Interesting Legal Challenge

Today’s announcement that the American Council of the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind have joined forces to try and stop Arizona State University from taking part in a pilot program using Amazon’s Kindle to make electronic versions of textbooks makes for an interesting legal challenge. My reading of the situation is that it gets to the basic question that needs to be asked much more often when it comes to accessibility and technology. Namely, if an organization who has an obligation to meet a certain level of accessibility is going to deploy technology from another source, how much responsibility does that organization have to ensure accessibility of the technology being deployed?

 

While accessibility legislation would likely never dictate that Amazon needs to make the Kindle accessible, I say if an organization covered by accessibility legislation is going to use such technology, it has an obligation to ensure accessibility. I’m sure the counter argument here is going to be something around the typical we’ll make the books accessible without making the device accessible and such. That’s typically what happens.

 

Yet at some point it isn’t about just the content but the full experience afforded by the technology. I’m no lawyer but the University seems in the wrong here. To me they should be pressing Amazon for accessibility before using their population as a pilot and really helping Amazon sell more products.

 

There’s no good reason other than lack of commitment why the Kindle isn’t accessible today.

 

BALTIMORE, June 25 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the American Council of the Blind (ACB) filed suit today against Arizona State University (ASU) to prevent the university from deploying Amazon’s Kindle DX electronic reading device as a means of distributing electronic textbooks to its students because the device cannot be used by blind students. Darrell Shandrow, a blind ASU student, is also a named plaintiff in the action. The Kindle DX features text-to-speech technology that can read textbooks aloud to blind students. The menus of the device are not accessible to the blind, however, making it impossible for a blind user to purchase books from Amazon’s Kindle store, select a book to read, activate the text-to-speech feature, and use the advanced reading functions available on the Kindle DX. In addition to ASU, five other institutions of higher education are deploying the Kindle DX as part of a pilot project to assess the role of electronic textbooks and reading devices in the classroom. The NFB and ACB have also filed complaints with the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education and the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, asking for investigations of these five institutions, which are: Case Western Reserve University, the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, Pace University, Princeton University, and Reed College. The lawsuit and complaints allege violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.s

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