Campuses agree to stop using Kindle DX until functional for the blind

Campuses agree to stop using Kindle DX until functional for the blind

Summary: Three universities testing the Amazon Kindle DX in the classroom have agreed to stop using e-book readers until they are fully functional for blind students.

TOPICS: Mobility, Hardware

In a deal stuck with the U.S. Justice Department, three universities testing the Amazon Kindle DX in the classroom have agreed to stop using e-book readers until they are fully functional for blind students.

The original pilot program, announced at the Kindle DX launch event last May and since criticized by some students as an ineffective academic tool, was made with Arizona State, Princeton, Case Western and Pace universities and Reed College.

Legal settlements were made with Pace, Case Western Reserve and Reed. A similar deal was struck with Arizona State University two days ago.

Two organizations representing the visually impaired -- the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind -- had sued after the program was first announced, citing a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Kindle used in the pilot program has a text-to-speech function, but the device's menu does not -- meaning it's not possible for blind students to navigate electronic textbooks.

The agreement takes effect once the upcoming spring semester ends.

The agreement also notably covers other rival e-book readers, including Sony's Reader family and the Barnes & Noble Nook, among others.

"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," Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said in prepared remarks. "These agreements underscore the importance of full and equal educational opportunities for everyone."

Editor's Note: The original headline, "Campuses ordered to stop using Kindle DX until functional for the blind," was changed to more accurately reflect the terms of the settlement.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Lacking a reasonable accomodation, it's the right decision

    • Ridiclous

      Ridiculous! What's preventing those Universities from continuing to use the current methods for blind students as the new tech is run through its paces? I've worked with the blind for decades. Sure, the KindleDX would be better with full functioning text-speech reading, but there are copyright infringement laws (also ridiculous) hindering this advancement.
    • No, your logic is flawed...

      By this measure, any building that is not ADA-compliant shouldn't be in operation if it only has stairs and no elevator. That's plainly not going to happen. It is desirable to make accommodations available, but realistically, it takes time to implement.

      Why should sighted people be deprived of the use of the Kindle until something is available for those who are blind? This makes no sense, but I'm sure it's perfectly logical if you're a lawyer.

      On a related note, didn't the Kindle at one time have a text-to-speech capability that had to be disabled because publishers felt that it was going to impact their sales of audio books? How can anyone win in this kind of environment? Let the campuses use the Kindle, and make available the text-to-speech function that it originally had. Sheesh!
      • Text to Speech

        How do you use a Kindle's text to speech functionality in a classroom without causing disruption?

        Do students also have to stop using electronic notepads and touchscreen computers until someone figures out how they can accomodate the blind?

        Braille texts still exist - that other students have their texts on a Kindle is not an infringement of others rights
        • Text to Brail readers? Headphones?

          I believe there exists a device that you place on your hand in that converts the sentence in a book to brail impressions in the device, readable via tiny "pins" that rise as though you are reading brail type, though it could just be a prototype

          an earphone would solve that issue with the text to speech.
    • Braille and other existing tools for the blind...

      ARE reasonable accomodation and this decision is idiotic.

      To paraphrase a cartoon I recently read, the courtroom in which this lawsuit was heard obvious had a sign on a pole outside of each of its doors which read "in order to enter this courtroom you must be as dumb as this post."
      • Agreed...

        I agree, this is a decision that can only be considered a "win" for the lawyers, and if the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind are so hard up for attention and relevance that they think any publicity is good publicity. Do existing textbooks have voice-navigable menus?! I seriously doubt many university textbooks are even available in braille - short print runs for any but the basic first year courses (linear algebra, calculus, intro psych courses and the like), and frequent changes to newer texts surely mean few university-level books are available in braille.
        Quite aside from whether the e-books are effective learning tools, this seems like cutting off your nose to spite your face - text-to-speech and speech recognition is a real possibility with ebooks, which would seem to be a reason for blind organizations to applaud their adoption, not block it.
      • And this MUST be why

        banks feel the need to have braille on their drive thru window ATMs.

