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The Kindle Keyboard and Kindle Fire

Introduction: There is alot of information (and, mis-information) about the Kindle keyboard (my first Kindle purchase in December, 2010) and Kindle Fire (purchased in August, 2015) on the web. Just do a Google and you will find alot of stuff. But, here, I want to concentrate on accessible features for the blind and visual impaired. Alot of this I have learned by doing. However, online lists have also helped. And, the Amazon website itself is a great resource. So, let's get started!

Of course, not everyone is happy. And, it's been a 7-year itch. But, as a blind reader and technology user, along with an owner of both the older Kindle Keyboard and the newer Kindle Fire, I'm not sure if this represents me. I would like to see an update of this response to Amazon. There have been major advances in the technology that Amazon has provided with Ebook and Tablet technology. And, it keeps getting better. So, what's the fuss? Just wonderin'. Posted by the National Federation of the Blind back in August, 2015. The NFB Protest. Amazon and NYC City Schools. It seems like folly. I just wish sidewalk technology was as advanced as digital. Nonetheless, let's move on to the Kindle Keyboard.
Back to Top 1. Kindle Keyboard E-Reader:
This was Amazon's first real dip into accessibility for visual impaired users. Not only were Kindle book titles coming out with a text-to-speech feature, but, this Kindle was designed with speakers and a headphone/ear bud jack. This set the stage for a simple but effective voice reader which gave blind users control with a talk-back feature. Now, finally, one could navigate the Kindle with audio feedback. Other features? Through Amazon, one could sample books and eventually buy those books if wanted. One could also connect the Kindle by USB cable to a computer and the Kindle directory would show up as an ecxternal drive. Why was this a great feature? Well, the Kindle could also play .mp3 audio files and the text-to-speech feature used to read back Kindle books could also be used to talk-back ordinary .txt files. At the time, that was an amazing feature. I still use the Kindle this way. Note that this Kindle will pair with a computer running Windows xp. For the newer tablets, you need to do some juking around to get it to work this way! Lastly, if a new user had the Kindle Keyboard simple layout of the keyboard and buttons plus four-way/enter described to them, it was quite possible to kick-in the voice screenreader with just a few strokes!
Let me describe that process here! The Layout: When you hold the Kindle Keyboard in your hand screen up and in the vertical position, there are page forward/back buttons on both sides and sliders and input jacks on the bottom (not rear) side of the device. The forward/back buttons work this way. The top button will take you back one page. The bottom button will take you forward one page. simple eh? Let's now go to the bottom - left to right. The first rocker switch turns the volume up and down. second, there is an input jack for headphones/ear buds. Third, there is a micro usb port for charging or connecting to your computer to transfer files. Lastly, to the far right, a slider switch to go from screensaver to the home (list of files in your directory; books, ect) page. By holding the switch in one position for 7 seconds or so, the Kindle Keyboard will power off.
And, if you thought it impossible to get the Voice Guide running without sighted assistance? Wrong! There is a keyboard shortcut: to toggle Voice Guide on and off? While holding down the Shift key , press the Space bar. Where is the shift key? Holding the Kindle Keyboard in the position as first described, feel along the bottom row. Going left from the spacebar, the first button/key is alt and the second is shift. Looking at it another way, on the bottom row, the first button/key is shift. Cool eh?
The Kindle Keyboard, of course, had some drawbacks. It came with an experimental browser. It worked, but, navigation was not talk-back. So, not very useable for the visual impaired. Also, as the name suggests, it came with a small footprint physical keyboard. Perhaps, one could memorize the layout. But, again, not very useful for the visually impaired, especially the those with no vision whatsoever. However, those with nimble fingers might have a go at it. Although, there is no audio feedback when entering characters with the keyboard. Can easily be hit or miss! It's a simple short text tool.
Back to Top 2. The Kindle Fire Tablet: I have as of yet not written (there is alot) much on this subject. Plus, the revision to OS 5, has created new touch gestures and navigation! Let me say up front that getting used to the new OS has taken time. It's not perfect, but, there are some really good changes. However, with all change, it takes time to get used to the new world. Be patient! Nevertheless, here are a few simple hints.

