Discrimination suit settled over ASU’s use of Amazon Kindle

Books, Technology

amazonkindledxA discrimination lawsuit against Arizona State University’s participation in a pilot program using Amazon’s Kindle DX e-book reader has been settled, The Associated Press reported today.

In December, Amazon announced it would add features to the device to address complaints that it excluded blind and vision-impaired users, which led to the lawsuit and shunning of the Kindle by other universities. While the Kindle has a mode that reads text aloud, its user interface had no such audio capability.

In June, ASU student Darrell Shandrow, backed by the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind, sued Arizona State University over the use of the Kindle DX for textbooks, saying its lack of a nonvisual UI locks the blind out of the new technology and puts them at a competitive disadavantage.

When I contacted him by e-mail about the news this afternoon, Shandrow, a journalism student who runs the blog Blind Access Journal, had the following comment:

quotemarksOne of the provisions of the settlement appears to state that ASU won’t select an inaccessible e-book reader for at least the next two years. Given the appearance of the new Blio Reader and Amazon’s announced plans for an accessible Kindle by July 2010, I am confident the e-reading landscape will be much better by that time with respect to the accessibility factor.

As a blind person, I’ve always said I simply want the same access to information that’s already enjoyed by the sighted. Accessibility is always the right thing to do. As an Arizona resident and student at ASU, I have objected to the use of my taxes and tuition dollars being used in ways that exclude and harm me as a blind person. In this settlement, university officials have said they won’t purchase an electronic reading solution that’s not accessible. The settlement is a clear victory for those of us on the right side of this important issue.

ASU announced the pilot program in May. The proposal was spearheaded by Dr. Ted Humphrey, a President’s Professor at the Barrett Honors College who described himself as an early adopter of the Kindle.

The Kindle is no stranger to controversy. In another PR nightmare, Amazon became the target of another lawsuit in July when a high school student sued the e-tailer for deleting an e-book he bought for the Kindle device, according to a report by The Associated Press.

At issue were digital copies of George Orwell’s classics 1984 and Animal Farm, which turned out to be unofficial editions that the company did not have the right to distribute and therefore yanked back, right out of users’ Kindle units. The heavyhanded way in which it was done sparked a flood of comparisons to Orwell’s dystopian 1984 future.

Amazon now says the rights issue has been resolved and has offered free books or $30 to customers who lost their copies of the works.

In October, Amazon announced it will release a free software application for Windows PCs that will read the same e-books as its $259 Kindle device.

Full disclosure: The author, who has blogged about this topic frequently in the past, will be teaching Online Media at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in the spring of 2010.

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