Amazon in Hot Water over Kindle’s Blind Spot: “Too Hard for Unsighted People to Use” says Lawsuit

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  • Amazon in Hot Water over Kindle’s Blind Spot:  “Too Hard for Unsighted People to Use” says Lawsuit

Amazon’s Kindle reader has the ability to do text-to-speech, meaning that it can read books outloud to you. Perfect for those who are sight-impaired or blind, right? Well, it would be, except accessing the text-to-speech function requires navigating menus that only a sighted-person can easily navigate. That is not only the finding of schools participating in an Amazon Kindle trial program, but the complaint of a lawsuit which has now been filed against at least one of the schools participating in the trial.

The National Federation of the Blind, along with the American Council of the Blind, and blind Arizona State University student Darrell Shandrow, have sued Arizona State University – one of the universities that was participating in the Kindle program – claiming that the Kindle, and thus the university, is discriminating against blind students.

Claims Shandrow, “While my peers will have instant access to their course materials in electronic form, I will still have to wait weeks or months for accessible texts to be prepared for me. These texts will not provide the access and features available to other students.”

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Amazon in Hot Water over Kindle’s Blind Spot:  “Too Hard for Unsighted People to Use” says Lawsuit

Two of the universities participating in the program – the University of Winconsin at Madison and Syracuse University – have said that they will not purchase any more Kindles until Amazon addresses this issue.

Lauded Chris Danielson of the National Federation of the Blind, “These universities are saying, ‘Our policy is nondiscrimination, so we’re not going to adopt a technology we know for sure discriminates against blind students.”


(More likely they are saying “we don’t want to be sued so it’s easier to just back off from the technology.” Indeed, the National Federation of the Blind has also filed complaints with the Justice Department against five of the schools that were participating in the Kindle program, and Wisconsin and Syracuse are not listed in those complaints.)

According to Amazon spokesmen Drew Herdener, Amazon is “working on” making the Kindle more fully accessible to the visually impaired.

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Amazon in Hot Water over Kindle’s Blind Spot:  “Too Hard for Unsighted People to Use” says Lawsuit

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  • Amazon in Hot Water over Kindle’s Blind Spot:  “Too Hard for Unsighted People to Use” says Lawsuit

3 Replies to “Amazon in Hot Water over Kindle’s Blind Spot: “Too Hard for Unsighted People to Use” says Lawsuit”

  1. What I sent today to Chris Danielson of the National Federation of the Blind.

    Mr. Danielson: I see today from our Cleveland Plain Dealer, in an article written by Janet Okoben, that you “are thrilled with the result” of what I believe to be your shortsighted suit to ban the use of the Amazon Kindle DX here in Cleveland at Case Western Reserve University, to name but one of a few universities so affected. You want full and equal access for the sight impaired. In my opinion, that should be full as possible, and equal as possible access instead.

    Thrilled, indeed. Once again, the minority rules, and the US lawsuit mentality pushes ahead out of reason.

    The problem is that you do not understand that the issue is not black and white. “Visual impairments” do run a very wide range, and there are no doubt many thousands of students who are not totally blind, and who are not even “legally blind,” (whatever that means), whose sight, nevertheless, is impaired to some degree making it hard to read regular publications, and who now cannot rely of the benefits of the Kindle DX, thanks to you.

    I am not unusual. I fit into what I believe to be that large group as I stated above. Combining both eyes, I have about a 45% loss of field from glaucoma damage. I have a retinal edema in my right eye which causes serious distortion. Prior to purchasing my Kindle, reading of books was mostly out of the question for some time with the advent of the edema due to variations of regular book print size, ink to paper contrast, etc. The Kindle has given me new life and better sight with its obvious advantages of the ideal contrast between ink and screen, and the font size changing feature.

    My condition, or variations of it, are most common. Many students can be seen so often squinting at their books, holding the pages too close to their faces, peering over glasses perched on their noses. The reading process is difficult, even daunting, for many not fitting the parameters you set for being visually impaired.

    In your misplaced zeal, and because of the few, whom we care about, but who should not rule the majority, there are going to be far too many others with some degree of sight impairment continuing to being unable to use a most helpful and beneficial sight enhancing device.

    Tony Poderis

  2. Amazon is a private corporation and as such it is no more legally obligated to design its products for the visually impaired than Boeing Airplanes Inc. is to build an airplane capable of being flown by a blind man.

  3. Sad, sad, sad.
    You’d think that the designers of the Kindle would have known something about the real world, and that the product would have been field tested before going out to the public. More overpaid people messing up, it seems.

    The solution is so simple, that I doubt any of our modern techies would know of it. Thus:

    1) Solution 1: When a blind person orders a Kindle, it should come already configured for non-sighted use. Of course, if the settings ever got zonked, this solution crashes. THUS:

    2) Simple solution. The sighted vs non-sighted functional aspects of the Kindle should be hard wired (or hard wire determinable). How? Simple, a small access cover on the back would conceal a switch. Flip it 1 way, and you have a blind Kindle, flip it the other way, and you have a sighted one. A small dip-switch, as was common on printers and other equipment in the 1980’s and early 1990’s would do the trick. all you need is a couple of braile symbols on the case, as well as some embossed standard text, so that most anyone could figure out what to do.

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