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Kindle in classroom hurts blind students, DOJ warns

By Grant Gross
January 13, 2010 02:43 PM ET

IDG News Service - Three U.S. universities will stop promoting the use of Amazon.com's Kindle DX e-book reader in classrooms after complaints that the device doesn't give blind students equal access to information.

Settlements with Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Pace University in New York City and Reed College in Portland, Oregon, were announced Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Justice. The National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind had complained that use of the Kindle devices discriminates against students with vision problems.

The complaints about the Kindle were based on the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.

The three universities were among six schools participating in an Amazon.com pilot program testing the use of the Kindle DX in classrooms. On Monday, a fourth participating school, Arizona State University, also reached a settlement with the DOJ and the two organizations representing the blind.

Three other schools announced in late 2009 they will not deploy Kindle in classrooms.

The Kindle DX has the capability to convert text to synthesized speech, but the device does not include text-to-speech functionality for its menu and navigational controls, the DOJ said in a press release. Some reviewers and users of the device's text-to-speech software have also said the speech is difficult to listen to and the conversion can be inaccurate.

The agreements are a "step forward" for blind students, said Chris Danielsen, director of public relations at the National Federation of the Blind. The group is encouraged that Amazon has announced improvements for the Kindle, he added.

"With regard to the Kindle DX, it can read books aloud, but a blind person cannot independently select a book, start the read-aloud function, or navigate within the book, among other things," he added. "In other words, a blind student could only really use the device with the assistance of a sighted person."

Amazon.com is making changes to the Kindle to make it more accessible to blind people, a spokesman there said. The Kindle team is working on an audio-based menu system, and the devices will have a super-size font added, Amazon said in a press release. Those new features are due out by mid-2010, the company said.

"Kindle is for anyone who loves to read -- in fact, we've heard from thousands of vision-impaired customers and customers with learning disabilities over the past two years who have been helped tremendously by Kindle," Ian Freed, vice president for Amazon Kindle, said in a statement. "With some key modifications, we believe Kindle can be a breakthrough device for the blind, and the team is excited about making these enhancements."

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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