by Steve Kelley,CVRT, VisionAware contributor


Tablet computers, or Tablets, are becoming increasingly the device of choice to access information from the Internet. The Apple iPad, Kindle Fire, and Androids (tablets running Google’s Android operating system) are popular tablets. They are light, compact, and very portable—perfect for reading on the go, or to quickly access information from a website. Will that smaller size have a negative impact on your ability to access the print? Will it be too small to read, or have an option to convert the text into speech?

Regardless of which tablet you use to access the Internet, you are probably using a Web browser application or app to get to your favorite websites or Internet resources. The Web browser, for example, that comes with the Apple iPad is called Safari, the Kindle Fire’s Web browser is called Silk and the other Android tablets use the default Android Web browser, or Chrome. It doesn’t matter which you use, they have some similar features, and some unique, that may make reading print a little more accessible.

ipad screen with safari at bottom of screen

Magnifying Content

One feature, common to most of the tablet Web browsers, is a pinch gesture used to magnify content on the screen. To make this gesture, hold the thumb and pointer finger together against the screen (as though you were pinching something) and slowly spread them apart. You will discover that the area beneath your fingers is magnified. Reverse the gesture by touching the screen with thumb and pointer finger spread and move them closer together, to reduce the magnification. While magnified, touching the screen with two or three fingers and dragging your fingers will move you around the screen.

Keep in mind, when you have the screen magnified, you will see only a portion of the content on the screen at a given time. The greater the magnification, the less yu will see of the screen. Reading a webpage that is magnified may require moving your fingers back and forth to scroll right and left, with each line of text being read.

This pinch gesture, whether it is used on an Android or iPad is somewhat limited to only a few apps. It often only works in the Web browser and with some images, such as those in a photo gallery. This gesture, for example, will not make the text in the Contacts app or Kindle reading app larger (although there may be other ways to do that).

For now, this is where the similarities between the Web browsers end. Let’s look at some of the additional features found on the iPad’s Safari Browser.

Reading on the Internet with Safari

The Safari Web browser on the iPad has some great features built-in to make reading more accessible.

Safari Reader

The Safari Reader is not a feature that appears on every webpage, but seems available on many, such as newspaper and magazine websites, blogs, etc. The Reader is a small button, that when available is positioned to the left of the Address Bar (where you type in the webpage address or your search terms). The button has several horizontal lines across it, replicating lines of text.

When the Reader button is available, touching it changes the appearance of the webpage, putting the text on a plain background and allowing the user to change many features of the page such as the font size. Text is also wrapped to the edges of the Web browser window, which means you will not have to scroll left and right as you read the page. Touching the Reader button a second time will return you to the original appearance of the webpage.

Speak Screen

With Apple’s most recent operating system, iOS 8, a new feature, called Speak Screen was added in the Accessibility menu, under Speech. With Speak Screen turned on a gesture will initiate the reading of webpages, email, and the screens of other apps that support it. Speak Screen is not to be confused with VoiceOver, the built-in text to speech feature on the iPad and other Apple devices. Speak Screen may be configured from the Settings menu to be engaged with a two finger swipe down from the status bar (top center of the screen), or by adding a button to the menu which appears when text is selected. Once started, Speak Screen creates a pop-up menu which allows speech to be paused, forwarded, replayed, and the speaking rate modified. The pop-up is visible for a few seconds, then transforms to a much smaller, dimmer button on the left side of the page.

The major advantage of using Speak Screen over the more robust VoiceOver, is that with Speak Screen, none of the other gestures change, as they do after VoiceOver is turned on in the accessibility settings.

Of course, the iPad tablet and all the other Apple devices also come with both Zoom (for screen magnification), and VoiceOver (for text to speech). Both features provide greater access to content on the screen and more comprehensive screen magnification and speech access throughout the iPad. Both features are also found on all Apple devices. A more in-depth discussion of Zoom and VoiceOver is beyond the scope of this article, however, an excellent resource for more information is Shelly Brisbin’s book, iOS Access For All, available electronically.

zoom function demonstrated on iPad

Reading on the Internet with the Silk and Default Android Web Browser

Reading View

The default Web browser for the Kindle Fire is called Silk. As mentioned earlier, magnifying the webpage may be accomplished using the pinch gesture when the Silk browser is open. Like Safari, Silk has a reading feature called the Reading View. On webpages where this is available it appears as a tab to the right of the address bar. Selecting the Reading View puts the contents of the webpage onto a plain background that the user may customize by changing the font style, size, margins, color theme, and spacing. This feature makes it easy to enlarge the font and add additional contrast to webpages.

screen shot of silk browser reading view upper right corner

Screen Magnification

In addition to the pinch gesture, Screen Magnification may be turned on through the Accessibility Settings, to enable screen magnification throughout the Kindle Fire, not just within the Silk browser. With Screen Magnification turned on tapping the screen 3 times with a single finger will magnify the screen, a pinch gesture will then adjust the magnification level , and dragging two fingers on the screen will move around the content of the screen.

Speech Access

Unlike Safari, though, there is no speech feature like Speak Screen on the Silk browser. Speech access is only available by going into the Accessibility Settings and turning the Screen Reader on. On other Androids, this is done by checking Talk Back under the Accessibility menu. Like Safari, with the screen reader turned on, all the gestures change slightly, so you can readily access content on a webpage or app, by touching the text or using the various reading gestures.

Default Web Browser on Android Tablet

Because the Kindle Fire is really a customized Android tablet, it is not surprising to learn that the default Web browser on an Android tablet works much the same as the Silk browser. A pinch gesture will magnify the content on a webpage, and turning on the Screen Magnifier in the Accessibility Settings will enable magnification throughout all the apps. The default Android browser also may have a built-in Reading View, like the Silk and Safari browsers. It will appear as a small box with the letter “R” in the center to the right of the address bar when it is available. The Android browser has fewer options than either Silk or Safari. Content is placed on a plain background and the font size only is customizable. For a reading feature with more options try one of the third-party Web browsers available at no charge from the Google Play Store such as: Mozilla FireFox or Dolphin.

Like the Silk browser, the default Android browser has no built-in text to speech feature other than Talkback , enabled from the Accessibility settings. Again, for more options, consider some of the popular third-party alternatives such as the Google Chrome Web browser with Browser Reader installed, or a Web browser like Web Page Reader with text to speech already built-in.


Tablets are offering increasingly greater access to print on the Internet and through their respect Web browsers. Overall, the Apple iPad offers the widest array of customized features built into the iOS operating system. The default Android Web browser and Kindle Fire’s Silk provide customizable features, particularly for the low vision reader looking for larger print access. Depending on what your preferences are for accessing print, you may find one of these tablets will provide as much, or greater reading access than your full-size computer.

More Information

Using Your Kindle

Choosing the Right Device

Low Cost Computing

How to Magnify Using Zoom Feature