National Federation of the Blind to Protest Outside Amazon Headquarters Over Push to Put Kindles in Schools

The National Federation of the Blind is planning to gather outside Amazon headquarters in Seattle to protest efforts to put Kindle devices and ebooks in classrooms across the U.S. The advocacy organization contends that Kindle ebooks are inaccessible to blind students.

According to the NFB, the Kindle text-to-speech functionality that would theoretically give the blind access isn’t independently accessible to blind students and, furthermore, Amazon allows publishers to turn off that functionality for certain titles. Federal law mandates that school districts use only technology that is accessible to students with disabilities, the organization points out in a page dedicated to the issue.

The NFB has had a long-running beef with Amazon. In 2009, the organization filed a lawsuit against Arizona State University to block the deployment of Kindle DX devices to the school, claiming the use of the technology discriminated against students with disabilities.

The NFB explained its central complaint in a statement at the time:

The Kindle DX features text-to-speech technology that can read textbooks aloud to blind students. The menus of the device are not accessible to the blind, however, making it impossible for a blind user to purchase books from Amazon’s Kindle store, select a book to read, activate the text-to-speech feature, and use the advanced reading functions available on the Kindle DX.

In 2010, the NFB was successful in prompting the Department of Education and Department of Justice to issue letters to colleges, universities and K-12 school districts warning against buying and deploying e-reading devices that were inaccessible to the blind.

The upcoming protest will occur outside of Amazon’s Seattle headquarters this Wednesday, Dec. 12.

The NFB won a recent victory in its nationwide campaign to limit the purchase and use of e-reading devices inaccessible to the blind at public and educational institutions. In August, the organization and the Department of Justice settled with the Sacramento Public Library in a similar complaint, this time involving Barnes & Noble Nook readers. As part of the settlement, the library agreed not to acquire any more e-readers that were inaccessible to the blind and to acquire 18 e-readers that the blind could use.

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