First. When you receive your Kindle Fire turn it on by pushing down the button for 2 or 3 seconds at the top right of the device. There are no buttons or inputs at the bottom of the device, so, no mix-up! The Kindle Fire should come with a slight charge, so when done with this connect using the supplied charger to charge (about 3 hours) the Kindle Fire to full charge. You will be asked a laundry of stuff, but, I want to give you a heads-up on getting this unit to voice. When the Kindle Fire has opened (just wait for 20 - 30 seconds or so) and with two fingers slightly apart, press down on the screen and wait for a voice prompt! Now, you are in business! Unlock and go to the Home screen by swiping two fingers to the left; note this has changed to an upward swipe in OS 5. Actually, the voice guide should tell you this! Next, while on the Home screen, with two fingers, swipe down from the top of the screen to open a context menu. What you want to double tap on is Help. Do this by swiping down with one finger to go through the context menu one item at a time. Next, another context menu will pop-up. Double tap on any of many Getting Started links. This is a great internal loaded resource and there is a ton of good stuff to read and learn here! Including, a resource that goes, in real time, through a touch tutorial that will teach you how to properly swipe and navigate the screen.

Hint: This took a bit of time to figure out. Since, this gesture is buried in the accessibility manual. But, I wanted to do this early on and it was a puzzle for awhile. So, you get the benefit! You might ask, how do I get rid of a book, app or whatever? In the sighted world, pressing down on a linked icon will give you a context menu for further operation. But, using the screenreader the way to do this is a bit different. You need to do a double tap and hold on the second tap to get the context menue to show up. It might take a few tries to get the hang of it, but, this is indispensible.

Lastly, the Kindle Fire has a micro charging port which is a triple winner. Both as a way to navigate the drive of the Kindle Fire with your computer by usb. And, the Kindle Fire can be used with a full-size usb keyboard with the use of a micro-to-full-usb female adapter dongle. This might make it alot easier going through certain set-up's like wireless, etc. I certainly find it a super way to write email's, post on Facebook and all kinds of wordy stuff, Of course, I can use my bluetooth keyboard (yep, the Kindle Fire has bluetooth) but, I am so familiar with the full-size keyboard, that it makes keying a breeze.

Like I said, this is just a short tutorial, but, wanted you to get a heads-up and start the magic!
Back to Top This is only a brief description for the visually impaired user. But, there alot more features. Following is a list of links to other resources about the Kindle Keyboard E-Reader and Kindle Fire.
Links for More Information (accessibility, user manuals, Amazon and web links): Audio .mp3. Adobe Reader .pdf. Dropbox page for mobile downloads including Kindle.
Back to Top side-load apps on your Kindle Fire: What is side-loading you say? Simply put, it the ability to install apps (.apk files, otherwise known as android application package files) on your Kindle Fire which are not in the Amazon app store.

First off, with the Kindle Fire open to the home page, two finger swipe down from the top of the Kindle Fire and then swipe down through to settings. double tap settings. Swipe down through to Applications. Double tap on Applications. Then double tap to turn Outside Applications other than Kindle on. That's all there is to it! Note: When done side-loading, be sure to go back and turn back off. Just safe security practice.

OK. Let's get on with this side-loading. First off, make a practice to search the Amazon app store first for apps that you are interested in. They host alot of good ones. Also, unless you are absolutely sure the app is easy to navigate with a screenreader, don't pay for an app. Alot are free, but scroll down and read all stuff about the app to make sure. Some even have a free trial. And, I've taken them up on it to check it out. Off course, if you are not thrilled with the app, you can always uninstall. Simple really!

Now, let's say, you want the Google Chrom browser installed on your Kindle Fire! Well, it ain't in the Amazon app store. So, how do you get this app? Just side-load. I'm going to give you multiple ways of finding these .apk files.

1. The more popular way which in some respects is easier. But, in section 2, I'll give you another. Here, in section 1, are other very important pointers. Read on!

Before any side-loading is done, would suggest that you install this free app found in the Amazon app store, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware. It is always good practice to do full system scans periodically anyway.
1Mobile is one of the most trusted and popular sites that offers many android .apk files for download. See market.1mobile.com. Give this one a try. Many of the .apk files found here are from the Google play store. If any site is a trusted resource, this one is it!

I use the above resource alot. There was a learning curve. But, it's simple once you get the hang of it. Plus, there is a need to do some special work after downloading and installing an .apk file before you can install another. Here's the skinny. First, I use my laptop (running Windows XP) or tablets (running Windows 8.1) so, it doesn't really make any difference which Windows operating system is used! Note: I have dropbox also installed on these devices to do the ultimate transfer. You can check out all of the features of Dropbox at www.dropbox.com. And, download the Dropbox app for the Kindle Fire Here. Now it's even easier to get Dropbox installed on your Kindle Fire. You are given a choice to have the Dropbox install link sent to your Kindle Fire with a Send Link by Email which brings to my attention another step in the process. How do I set-up Email on my Kindle Fire? Well, that is a snap. On your Home screen (or, perhaps you will need to tap on the Apps icon) and follow the simple steps to set-up Email on your Kindle Fire. Now you can get that Dropbox! And, remember, you can load it on all of your digital devices.

