National Federation of the Blind and American Council of the Blind File Discrimination Suit Against Arizona State University
University’s Amazon Kindle DX Pilot Program Discriminates Against the Blind
Baltimore, Maryland (June 25, 2009): 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.
Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “Given the highly-advanced technology involved, there is no good reason that Amazon’s Kindle DX device should be inaccessible to blind students. Amazon could have used the same text-to-speech technology that reads e-books on the device aloud to make its menus accessible to the blind, but it chose not to do so. Worse yet, six American higher education institutions that are subject to federal laws requiring that they not discriminate against students with disabilities plan to deploy this device, even though they know that it cannot be used by blind students. The National Federation of the Blind will not tolerate this unconscionable discrimination against and callous indifference to the right of blind students to receive an equal education. We hope that this situation can be rectified in a manner that allows this exciting new reading technology to be made available to blind and sighted students alike.”
Darrell Shandrow, a blind student pursuing a degree in journalism at ASU, said: “Not having access to the advanced reading features of the Kindle DX—including the ability to download books and course materials, add my own bookmarks and notes, and look up supplemental information instantly on the Internet when I encounter it in my reading—will lock me out of this new technology and put me and other blind students at a competitive disadvantage relative to our sighted peers. While my peers will have instant access to their course materials in electronic form, I will still have to wait weeks or months for accessible texts to be prepared for me, and these texts will not provide the access and features available to other students. That is why I am standing up for myself and with other blind Americans to end this blatant discrimination.”