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US DOJ Says Kindle In Classroom Hurts Blind Students 492

Posted by timothy
from the harrison-bergeron-please-report-to-the-front-office dept.
angry tapir writes "Three US 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 US 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."
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US DOJ Says Kindle In Classroom Hurts Blind Students

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  • by tivoKlr (659818) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:22PM (#30757968) Journal
    How does the kindle discriminate against the blind any more than, say, A BOOK?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:27PM (#30758032)
      As a partially sighted person[1] I'm trying to figure this out...hang on...um...uh..nearly there...uh...no.

      Nope sorry, no idea. Still I'm sure The National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind are patting themselves on the back for holding back the majority of students while in no way impacting any partially sighted or blind student in any way what-so-ever. Good for them!

      [1]: I have partial sight in my right eye due to several holes in my retina, one of which is directly in the center of my vision.
      • by maxume (22995) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:55PM (#30758508)

        I have this notion that electronic copies of books might even be more accessible, as there is no need to do any OCR; I guess if the students in question are already used to using some system that isn't compatible...

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @07:05PM (#30758640)

        Same. I don't understand what the fuck these people are thinking. I'm "legally" blind and the Kindle is great because you can set the text size. You can't do that with a book. And for fully blind people, wouldn't it be easier, rather than harder, to pipe digital text to a braille reader?

        This (again, as someone who is legally blind) is just stupid people being stupid.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Rei (128717)

          I mean, for crying out loud, the Kindle has a text-to-speech reader built in. How many books have that?

      • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @07:43PM (#30759128) Homepage Journal

        Nope sorry, no idea.

        As far as I can tell, the only way a Kindle can hurt a blind person in the classroom is if somebody throws one at his head.

      • by MikeFM (12491) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @11:29PM (#30760814) Homepage Journal
        My sister has cerebral palsy so I do realize that disabilities can be a major issue. However, I have frequently been frustrated by disabled people that feel entitled and even more by organizations that are unreasonable in their demands. I can totally see asking Amazon to make sure the Kindle has support for reading aloud or via touch terminal but asking for people not to use the device seems completely crazy. So what if a blind deaf quadapalegic can't use the device - so nobody can? My sister would be hard pressed to use any device so I should just sue to have laptops, ebooks, iPods, motor vehicles, soda machines, etc removed? I have a grudge I admit. I've had handicapped people come in and complain that somebody was parked to close to the line of the handicapped space at my store even though there were six other spaces equally good for their needs right there. People who complain that their one-of-a-kind five foot wide wheelchair has trouble getting to the bathroom. They aren't asking for help, which would be reasonable, but instead are just bitching. I'm not unfamiliar with the issues and make an effort to keep things friendly but you literally can't make things perfect for everyone. I get tired of people yelling and threatening lawsuits at every little thing.
    • by Ogive17 (691899)
      Well, books can be typed in braille, the kindle cannot... The issue might be that with a kindle, the e-books are very accessible compared to your standard book (probably cheaper?). Maybe the organization thinks it's an unfair advantage?
      • by Soilworker (795251) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:35PM (#30758178)

        books company didn't stop releasing books in braille after the kindle release, blind student still can buy them.

        How is it a unfair advantage ? I should always wear something that cover my eyes because it's unfair for them if I can see with my two eyes ?

      • by clang_jangle (975789) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:37PM (#30758222) Journal

        Well, books can be typed in braille, the kindle cannot...

        Sure it can [wikipedia.org]. Maybe The National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind should get off their asses and sponsor it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by noidentity (188756)
          Maybe they take a cue from the Internet and start with braille porn [funnyjunk.com] to help fund growth?
      • by Planesdragon (210349) <slashdot@@@castlesteelstone...us> on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:37PM (#30758228) Homepage Journal

        Well, books can be typed in braille, the kindle cannot... The issue might be that with a kindle, the e-books are very accessible compared to your standard book (probably cheaper?). Maybe the organization thinks it's an unfair advantage?

        1: Sure e-books can be put into "braille". There are even a plethora of devices that'll do it, or just read teh darn thing aloud.

        2: Braille books are EXPENSIVE. They have a far smaller audience, need thicker paper, usually can use only one side of the paper... and can't be printed out on the same equipment as everyone else's books.

        Given those two, the association at play should demand GREATER adoption of e-books -- it's a printed book that the blind cannot read, not a properly formatted e-book

        • by spun (1352) <`moc.oohay' `ta' `yranoituloverevol'> on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:47PM (#30758362) Journal

          I know no one reads the articles, as that would get in the way of the knee-jerking we all love to do. But the article makes it quite clear: the kindle includes a text-to-speech application, but no way for visually impaired folks to navigate. Therefore, the Kindle is not the right choice of e-book reader for institutions such as colleges and universities to promote. It is the Kindle that is unusable by the blind, not the e-books themselves.