Step 1: Using one of my Windows machines, I go to the Google play store website and search for the specific app, or do a wider key-words search. When you find the app you are looking for, click on the link for that app. That link will give alot more information about the app. If you are specifically looking for free, look to make sure that is the case. Unless you know for sure that the app is accessible, I wouldn't pay for the app. Of course, that's just me! Next. When you are sure this this the app you want, scroll back to the top and copy the name of the app. You can now close out this page and go to the next step.

Step 2: Now, go to the 1Mobile website. In the search box at the top of the page, paste in the name of the app you copied from the Google play store. Tap go. Scroll down and you should see your app, perhaps with a list of others. If you find the app you want, tap on download. You will be prompted to save. I always save to my desktop so I can find it! Now, if you check the properties of that file, you may notice, as I did, that all of the files are 7.3 mb. Originally, I thought there was a problem with downloads, but, that does not seem to be the case. The 1Mobile app is also included in that app package. However, that is no problem!

Step 3: I now copy the .apk file to my dropbox folder so I can access from my Kindle Fire. If you are not familiar with dropbox, multiple installations on your devices will automatically sync when the files are added or deleted. That why I use it. It makes transfering and working these files a snap no matter which device I use. All of my devices can access my dropbox folder, so I can do tasks very easily! Best part, the 2 gb of storage with dropbox is free! My first dropbox install was on my laptop running Windows XP. So, dropbox is backwards compatible!

Step 4: Open Dropbox on your Kindle Fire. You will find Dropbox in your App folder icon on the Home page. You will find the file in Dropbox. Double tap the link. A menu will open. Swipe down past all the information and then tap on install. You are now installing 1Mobile. The program will process, and when done processing, swipe past more information. Important: Do Not tap on Done. You want the next option called Open. After tapping this option, right at the top will be a link to the App you want to install. Tap on this link. After tapping, you will need to scroll through more information and finally tap on install. You are now installing the App you want. Scrolling down, you will be given a confirmation that the App installed. I now suggest that you tap on Open. If, instead, you tap on Done, you will go to 1Mobile. Tapping on Open will side-step 1Mobile and open your newly installed App instead. After looking around the app, go back to the App directory and uninstall the 1Mobile app. You can find the app by swiping to bring it up and then finger around to make sure you are hovering with your finger on the app. Do the double tap and hold to remove from your device. You will begiven options to remove and then remove from device. Simple and easy does it. You are now ready to download another app to install. And. Don't forget. When done, go back and turn off apps from other sources in Settings! Note: You can nearly always go back to Home or just Back by fingering and swiping at the bottom of the screen navigation bar. That's the skinny.
Another website for downloading Apps is www.evozi.com, if you don't find the .apk file in the Google play store that you are looking for this site can help. Then, you might wonder, is that .apk file I just downloaded safe? Here is an Online Scanning Engine to find out! You can also get Malwarebytes for PC's and Macs. See www.malwarebytes.org.

2. In this section more ways to find that special .apk file such as the Chrome browser! First requirement. Go to the Google Play Store, and search for the Google Chrom Browser app. When you get to that app page, read the info about the app, then either copy the url from your navigation bar, or, which I have found to give more consistent results, copy the name of the app and paste it into the text-box in the instructions that follow for the website that will produce the app for you.

After copying, go to this website, www.apkleecher.com, where you can paste the app name or url into a text box hit Generate Download and the processing of the app will take place. This website takes a bit of rummaging around, so be patient. because, when the processing is done, you will have to look for another button (Proceed to Download Page which will be found at the bottom of the page) to open your save file window. But, I have used this website, and it works!

Note: Although I have access to more later Windows OS's, all of this information has been tested on a Windows laptop running SP!

Of course, there are some precautions to take considering malware, viruses and the like when side-loading apps. It is a very good idea to always look in the Amazon app store first. More apps are found there every day. And, the number of apps is always growing. But, some of these other resources that offer the ability to use apps not in the Amazon app store are great. Just use common-sense! The following website is a good read and offers some helpful hints. see Side-Loading on Android.
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