[Nfbnet-members-list] Letter about Inaccessible Kindle from Dr. Maurer

Steve Jacobson steve.jacobson at visi.com
Sat Mar 23 22:48:55 UTC 2013

The following was massaged by Steve Jacobson.  If you are interested 
at all in access to electronic books, and electronic book readers, 
like the Kindle, it is worth a read.

David Andrews

During the most recent Metro Chapter meeting, (Minneapolis/St. Paul 
area,) a very well-documented letter from Dr. Maurer to the National 
Parent Teacher
Association was discussed.  It outlines the complex problem that 
faces us regarding the Kindle's use by schools.  Amazon has said
there are accessible alternatives, but this letter explains why this 
is really not the case.  Since many had not seen this letter,
I am including a text copy here.  I am also attaching the PDF copy 
that has been widely circulated as there are some links in that
version to supporting documentation.

Marc Maurer, President
200 East Wells Street
at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, MD 21230
Phone 410 659 9314 Fax 410 685 5653
Sent via first class mail and e-mail

March 11, 2013

Betsy Landers, President
Eric Hargis, Executive Director
National Parent Teacher Association
1250 North Pitt Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
blanders at pta.org
ehargis at pta.org

RE:	Amazons Sponsorship of the National PTAs Family Reading 
Experience Program

Dear Ms. Landers and Mr. Hargis:

It has come to my attention that your organization has selected 
Amazon as the exclusive sponsor of your new Family Reading
Experience program. While the aspirations of this program are noble, 
you should know that the use of Kindle e-books will seriously
compromise the education of children who are blind or have other 
print disabilities.  This is so because, unlike other e-books,
Kindle e-books do not afford children with print disabilities the 
same reading and learning experience as their fellow students.
As a result, local PTAs that accept donations of Kindle devices or 
encourage the use of Kindle e-books in their schools will, as
detailed in this letter, be helping to put those schools in violation 
of federal law.

In todays world, equal opportunity requires equal access to 
information. Unlike print, digital information is not inherently
visual; it can be made available visually, aurally, and tactilely all 
at the same time and from the same original digital source.
Thus, digital information can be the great equalizer, offering 
mainstream access to all, without regard to whether the reader has a
sensory disability.  For decades, the blind have used a variety of 
technologies to make e-books accessible. To read electronic
texts, blind students use either text-to-speech software that 
vocalizes the words, letters, and characters on a page or a
refreshable Braille display that renders the words, letters, and 
characters into Braille. Fortunately, a number of technology
developers and content providers have designed their products and 
services to put sighted and blind users on an equal footing. With
the advent of commercial e-books, some developers, including Apple 
iBooks and Blio books, have made their e-books and reading
applications accessible, so that everyoneincluding blind students 
and others with print disabilitiescan read and use them

Unfortunately, Amazon is not such a company. It has made a conscious 
decision to exclude the blind from reading and studying with
its Kindle e-books. Among other barriers, blind students using Kindle 
e-books cannot (1) read character by character and thus learn
to spell, punctuate and distinguish homophones; (2) navigate usefully 
through the text of a Kindle e-book to keep up with the rest
of the class; (3) interact with the Kindle e-books content through 
the dictionary, highlighting, search, or note-taking features;
or (4) access any content in Braille through their refreshable 
Braille displays.  In sum, blind students attempting to use Kindle
e-books are effectively precluded from developing phonological 
awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension, or vocabulary, which are
the stated goals of your Family Reading Experience program.

To better illustrate the barriers Kindle e-books create, I have 
attached a chart to this letter showing the various functions that
Kindle e-books offer sighted students and deny blind students. The 
chart reflects the best access Amazon offers, using a Kindle
Keyboard (also called Kindle 3G) or using the Kindle for PC with 
Accessibility Plugin to read Kindle e-books. All other devices and
platforms for reading Kindles are completely inaccessible. By way of 
comparison, the attached chart also shows other reading
platforms, such as iBooks, that offer blind students all of the 
functions that Amazon reserves for the sighted. For your
convenience, we have also tied those features to the Common Core 
State Standards to demonstrate specifically how the access
barriers of Kindle e-books inhibit blind studentseducational 
opportunities.  In short, although blind readers do have some
rudimentary access to Kindle e-bookswhen using platforms that permit 
that rudimentary access, it is not nearly enough [access]
to use the books for anything but the most casual reading,much less 
the intense, challenging reading that characterizes the
academic environment.

Hence, the implementation of Kindle e-books proposed by the Family 
Reading Experience program will relegate students with print
disabilities to second class status and unnecessarily exclude them 
from benefiting from the programs goals and objectives.
Moreover, the limitations of Kindle e-books will inhibit 
print-disabled children from developing those grade-appropriate reading
skills that are set forth by the Common Core State Standards and that 
are vigorously advocated for by your organization.

    	Not only does the use of Kindle e-books in the public school 
classroom inhibit the educational development of print-disabled
students, it is also a violation of federal law. This is so because 
use of Kindle e-books discriminates against students with print
disabilities by denying them equal access to educational programs. 
Under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, public schools must not deny 
students with disabilities the benefits of their programs and
activities. Therefore, public schools that choose to use Kindle 
e-books will be violating federal law, and PTA organizations that
encourage the use of Kindle e-books in their local schools will be 
assisting those schools in that violation.

In 2009 and 2010, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education 
resolved complaints against five post-secondary schools that used
the inaccessible Kindle DX e-reader device in their classrooms with 
agreements that required these schools not to purchase any e-
reader device for their classrooms or require use of any device 
unless or until such electronic book reader is fully accessible to
individuals with visual impairments . . . .  An electronic book 
reader is only fully accessible if all uses of the device that
are available to individuals without disabilities are available to 
individuals with visual impairments in a manner which ensures
that its use in the university setting is equally as effective for 
individuals with visual impairments as it is for others.  In
2010, the Departments of Justice and Education jointly issued a 
letter to the post-secondary educational community, explaining that
when it comes to e-book readers and e-book content, equal access is 
the law.   In 2011, the Department of Education again made
clear that elementary and secondary schools likewise must refrain 
from using technology that will deny students with disabilities
equal access.

If we can further assist you in understanding which e-books and 
e-book platforms are accessible and compliant with federal and
state law, or provide further information about the deficiencies of 
Kindle e-books, please do not hesitate to contact us. The
National Federation of the Blind, whose 50,000 members comprise not 
only blind people of all ages and backgrounds but also parents
of blind children and others who support equal opportunity for blind 
Americans, has as its ultimate goal the complete integration
of the blind into society on an equal basis with our sighted peers. 
We are fortunate to live in an age in which that ideal has been
written into law.

Amazons deliberate choice to scorn that ideal and ignore the needs 
of blind readers does not give public schools a free pass to
discriminate on the basis of disability by purchasing and using 
Kindle e-books in their classrooms. Nor should your organization be
party to such discrimination. Your Position Statements emphasize the 
special needs of underserved populations including children
with disabilities,  and you have assumed the role of being
a powerful voice for all children.   We look forward to your 
cooperation in this matter and are confident you will raise your
powerful voice in support of the rights of our nations blind and 
print-disabled students.


Marc Maurer, President


cc:  David Zapolsky, Esq., General Counsel, Amazon, Inc.

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