Kindle Use at the University Level Takes a Step Backwards

Originally Published at FordhamRETC

College and University programs that promote using Kindles or like e-reading devices are being suspended by the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education.

Recent complaints by the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind have sparked court settlements between the DOJ and the universities currently involved in programs promoting the use of e-readers in the classroom, specifically the Kindle DX.  The Kindle DX has been viewed as discrimatory against blind students and violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.  These programs are currently being suspended at 4 schools; Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Pace University in New York City, Reed College in Portland, Oregon and Arizona State University. The DOJ and DOE released a joint letter warning colleges and universities planning on promoting e-reading devices in their classrooms.

Dear College or University President: We write to express concern on the part of the Department of Justice and the Department of Education that colleges and universities are using electronic book readers that are not accessible to students who are blind or have low vision and to seek your help in ensuring that this emerging technology is used in classroom settings in a manner that is permissible under federal law. A serious problem with some of these devices is that they lack an accessible text-to-speech function. Requiring use of an emerging technology in a classroom environment when the technology is inaccessible to an entire population of individuals with disabilities – individuals with visual disabilities – is discrimination prohibited by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) unless those individuals are provided accommodations or modifications that permit them to receive all the educational benefits provided by the technology in an equally effective and equally integrated manner. read the full letter here

This isn’t to say all is lost for e-reading devices in the classroom.  Many e-readers already have text-to-speech functionality built into the actual e-books.  The problem arises in the menu and navigation of these devices, where no text-to-speech function is available.  If Amazon can fix the navigation issues of their Kindle devices, they may be able to re-start many of the college and university programs currently running.  Since this is a software problem, a simple software update to current e-readers is all that is needed, instead of having to produce a completely new device.

It is worth noting that the Apple iPad already has these usability functions built in.  However, with the much higher price tag, it is not as readily available or easy to adopt as many e-readers.  It also has many more functions which can create new problems for these programs.

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