        >wonders if we will be forced to stop driving cars because they are not accessible to blind people to drive.
        Afterall, they are not given the same opportunities.<
        • I agree as well

          I believe that this is just due to some shyster lawyer need some more money for a new set of golf clubs. Their bank account must have dropped down into the 7 figures. Even Wm Shakespeare wrote something about killing all the lawyers back in his day. They do not seem to have improved much in over 400 years. There are Plenty of systems & devices to assist the blind in use so what Silly Bugger decided to screw with everybody else?
    • Ban chaulkboards, hell ban lights as well! S*T*U*P*I*D

      STUPID: Never test a product until AFTER it is 100% complete ... uh ... but shouldn't it be tested BEFORE even if not all features present?

      Glad to know schools are now teaching STUPIDITY!
  • Any response from Amazon?

    Given that they could lose a whole lot of business if a competitor comes out with an accessible product before they do, I would think that a response from Amazon would be newsworthy.
    Michael Kelly
    • They Have Already "not responded"

      Given that the lawsuit was filed a long time ago, Amazon should have provided that functionality months ago. What are they thinking? If you have a device that can talk and has a bunch of physical keys, you have got to be able to find a solution for this, and not having provided it long before the settlement is gross negligence. However, it's not the first time Amazon has demonstrated that they don't get certain things, especially in the Academic realm.
      • Keys

        If a device has an actual keyboard it would be extremely simple to run up a new mold for the keys that utilize braille dots. Until new keys are made it would be simple to make stickers with raised dots similar to those already made with those odd pictorial designs for keyboards.
  • Was Kindle use required?

    If so, that is dumb to begin with. Any assignment should simply be to read "XYZ", chapter 5. And also...are there not already braille readers that can take electronic text input? This is soooo 1997. Not to mention hard-copy braille books.


    My bottom line: leave the alternatives open; don't prohibit a seeing student from using a Kindle because others cannot; but don't require it (idiotic to begin with, in a "free" country).
    • I absolutelly agree.

      Why should those with sight be kept from using a device because some other person can not?

      Should we discontinue the use of penicillin because I am (as some others are) alergic to it?

      No, they continue to use that where it is effective on those that are not alergic, while I and others are supplied with an alternative.

      So why is that such a hard concept for many to grasp here? Give those that can use the Kindle a Kindle, those that can not, an alternative.
    • What do they do in

      Ornithology class? When I took it we used binoculars to observe the birds. I guess those should be outlawed as well.
  • "leave the alternatives open"

    Sort of agree with "techboy_z", just make sure the textbooks are accessible in all formats (Kindle, Standard Book, and Braille). If not, then don't use the Kindle, this didn't really require a court decision did it???

    No wonder American students are falling behind.
    • "leave the alternatives open...kinda"

      Tehremo, "...then don't use the Kindle..." Huh? Why didn't you say "then don't use the Standard Book"?

      If I can see and you cannot, what difference does it make to you whether I use my sight to read a printed page in a "Standard Book" or whether I use my sight to read an electronic page in a Kindle?

      On the other hand, as a sighted person, I must demand that a person using any kind of text to speech technology create only that amount of ambient noise that can be heard by others as that made by a sighted person reading a book...since this article is about college student use, I assume that a college student does not read out loud unless invited to do so by others in his vicinity.
  • RE: Campuses ordered to stop using Kindle DX until functional for the blind

    By that logic, none of us should be driving cars, as it's discrimination against blind folks who can't do that activity and are therefore at a disadvantage to those of us who can.

    Blind people can't read regular books either, but we still allow (and require) students to use them, and blind students must use special braille copies (if available). This situation doesn't change just because you replace regular books with an e-reader.
  • I suppose you can buy yourself a study Kindle & kick those cripples' asses.

    Situation: university study with competitive examination (maybe). Only so many students will succeed. Well, if you're sighted and an electronic textbook device gives you an unfair advantage over blind students, you're gonna take that advantage, ain't'cha.

    And I hear the faculty has some used machines that they may be selling cheap...
    Robert Carnegie 2009