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Monday, August 2, 2010

DoJ: Keep the Kindle out of sighted students' hands

Keeping in mind that our Department of Justice refuses to prosecute cases in which a white voter has brought charges against a black aggressor, it's interesting to note that our DoJ does want to prosecute American companies who create products that do not meet the DoJ's specifications: specifically, the Kindle. Several universities wanted a trial run for a few students, none of whom were blind, to use the Kindle to save paper and simplify procedures. Our DoJ objected, claiming the civil rights of blind students were violated. Washington Examiner:
It seemed like a promising idea until the universities got a letter from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, now under an aggressive new chief, Thomas Perez, telling them they were under investigation for possible violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
From its introduction in 2007, the Kindle has drawn criticism from the National Federation of the Blind and other activist groups. While the Kindle's text-to-speech feature could read a book aloud, its menu functions required sight to operate. "If you could get a sighted person to fire up the device and start reading the book to you, that's fine," says Chris Danielsen, a spokesman for the federation. "But other than that, there was really no way to use it."
But, wait, there's more. Apparently, like our EPA, our DoJ is working against the good of the American people in an effort to make the internet accessible to blind people.
Now, Perez is at work on a far bigger project, one that could eventually declare the Internet a "public accommodation" under the ADA. That could result in a raft of new Justice Department regulations for disabled access to all sorts of Web sites.
UPDATE: You'll be glad to know that DoJ is working very hard on this; in fact, feverishly. From the Main Justice website:


  1. It's a fact: eBooks will save money if used in education by eliminating the high costs of paper-based, bound books.

    But you're suggesting the 60,000 legally blind children in the US shouldn't expect an opportunity to get a higher education should eBooks become the norm?

    "Blind people" aren't the only ones using/requiring "reading" technologies. What about the estimated 30-45 million people with dyslexia - access denied! To the 8% of men who are color blind and have difficulty reading dark gray on light gray - "would you like fries with that order?" People with other sensory, physical or cognitive disabilities - sorry, you don't get to play with our eBooks!

    I hope you're not getting older or hit your head and suddenly can't use the Kindle without assistance (1.4 million people in the US suffer a Traumatic Brain Injury every year in the US). Those neat eBooks may become your worst enemy.

  2. Please note: in your story, you say "none of the people were blind." That means "none of the people in the pilot program were blind," and shouldn't be construed to mean "none of the students attending the universities testing the pilot program were blind." There's a big difference.

    Blind students couldn't be included in the pilot program because, let me think... because blind students couldn't use the Kindle?

    Hey, I think we're onto something!

    As a side not, it may interest you to know that YOUR website is VERY accessible and usable to screen reader technology! It's easy to be "accessible," it's harder to be "accessible AND usable." You site uses document structure very well.

  3. Of course the marketplace will adapt to the needs of the customer, and large companies have been very amenable to developing changes to their products that will meet the needs of those who suffer challenges and impairments.

    But to stop a test just because...JUST ridiculous, just as your reasoning is peevish and self centered. YOU don't want anyone to have something unless YOU TOO (or whomever you designate) can have it RIGHT NOW. IMMEDIATELY.

    It just doesn't work that way. This is the kind of thinking that stymies innovation and places a great burden on society in general. Of course, everyone wants those who suffer to have their needs met. Some things just aren't possible and other things take time.

    The fact that my site is accessible and usable is a tribute to the creative, compassionate individuals who have met the demands of the marketplace.

    That our DOJ would spend time on stopping innovative and new projects just because they do not YET meet the demands of the few is appalling and reprehensible.

  4. The tests were NOT stopped! The universities "agreed not to purchase, recommend, or promote use of [Kindle or other screen readers]" until such time they are accessible. In a couple instances, the pilot continued, but the actual program has not yet been implemented.

    Amazon announced almost immediately after the agreement that Kindle WOULD be accessible by the end of 2010. The latest Kindle release is getting very close to that goal. Capitalism at it's finest; Amazon wants to sell Kindle's to all those students!

