Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Arizona media covers blindness organizations' lawsuit against ASU over Kindle

From The Arizona Republic:

Arizona State University's decision to use the Kindle in a pilot program has drawn criticism from advocates for the blind, who say the electronic book reader is inaccessible to blind students.

The National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind are seeking a preliminary injunction in federal court to stop ASU's plan to use the device in place of traditional textbooks in three class sections. They say ASU's decision to pilot the Kindle discriminates against blind students because they cannot access all of the device's features.

At issue is the Kindle's navigation menu, which contains no audio option. A blind person cannot select a book or activate features such as the function to have the book read aloud.

Advocacy groups want ASU to hold off until the device is fully accessible. They worry that if the pilot succeeds, more professors will start incorporating Kindles into their classrooms.

"We don't want that precedent set," said Darrell Shandrow, a blind ASU student who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. The 35-year-old journalism student is not enrolled in the honors course piloting the Kindle this fall but said he got involved because he is an advocate for the blind.

A hearing date in U.S. District Court in Phoenix has not been set.

Officials with Amazon.com, the maker of the Kindle, said on the firm's blog that they are working on the accessibility issue.

ASU officials plan to go forward with the pilot. Professor Ted Humphrey, the only ASU faculty member piloting the Kindle this fall, said he would welcome a blind student in his course, though he doesn't believe there is one enrolled so far.

Amazon.com is not a party to the lawsuit and did not return calls seeking comment. On March 19, Amazon's "Kindle Team" wrote on the company's Web site that they have heard from many blind or visually impaired customers regarding the Kindle's accessibility.

"We want to let those customers know that this is something we are working on, and we look forward to making it available in the future," they said on the site.

That is great, Shandrow said, but he doesn't want the university to pilot the Kindle until it is fully accessible.

Other students are looking forward to the pilot's results. A student survey a few years ago at Arizona's three state universities found students spend an average of $816 to $950 a year on textbooks and supplies. Over four years, the cost can exceed $3,200.

That's "a huge cost when you're already paying for housing and tuition," said ASU student Rudi O'Keefe-Zelman, 20, who is double majoring in journalism and political science.