Did you know the Justice Department threatened several universities with legal action because they took part in an experimental program to allow students to use the Amazon Kindle for textbooks?
Last year, the schools — among them Princeton, Arizona State and Case Western Reserve — wanted to know if e-book readers would be more convenient and less costly than traditional textbooks. The environmentally conscious educators also wanted to reduce the huge amount of paper students use to print files from their laptops.
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.
Okay. So the university wants to provide an option for students to use a Kindle instead of bulky textbooks. And this somehow violates someones Civil Rights? What? Did they simultaneously switch to textbooks that insult and demean disabled people?
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.”
In May 2009, Amazon announced the pilot program, under which it would provide Kindle DX readers to a few universities. It wasn’t a huge deal; Princeton’s plan, for example, involved three courses and a total of 51 students, and only in the fall semester of that year. University spokeswoman Emily Aronson says the program was voluntary and students could opt out of using the Kindle. “There were no students with a visual impairment who had registered for the three classes,” says Aronson.
Nope, the devices just couldn’t be used by the blind. So in order to develop any new technology, we have to find a way to make it display braille? Schools aren’t allowed to use new technology, even if the classes they would have used it for had no blind people registered for them?
And this is what we dropped the NBPP case for?
Memo to the NFB and the Justice Department: there is no “right” to an eBook reader. Period. This is worse than the idea that it’s racist to read an anti-Klan book.