A settlement has been reached between three universities that supported Amazon.com's popular Kindle electronic book reader and the federal government. The U.S. Department of Justice settled with Case Western in Cleveland, Ohio; Pace University in New York City; and Reed College in Portland, Ore., after they agreed to no longer use or promote the Kindle DX or any other electronic reader until the devices are accessible to blind students.
The universities were part of an Amazon.com pilot project to use the Kindle DX in the classroom. Six schools participated in the project.
The three universities agreed that if they use e-book readers, they will be sure that students with vision disabilities can acquire the same materials, participate in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as other students.
"Advancing technology is systematically changing the way universities approach education, but we must be sure that emerging technologies offer individuals with disabilities the same opportunities as other students," said Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez. "These agreements underscore the importance of full and equal educational opportunities for everyone."
The DOJ first made a case against the schools after the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) in Baltimore, Md., and the American Council of the Blind (ACB) in Arlington, Va., filed complaints about violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Missing from Kindle
Amazon's popular e-reader includes a function to convert text to speech, which could be used by someone with impaired vision. The device, however, does not have text-to-speech features in its menu bar or on its navigation controls.
The Justice Department argued that without access to the menus, blind students have no way of knowing which book to select or how to use the Kindle DX browser. Others have also complained that the software used to convert text to speech is not always clear.
Amazon Vice President Ian Reed said a team of Kindle engineers is working on an audible menu system so vision-impaired users can navigate to books without assistance. The company also plans to increase the font size on the Kindle. The largest font size will be two times the height and width of the current largest font, according to Amazon.
New features will be available by summer.
Creating Opportunities, Not Barriers
Separately, the NFB and the ACB filed a case against Arizona State University, one of the six schools in Amazon's pilot program, and settled it Monday. Included in the settlement is Arizona State's commitment to end the program in the spring and use only e-readers accessible to the blind.
"The (DOJ) settlement will encourage other manufacturers to create accessible technologies or add accessibility features to existing ones," said Chris Danielsen, an NFB spokesperson. "The National Federation of the Blind is confident that ultimately e-books can be an education solution for all students, blind or sighted. In fact, we believe this technology can be very beneficial to blind students, who will no longer have to wait for printed textbooks to be converted into braille or audio."
The remaining two schools decided not to participate in the program and other universities, including Syracuse University and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, explored using the Kindle DX but decided against it because it's not accessible by the blind.
"The National Federation of the Blind is pleased with this settlement, which we believe will help to ensure that new technologies create new opportunities for blind students rather than new barriers," said Marc Maurer, president of the NFB.
Posted: 2010-02-10 @ 1:41pm PT
"after they agreed to no longer use or promote the Kindle DX"
They never did use or promote it; they tested it. There were no blind or sight-disabled students involved in the testing, so it was impossible to violate the ADA.