Wayne State resolution calls for Kindle to be accessible to the blind

Sight-impaired attorney wants 'read-to-me' capability

By Christine L. Mobley

Legal News

The Wayne State University Board of Governor's unanimously passed a resolution last month urging Amazon to make its Kindle DX more accessible to the visually impaired.

Richard Bernstein, a Farmington Hills attorney who is chairman of the Board of Governors, called for the resolution.

The Amazon Kindle is a lightweight, portable electronic device for reading e-books and other digital media.

According to Bernstein, Amazon made the Kindle virtually impossible for the blind and visually impaired to use by disabling the text-to-speech capabilities for the Kindle's menu back in July.

"The issue with Kindle is that when Amazon created the Kindle inside it has the software that allows for it to be oral and read things out loud," said Bernstein, who is blind. "It has the software and it has the technology embedded in the device."

Not enabling this technology for the menu is discriminatory towards the sight impaired, Bernstein claims, especially when it is being used in a classroom setting as a way to deliver textbooks and other class materials. He notes that blind students would not have the same access to information as other students. Instead of having the texts immediately available for their use, the blind and visually impaired students would have to wait three to four weeks for the books to become available to them in a usable manner.

In fact, the National Federation for the Blind is suing Arizona State University for its use of the e-reader in classes that began this fall.

Currently, six colleges and universities across the U.S. are taking part in the Amazon Kindle DX pilot program. They are Princeton, Arizona State University, Case Western Reserve University, Reed College, Pace University in New York City, and Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia.

It is Wayne State's hope, according to Bernstein, that other universities would follow its lead and not do business with Amazon until the situation with the Kindle is remedied and the device is easily accessible for all.

"The Kindle has the software in it," Bernstein said. "We're not asking them to add a new feature."

The Amazon Web site explains the "Read-to-Me" feature as an "experimental feature" which is still being worked on to "enhance the Kindle experience even further." The site also states, "With the Text-to-Speech feature, Kindle can read English newspapers, magazines, blogs, and books out loud to you, unless the book's rights holder made the feature unavailable."

Amazon did not reply to an e-mail request for comment.

"I think what's important for people to understand is the human component of this and why this is so significant," said Bernstein. "Sighted people take for granted that you can read a newspaper or read a book or do all of these exciting things. What was exciting to the blind community was and other people of the disabled population was that for the first time we could function just like sighted people. ...You could be at the airport and you could have your newspaper read to you on your Kindle...you could be anywhere and you could have all of these materials downloaded.

"Amazon just has to reactivate the (text-to-speech feature on the) menu and then the Kindle would work great for everybody and everybody would benefit," Bernstein added. "What they are doing is acting in an unbelievably callous and unbelievably mean-spirited fashion because basically what they're saying is 'We know this technology is out there. We know that this technology is available, but we are just not going to allow for you to use it.

"Ultimately, (Amazon's) going to have to make a choice if they want to do business with the university communities. We're going to have to show them that we will not conduct business with a corporation which acts in an unconscionable manner the way that they are deciding and choosing to behave."

--Photo Credit: Amazon

Published: Thu, Oct 29, 2009

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