          • by Cyberllama (113628) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:53PM (#30758450)

            But yet the fact remains it is currently *more* accessible to the disabled than a regular textbook. So let's not have an improvement because we should hold out for an even better improvement?

            • No, it isn't more accessible. Without navigation, it is completely inaccessible. But the fix is very easy: tie the user interface into the text-to speech application that already exists on the device. This publicity will ensure that happens in a very timely fashion.

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by thejuggler (610249)
                Actually Braille books and eBooks are equally accessible. Someone that CAN see has to locate either book for the blind person in the first place. Does the Kindle to text to speech for the nav menus also? If not maybe it could. That with a few tactile indicators on the buttons should allow a blind person to navigate the Kindle. However, because of this ruling even if the Kindle did get that upgrade it is still banned. So what next? A lawsuit for deaf, dumb, blind kids that play pinball but can't hear t
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by geekoid (135745)

            so with a book a blind person feel until they are at the edge of the page qnd tunrn the page. With the Kindal, they feel there way to the button on the edge of the page and push it.

            Jeez, they're blind, not stupid. However most group di\esigned to protect soneone often thing\ks the poeple they are protecting are idiots. See GLAAD

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by spun (1352)

              Yeah, that's so much better than issuing a simple patch to let the text to speech application read the navigation out loud.

      • by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @08:55PM (#30759808)

        Well, books can be typed in braille, the kindle cannot...

        You aren't typing a fucking kindle. Sorry but this kind of bullshit is nonsense. If you have a blind student, print out a one-off Braille book.

        You could probably print blind books for every damned blind student in the US for the next hundred years with the money that was wasted on even investigating this whole thing.

    • by syousef (465911) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:30PM (#30758082) Journal

      "If you can have it and I can't I'll sue" - Pretty soon kids are lucky to have access to food and clothing, let alone an education. It's a losing strategy compared to say innovating and catering to diversity. Why can't they lobby for an ebook reader that does cater to the blind. Perhaps popup braile? Instead of wasting effort sending all your kids minds back to the stone age. Doesn't have to be a Kindle either. Leave the brand names out of it.

      • It is illegal for a resident of Canada covered by Canadian health care (say, a citizen, or landed immigrant) to pay for health care, and illegal for a health care provider to charge if they are in the "voluntary" system (which covers 99%+ of the population who can not legally pay anyway) which effectively forces almost all providers to be "in" the system. (There are specialty private clinics catering to non-citizen athletes, etc.)

        This is similar to the socialized medicine systems in Cuba and North Korea (bu

    • by Simulant (528590) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:31PM (#30758096) Journal
      RTFA, there's no speech to UI control on a Kindle. They can't navigate the software or e-books even if the Kindle can read it to them. Regular books are available in braille.
      • by evil_aar0n (1001515) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @08:03PM (#30759374)

        Is there a law that says devices of this sort must have equal access for handicapped users?

        I'm deaf. When I go to movies, I get only half of the experience of "normal" viewers because I don't get the dialog. Should I sue the producers and the theater chains because they don't caption movies for me? No. I simply wait until it comes out on DVD and watch it on my TV, with captioning enabled.

        It sucks for blind people, in general. Granted, the Kindle doesn't help them. However, they've no business taking it out on the Kindle or universities that find it a useful tool. Adapt. It's what we do.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Zurk (37028)

          yes you should. they should be able to provide you a device to give you captions for the duration of the movie. its the cost of doing business like handicap signs and wheelchair accessible entry locations.
          this is not an inconvenience that 0.1% of the population are hoisting on 99.9% of the population. This is a necessary affirmation that the majority will take care of the minority when the minority needs help to function in society. it is a recognition that we do not leave people behind just because they ar

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by clambake (37702)

            "it is a recognition that we do not leave people behind"

            unless they are poor

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by peipas (809350)

        What about blind people who cannot speak? Personally, I don't think universities should be allowed to encourage devices except to the lowest common denominator: Helen Keller.

        The solution becomes clear, then, and it's the Braille machine used by Whistler in the movie Sneakers [urbanhonking.com]. This, of course, is a completely different device as opposed to a variant of a viable e-book reader the rest of us use but with additional features. Therefore, this device is the only that should be allowed, and we bitches with all

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      There are already provisions to provide audio or braille versions of books for blind kids. The Kindle's book licences, not so much. The devices are supposed to have built-in TTS but there's a strong pressure from the books-on-tape industry to hobble it.