    Accessibility is NOT hard to accomplish. To make most web sites accessible (such as THIS site) all the developers need to do is follow current coding standards, incorporate good design and voila - the site is immediately accessible and useful. THIS site, for example uses headings - the most common method of navigating quickly using a screen reader.

    As for being self-centered: I'm not blind! But when I watch intelligent, educated, capable people go to a popular site in order to manipulate their financial portfolio, and CAN'T without the assistance of a sighted user, something isn't right!

    When a highly qualified individual goes to a corporate web site to apply for employment, and the site is the ONLY way to apply and they CAN'T, something is wrong!

    Or when they'd like to apply for law school - and CAN'T, something is wrong!

    Again, making things accessible isn't rocket science. Making things accessible usually makes things better for everyone. Next time you're at a building with a wheelchair ramp, watch how many people choose the ramp instead of the steps.

    I'm from Ohio. I'm a paid supporter of John Kasich. But when it takes my screen reader 1 minute 36 seconds to reach something meaningful on Kasich's site versus 2 seconds on Ted Stricklands site.... what does that say to the voters using assistive technology???

  5. But the tests were stopped:
    And, really, the issue I raise here isn't about accessibility. No one wants to deny accessibility to those who have disadvantages.
    The point is that our DOJ swooped in and filed lawsuits to stop even the testing! This is absurd! The question is really the prejudice and focus of the DOJ.
    Most of your points are poignant and well made; in fact, I agree with most of what you say, particularly about the Kasich and Strickland sites (although I do wonder if Strickland's is paid for by taxpayers, as opposed to his challenger's??)
    And professional websites have an obligation to provide services to all, whenever reasonable.
    One of the problems I am suggesting is that determination of what is reasonable. When school systems must dedicate 3 to 1 personnel to a single student with disabilities to mainstream him, when election boards are threatened with lawsuits if they do not produce EVERY ballot in Spanish rather than on request, when our military are not guaranteed the right to vote, when white voters cannot file voting rights against black election board officials, our DOJ has the wrong focus.
    The demands minorities (see Fahrenheit 451) make on the majority are onerous and unreasonable and advantage themselves only by disadvantaging others, something IS wrong.
    Perhaps we are arguing in circles.

  6. Here's the direct quote from the Examiner I meant to publish above:

    The Civil Rights Division informed the schools they were under investigation. In subsequent talks, the Justice Department demanded the universities stop distributing the Kindle; if blind students couldn't use the device, then nobody could. The Federation made the same demand in a separate lawsuit against Arizona State.
    It's an approach that bothers some civil rights experts.

    Read more at the Washington Examiner:

  7. Search prnewswire dot com, nfb dot org, abcnews dot go dot com and finally justice dot gov: Arizona State U. didn't halt it's pilot program... ASU agreed not to implement eBooks until such time that readers (and eBooks - more on that in a second) were accessible.

    I'm not a big fan of the DOJ. DOJ is heading up the revision to ADA to include web accessibility (search regulations dot gov for "DOJ-CRT-2010-0005"). DOJ is looking at implementing the W3C WAI-WCA 2.0. The issues I have with WCAG 2.0 are best explained by Joe Clark in his article "To Hell with WCAG 2."

    When it comes to accessibility, I *AM* a huge fan of Occam's razor; "Keep it simple, stupid!" The variations in current technology (web browsers, screen readers, magnifiers, operating systems, etc) allows for perfect results in some combination's, and horrible results in others.

    Amazon got the message - make readers accessible if you want to make money. Unfortunately, book publishers may be the next problem. If the publisher sells eBooks AND "Books on tape" then their eBooks will have the ability to read the book aloud inside a Kindle turned off - it would be a conflict of interest.

    I have enjoyed the exchange. I'll let you have the last word, and we'll move on, eh? If you'd like, I'd be glad to take our comments and make an eBook using Google's Sigil! And if ya want to go all out for our fans - a DAISY "talking book!" :-)