Justice Dept. settles blind students v. Kindle controversy

Four universities agree not to use Kindle or other devices untilill they are universally accessible

Four universities have agreed the will not purchase, recommend or promote use of the Kindle DX, or any other dedicated electronic book reader, unless the devices are fully accessible to blind students, according to the US Department of Justice.

The agreements came after the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind, along with a blind student at Arizona State University complained to the DOJ that use of the Kindle devices discriminates against students with vision problems. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits disability discrimination.

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The Kindle does have a feature that lets the device read e-books out loud, but has no similar spoken controls that would help a blind person navigate the buttons on the device, the Justice Dept. stated. Without access to the menus, students who are blind have no way to know which book they have selected or how to access the Kindle DX Web browser or its other functions. The technology to make navigational controls or menu selections accessible by blind users is available, the Justice Dept. stated.

The universities -- Case Western Reserve University, Pace University and Reed College -- agreed that if they use dedicated electronic book readers, they will ensure that students with vision disabilities are able to access and acquire the same materials and information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as sighted students with substantially equivalent ease of use. These agreements follow a similar agreement between the Justice Department and Arizona State University announced this week.

The case stems from an ongoing Amazon.com pilot project that tests the viability of the Kindle DX in a classroom setting. The terms of the Justice Department’s agreement with each university become effective at the end of the pilot projects.

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