eReader Accessibility Update

Earlier this year, Arizona State University was sued by the The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the American Council of the Blind (ACB) because ASU chose the Kindle  for a pilot eReader program.  The Kindle has some text-to-speech functionality, but no user interface or navigation voice over for users who are blind or have low vision. Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education released the following  warning to universities:

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.

Some individuals believe the nonprofit universities are being treated as scapegoats and the federal government should be focusing on the companies creating the devices instead, and that the warning would deter pilot programs and innovation. One commenter responded:

The DOJ’s argument (as stated) is not to summarily punish institutions for trying new technology. Rather, it is a message to device and software designers – and institutions – that the design process (and equipment evaluation process) should include the widest range of users possible from the beginning. The argument that designing for accessibility is time-consuming and expensive is absolutely true IF you wait until the product is at market to fix it. Including these concepts in the original design reviews and revisions mitigates this challenge almost entirely.Why should students with disabilities have to wait around for innovators to remember they exist? This contributes to an unnecessary and discriminatory atmosphere that keeps students who are otherwise able to fully participate in education at the back of the line.