    • Shhhhh (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Archangel Michael (180766) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:35PM (#30758196) Journal

      You're talking COMMON SENSE there. If you're not careful, the agents of PC and Government interference will show up and arrest you.

    • by gurps_npc (621217)
      Textbooks come in BRAILLE versions. Kindle does not. (Their voice to text has been sabotaged.)
    • Braille? It seems like the Kindle could support the blind with a few modifications instead of going down the route of "if we can't use it then no one can."

    • by iamhassi (659463) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:45PM (#30758340) Journal
      "How does the kindle discriminate against the blind any more than, say, A BOOK?"

      Simple: by forcing Amazon to come out with a new device that caters more to their needs, 0.3% of the population [center4research.org] (~1 million blind vs 300 million Americans) forces the other 99.7% of the population to pay for all the hardware and software advances required for them to use the device.

      Completely fair IMHO
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Idbar (1034346)
      I wonder if there is a precedent related to computers in class. I mean not that mice were precisely designed to give blind people any advantage.
  • by Phat_Tony (661117) * on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:24PM (#30757992)
    So, all Amazon needs to do is add a text-to-speech feature, and then they can sue any school that tries to use paper books instead of the Kindle, because compared to a text-to-speech Kindle, paper devices discriminate against students with vision problems.
  • I don't understand (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:25PM (#30757998)

    Okay, I do understand the technicalities regarding why they say the Kindle is not as accessible to blind students as it is to sighted students. But what I don't get is - how is it different from the status quo? Blind students can't read regular textbooks already. What is it we can do for them with a printed textbook that we can't do with an electronic textbook?

    And don't bring up braille, since that is a separate edition that has to be produced (and is thus independent of whether the "normal" book is on paper or electronic).

  • by satoshi1 (794000)
    Has anyone else's universities been forcing ADA notices on their class syllabi? All of my classes have a little ADA Notice at the bottom stating that if one has any known and accepted disabilities they should contact the professor to make any sort of arrangements necessary. I'm thinking my school got in some sort of crap legal trouble and that's why the message is there.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Darkness404 (1287218)
      Chances are, it isn't that they got in trouble but are simply covering their rears against some idiot student expecting the professor to know that one of his 2,000 students is disabled and wants to sue because the professor doesn't have psycic powers.
    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Interesting. We used to do that without being told to.

      For example: uh, professor, I have an, um, medical thing I have to do the day of the exam. Do you think I could write it next week instead?

    • It's not necessarily because they got into legal trouble. It might be that they're trying to avoid legal trouble. Handicapped/disabled students are allowed certain accommodations, depending on their particular problem. For example, a deaf student might be entitled to a sign language interpreter, a student with a learning disability might be allowed more time on tests, a blind person might be allowed to have a companion dog in class, etc. I would imagine that any student who would be affected by this wou
  • by Vinegar Joe (998110) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:26PM (#30758018)

    That Harrison Bergeron is a warning........not a fucking "how-to" manual.

    http://www.tnellen.com/cybereng/harrison.html [tnellen.com]

  • by gandhi_2 (1108023) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:27PM (#30758048) Homepage

    ...is the capability of the lowest common denominator.

    Braille doesn't provide much access to those with no arms.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Thiez (1281866)

      Use your tongue to read your braille books instead. This should also stop people from buying used books...

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by sincewhen (640526)
        I tried browsing the copies of playboy at the newsagent that way, but they just threw me out...
  • by Dog-Cow (21281) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:28PM (#30758056)

    The DOJ in the classroom hurts everyone.

  • Limitation (Score:2, Interesting)

    by McGuirk (1189283)

    Yes, let's limit EVERYONE because a select few can't use a new technology.

    The blind have always needed special teaching tools (Braille, audio books, or someone to read for them), so this isn't like a step backward or anything.

    I feel for the blind, and they should definitely be accommodated, but not using eBook readers where they could be beneficial to others is not a good idea.

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      Yes, let's limit EVERYONE because a select few can't use a new technology.

      The blind have always needed special teaching tools (Braille, audio books, or someone to read for them), so this isn't like a step backward or anything.

      I feel for the blind, and they should definitely be accommodated, but not using eBook readers where they could be beneficial to others is not a good idea.

      I think the point is, they *CAN* be accommodated - the Kindle UI can be speech enabled with a simple firmware update, allowing the b

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Bobfrankly1 (1043848)
      Isn't it in fact discriminatory when a select few get specialized teaching tools, and those outside of the specialized group are excluded from using specialized teaching tools? Blind kids get special tools that seeing kids don't benefit from, but the inverse is unjust? Ooops, forgot the DOJ doesn't use logic in making decisions...
  • In other news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ChrisMaple (607946) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:31PM (#30758098)
    There aren't any blind NASCAR drivers.
  • Clearly, the only way to be fair to the blind is to rip out everyone elses eyeballs so we're all equal. If no one can READ A BOOK or use a kindle than there will be no discrimination.

