reading as a hobby and/or leisure pursuit. In terms of reading, assistive technology can benefit those with print, learning, and/or vision related disabilities. My personal experience is restricted to software that benefits those who are visually impaired and/or blind, but some of the available software includes features which are designed with multi-dimensional needs in mind. For example, an iPhone application like Voice Dream Reader (discussed below) has features which are designed with individuals who have a print and/or learning disability in mind. However, the same features are as beneficial to those who are visually impaired and/or blind.

This is an image of an academic book sourced from Microsoft Word's Clip Art.

This is an image of a book related to academia.

AudioBooks:
I first encountered audioBooks when I was a teenager in Secondary/High School, and at that stage they were available on either Cassette Tape or CD. At the time, to have a book narrated by a human voice was very useful, and for the media to be portable was great. The next time I explored audioBooks was a few years ago when I was finishing my Primary Degree. It was at this time I discovered Audible. The Audible service is essentially an online library of audioBooks which can be either purchased with money or credits. This is an example of a technology which is applicable to everybody, but is particularly of benefit to those who use audioBook’s because print material is not accessible to them. Another added bonus is that Audible have an application for your smartphone, tablet, and PC/Mac. In my experience the smartphone application is accessible on the iPhone. Audible is great, and has a wide selection of titles available for download. In my opinion, the majority of the titles available are not commonly found on college and/or university reading lists, but this might not be the case if you are part of a more literary related course. Audible is definitely worth investigating, and even if it doesn’t have books on your reading list, you can always download another audiobook which you are interested in reading.

Kindle Books:
The world of Kindle is made up of Kindle Readers and Kindle Books. Kindle Readers are tablet devices which enable you to read Kindle Books and access other Amazon services, and there is a level of accessibility `built-in, but I am unaware as to how much. Thankfully, a Kindle Reader is not necessary to read a Kindle Book. This is because a Kindle Reading application is available for smartphones, tablets, and PC’s/Mac’s. Please note, to the best of my knowledge, the applications for the PC and Mac are inaccessible. However, I can say with confidence that the iPhone and iPad applications are perfectly accessible. This means that you can browse the Kindle Book store on Amazon, and choose a book which is of interest to you. Make sure that the book has Text To Speech (TTS) enabled in the Book Features in the Product Description, and I think it is a good Idea to download a sample of your chosen book to test before purchasing. Once purchased, a copy of your Kindle Book will be delivered to your smartphone and/or tablet wirelessly, and you can begin reading the downloaded title with your device’s screen reader. I have downloaded many Kindle Books for reading as a hobby, and I have also downloaded several Kindle Books relevant to my MSC programme. In my opinion, there is a much more varied selection of books available on the Kindle Book store in comparison to Audible’s Library. Therefore, if what you want isn’t available on one service, it is worth your while checking another service provider.

CourseSmart:
CourseSmart is a web based service which makes eBooks available for students. It is another example of general technology which is accessible, but CourseSmart offer a reading interface especially for screen readers and a service to make inaccessible books accessible. I was introduced to this service in my final year of my Primary Degree, and I used the service again when I was completing my MSc programme. CourseSmart is like Kindle in that it is a digital online library, but unlike Kindle, you can only rent books on CourseSmart. The rental period for the titles I read was 1 year (365 days), and this was sufficient for me in college and university. Titles which are already accessible on CourseSmart have an interactive Table of Contents, Headings aiding navigation, Alternative Text for images and graphs and accessible Tables which can be navigated with your screen reader. From memory, I believe the site automatically detects your screen reader and you are entered into the accessible reading interface. If a title is not accessible, CourseSmart offers a Tagging Service. This service basically makes the inaccessible title accessible, and takes 2 to 3 weeks to complete. You are given access to the book while the Tagging process is underway, and while it isn’t perfect, it is better than not having access to a particular book. As the name of the service may suggest, CourseSmart has an academic focus, and you are more likely to find items on your reading list on this service. For example, I was able to source 2 to 3 items from my MSc programme’s reading list on CourseSmart.

eBooks (PDF or Doc):
I should point out my definition of an eBook is a book which is either in PDF or Doc format. eBooks are also available in an EPUB format, but I do not have knowledge of the said file format’s accessibility. My thoughts are an EPUB File must be converted before it is readable by a screen reader, but this could be an incorrect statement. So with that said, the eBooks I have used have been sourced by my college and/or university and are initially in a PDF format. As discussed in a previous post, the accessibility and ease of navigation of a PDF File is not always guaranteed, and this is where assistive technology comes in. Personally, I have used the methods described in the previously linked post to make inaccessible PDF files accessible. However, when I began my MSc programme, I was introduced to a member of the Disability Office who can make inaccessible PDF Files accessible, and convert those PDF Files to Doc Files which are sometimes easier to navigate. You should ask if your college and/or university has an individual who can perform similar duties, as it is time consuming for you to complete, and you will have more to focus on at college than converting books so that you can read them. As there is such an amount of manual conversion involved, I am not a fan of eBooks. However, my perception of eBook conversion could be skewed, and it is great to have any material available when it is required.

Voice Dream Reader:
Voice Dream Reader is my favorite iPhone application at the moment. Voice Dream, as it is titled on my iPhone, is an application similar to Kindle, but it gives you the ability to change the voice which reads your book of choice. Essentially, you are creating your very own audiobook. The application comes with a voice installed called Heather, but you are not limited to the default, there are many voices which can be purchased. The voices which are available for purchase sound very natural, and you could almost forget that it is a TTS synthesiser reading your text. By default, Voice Dream can read common Word Processing file formats and accessible PDF Files (among others). If you are willing to put in the effort, it is possible to have Voice Dream read Kindle Books you have purchased. This practice involves removing the Digital Rights Management (DRM) protection present on Kindle Books, and I am not encouraging and/or justifying the mentioned activity. If you would like to discuss Kindle Books and DRM in more detail, please contact me privately. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, Voice Dream has visual features which are of benefit to those who are not visually impaired and/or blind, but have difficulty reading. I do not have experience of the afore mentioned features due to their visual nature, but I believe they are very useful to the intended audience. As an aside, the developer of Voice Dream Reader has also created applications called Voice Dream Writer and Voice Dream Male. You can preview the available voices at this site.

I hope you now have an understanding of how assistive technology can help you to read academic and/or non-academic books, and that the above information is of benefit to you or someone you know. As always, if you have any further questions regarding the topic discussed, please do not hesitate to comment and/or contact me.

As Apple are rumoured to be launching a music streaming service today at WWDC, I thought it would be appropriate to have a musical contribution courtesy of Taylor Swift to compliment todays post. Also, who doesn’t like Taylor Swift?