ASU settles lawsuit; Kindle program to end in May

Kindle
PILOT END: The Kindle pilot program at ASU is ending after a lawsuit claimed the program was inaccessible to the visually impaired. (Photo by Jessica Weisel)
Published On:
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
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ASU’s Kindle pilot program will end following this semester after a lawsuit against ASU was settled last week. The lawsuit was due to two groups questioning of the program’s accessibility to visually impaired students.

The National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind filed a joint lawsuit against ASU and the Arizona Board of Regents in June 2009 because of concerns with the Kindle DX pilot program.

In addition to halting the program, the settlement between the organizations includes provisions that ASU will continue to expand equal access to all facilities and programs for all physically and mentally impaired students, according to a statement released by the National Federation of the Blind.

ASU also agreed to increase accessibility to visually impaired students should e-book readers be used in the next two years, according to the statement.

Barrett, the Honors College professor Ted Humphrey, started the initial Kindle DX pilot program at ASU at the beginning of the fall semester.

The program has a number of virtues, like allowing students to have their textbooks with them at all times, he said.

Three sections of Humphrey’s freshman class, The Human Event, participated in the program. The vast majority of students appreciated the e-book device, he said. Out of 60 students, five dropped the course because of the Kindle device.

The Kindle DX reading device has a text-to-speech feature, but the menus it uses to select a book or purchase a book aren’t accessible for visually impaired users.

The lawsuit arose after claims surfaced that the Kindle DX pilot program violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act. The law incorporates five titles that prohibit discrimination against impaired persons in the U.S.

Marc Maurer, president of the NFB, said he was happy with the outcome of the lawsuit.

“The National Federation of the Blind is pleased with this settlement, which we believe will help to ensure that new technologies create new opportunities for blind students rather than new barriers,” Maurer said in a statement.

ASU was one of six universities that participated in the pilot program, all of which were investigated by federal agencies. The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Jan. 13 three separate agreements for Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Pace University in New York City and Reed College in Portland, Ore., regarding the Kindle device.

Universities will generally not purchase, recommend or promote use of the electronic device, or other e-book readers, unless all programs are fully accessible to visually impaired students, according to settlements reached by the Justice Department.

Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, said he hopes that technology continues to expand in education.

“Advancing technology is systematically changing the way universities approach education, but we must be sure that emerging technologies offer individuals with disabilities the same opportunities as other students,” Perez said in a statement.

Representatives for the American Council of the Blind said they hope the settlement will further advance technology for the visually impaired.

The settlement is an attempt to have technology catch up with the needs of visually impaired students, Humphrey said.

Reach the reporter at amoswalt@asu.edu