    This is obviously a clear cut case of intentional discrimination against the blind, just like those evil bastards who invented the printing press.

    Let me give you a hint. You're blind. You can not do the same things as people who aren't blind. It sucks, but thats just fucking reality. Stop expecting everyone else to cater t

    • You only wrote that because you know the blind can't read it. Clever bastard! =D
    • by gurps_npc (621217) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:49PM (#30758412) Homepage
      Wow, so full of hate. You see there are these things called BRAILLE TEXTBOOKS. But when the school starts pushing kindle (with real cost savings for sighted people), and at the same time refuses to use a DIFFERENT READER that has TEXT TO VOICE, then YES the blind people got a case. This is not about the school offering an ebook reader. It is about the school PUSHING an ebook reader that does NOT have the same capacities that other existing ebook readers do have. Yeah, I know you are full of your self and insisting that other people MUST be suing for no reasons. But if you had a brain you would realize that sometimes law suits are actually about real discrimination. Like this one.
  • oh god (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Idimmu Xul (204345) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:34PM (#30758162) Homepage Journal

    maybe they can force sighted students to wear blindfolds in class in future so that the blind have equal footing

  • If politically correct DOJ was designing Olimpics games today, they would have to make sure obese people have the same chance of winning gymnastics or marathon competition as fit people.
      And Mensa would be an illegal organization.
    And passing US citizenship test would require no knowledge of English... oh wait...

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      If you think that's bad, just imagine if the politically correct DOJ was designing all of the porn videos...
  • It can convert words to audio itself. It doesn't do so so well but it is passable. The solution is simply to improve that feature, not kick the Kindles out of the classroom.
  • But when it's all "kindle" type devices then the information on the units can be "patched" or "updated" to fit the current political climate.
    For example a story in a printed book is fairly fixed once you have the book, with a kindle if the story is deemed "offensive" it can instantly be edited and changed from what the original author wrote.
    I guess I'm old (48) but I will always prefer the tactile sensation of an actual book to a kindle, and yes I have used a kindle.

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @06:52PM (#30758444)
    Attractive supermodels should be required by law to date just as many overweight computer geeks living in their mom's basement as rich, attractive, professional athletes. We're being discriminated against! Tiger Woods is getting more pussy than we do!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by astar (203020)

      so I am an old guy, and i have always been blind in one eye. sometimes it is a bother. but let us concentrate on the old part. a peer I know got significantly rich doing programming and he is I think fully or close to it blind. I figure the healthy should accomodate disabilities, but the disabled should not expect their lives to be fair, pretty much like the rest of us. What we all need is the possibility of success. but I have no sympathy for these universities. they get a lot of tax payer money and

  • by DigitalCrackPipe (626884) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @07:30PM (#30758980)
    The Kindle was a lot better for visually impaired users until the Author's Guild did their dirty work to prevent the text-to-audio feature [authorsguild.org].

    Yes, Amazon should make it easier to navigate but maybe positive pressure rather than lawsuits to prevent the feature would help speed that along.
  • by PortHaven (242123) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @10:41PM (#30760534) Homepage

    1. Proves that our government is full of idiots.
    2. Proves that blind people are frakkin' blind.

    Does one thing, destroys any good will people have toward the handicap. Frankly, I see this, and I want to cut all funding to blind people and shout at them "YOU'RE !@#$% BLIND!"

    Look, our society does a lot for the handicap, perhaps we can do more, and I am all for doing more where and when it's feasible. But you have to accept a certain extent of your handicap. So you're blind and you can easily navigate your Kindle. It's not like you can walk into Barnes and Noble and read all the books either. Deal!

    It's harsh, yes. But when you take our goodwill and slam it in our face, don't be surprised if you get tossed to the roadside.

  • by freaker_TuC (7632) on Wednesday January 13, 2010 @10:56PM (#30760606) Homepage Journal

    The real problem with this lies with the DRM.

    I've knew two guys who copied their A4 books to A3 format; so they could read their materials anyways.

    Break the DRM and blind people will be offered options to use textbooks as they want. Not like Amazon wants..

    How freaky can it be to have a book, which you can't print or copy a page from, for further reference; in a SCHOOL?

  • by RobinH (124750) on Thursday January 14, 2010 @07:26AM (#30762784) Homepage

    Maybe that's because publishers are, by default, disabling the text-to-speech function on their works. I'm annoyed with how many books I downloads on my kindle have text-to-speech disabled.

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