Arizona State settles Kindle lawsuit

Arizona State settles Kindle lawsuit

Summary: Last summer I blogged about the lawsuit involving Arizona State University's use of the Kindle DX and it's inaccessibility to the blind. I couldn't quite get my head around that one and neither could most readers.

TOPICS: Hardware, Legal, Mobility

Last summer I blogged about the lawsuit involving Arizona State University's use of the Kindle DX and it's inaccessibility to the blind. I couldn't quite get my head around that one and neither could most readers.

Students in the honors history of human culture and thought course at Arizona State University will be receiving Kindle ebook readers with the 30 required books for the course pre-loaded...30 books is a lot for a single class; it actually makes it fairly easy to justify a Kindle (or Kindle-like device), especially since most of the books would not be expected to be textbooks....Unfortunately for most of the students in the class, The National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind don’t agree with me.

However, it appears that Arizona State has settled the lawsuit and admitted no wrong-doing. In fact, the lawsuit is largely moot now, as Amazon is adding spoken-menu navigation to the Kindle, as well as a large print mode, making it fully accessible to visually impaired users.

The Washington Post cited several reasons for the successful settlement:

ASU's commitment to providing access to all programs and facilities for students with disabilities, the fact that the pilot program will end in the Spring of 2010 and the university's agreement that should ASU deploy e-book readers in future classes over the next two years, it will strive to use devices that are accessible to the blind.

Obviously, it's a good thing that Amazon is adding accessibility features; they should have done it in the first place. However, with neither side admitting wrongdoing and both essentially just agreeing that e-readers should be accessible to the blind, this seems like an awful lot of money that could have been spent elsewhere. Say, for example, developing an accessible iPhone or Android app that reads books to the visually impaired.

Topics: Hardware, Legal, Mobility

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • Still waiting

    My 86-year old father is an avid reader who has lost his vision. Text to speech on a Kindle might provide him with a much greater body of work than he can access right now. Instead of two-week old news magazines, he might get the latest edition. And my mother could do something other than read him the newspaper. I keep looking for something that is more low-vision user-friendly than cassette tapes for the blind. E-readers, iPods, MP3 players, iPhones, etc. surround us and I'm still waiting for something viable to replace that accessible cassette format.
  • RE: Arizona State settles Kindle lawsuit

    Amazon and other entrepreneurs get caught between whiny or shortsighted (no pun intended) advocacy groups and other powerful commercial interests.

    Instead of suing ASU, the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind should have joined with them (and Amazon) to lobby Congress and the publishing industry.

    Why? Text-to-speech currently is a violation of copyright. Spoken-narration (e.g. books-on-tape) requires the licensing of additional rights from the author (which the publisher secures). The publishers want to make money from recorded books - so they resist mass-market text-to-speech because they worry it will depress sales.

    Here Amazon (and ASU) are prevented by publishers wielding copyright from the chance to "do good" by making *all* text accessible to the blind.

    Amazon bears some (minor) blame for not incorporating voice navigation and/or tactile (Braille) components in its plastic, but wouldn't the NFB and ACB have been better served by working with Amazon product management to propose hardware changes to make the Kindle more useful not only to those with limited sight, but also those with normal sight?

    Perhaps the problem is testy advocates and contingency-fee lawyers. It's "free" to sue and costs money to collaborate!
  • RE: Arizona State settles Kindle lawsuit

    I thought the Kindle DX had a text to speech option, which would be good for blind people. However, I don't know if navigating around the interface could be done by speech.
  • What if ASU hadn't used an e-reader?

    I'm curious: What would have been done for visually impaired students if ASU hadn't opted to pilot an e-reader and the students had gotten dead trees instead? Would ASU have been sued for not providing braille versions of the texts? Or perhaps they would have been sued for not providing a TA to read the assignments to the students with vision issues? If braille versions of the texts would have been made available in case of a class using printed material, why couldn't that have been done in this case as well rather than clogging our courts with law suits for a situation that would have better been handled through co-operation than the adversarial process?
    • where i went to college this would not have even been an issue because the

      state pays for blind students to receive help.
      one of my student jobs was to read assignments to a blind student and get him to class on time.
      since he was a nice guy it was a good job.
      if he had been a jerk, it would have been a bad gig.

      so why the court battle?
      that would be a question for the academic administrator.
      so, what's the answer??