Thursday, 26 August 2010

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid...

It seem to be the case that ideas (particularly of the politically-correct sort) spread over here from the States. I really, really hope not, in this case:
Did you know the Justice Department threatened several universities with legal action because they took part in an experimental program to allow students to use the Amazon Kindle for textbooks?
Huh..?
Last year, the schools -- among them Princeton, Arizona State and Case Western Reserve -- wanted to know if e-book readers would be more convenient and less costly than traditional textbooks. The environmentally conscious educators also wanted to reduce the huge amount of paper students use to print files from their laptops.
And that's when the trouble started...
It seemed like a promising idea until the universities got a letter from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, now under an aggressive new chief, Thomas Perez, telling them they were under investigation for possible violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
It seems that, although the Kindle did text-to-speech, the menu system wasn't fully accessible, so requiring the assistance of a sighted person to fire it up. And...

What's that? It's still better than a normal book in those respects? Well, yes, true, but that cuts no ice with fanatics.
In subsequent talks, the Justice Department demanded the universities stop distributing the Kindle; if blind students couldn't use the device, then nobody could. The Federation made the same demand in a separate lawsuit against Arizona State.
Now, surely, you're thinking, the market will resolve this, by making their products disability friendly with an upgrade, yes? Yes, indeed.

Is that good enough to suit the government. No. Of course not...
One obvious solution to the problem, of course, was to fix the Kindle. Early on, Amazon told federation officials it would apply text-to-speech technology to the Kindle's menu and function keys. And sure enough, last week the company announced a new generation of Kindles that are fully accessible to the blind. While the Justice Department was making demands, and Perez was making speeches, the market was working.

But as Amazon was unveiling the new Kindle last week, Perez was sending a letter to educators warning them they must use technology "in a manner that is permissible under federal law."
You see, there's nothing in the world more dangerous than a zealot.

Oh, except, of course, a zealot with power and a hungry ambition to extend that power:
Now, Perez is at work on a far bigger project, one that could eventually declare the Internet a "public accommodation" under the ADA. That could result in a raft of new Justice Department regulations for disabled access to all sorts of Web sites.

7 comments:

Bucko said...

I dont understand how the old system of texbooks was more accessible to the blind??? WTF?

allcoppedout said...

My best mate (blind) did his PhD in this area. The farces in this area are beyond anything we could come up with in a Julia-led focus group!
Law across the western world now states that all websites, buildings and so on MUST be accessible - but then goes on to give all kinds of opt outs (usually on cost) that ensure 'business-as-usual'.
Much sensible could be done, but all kinds of nutters get themselves involved and create ludicrous blocks. This includes some of the disabled, but I kind of forgive that.
The Microsoft Office 'ribbon' is a classic example of reverse engineering of non-access -the old menu system was much easier for screen-readers and so on. I suspect the outrage against Kindle use is that they should have built in accessibility and didn't, and the reason for the heavy-handed approach here is to try and shift many laggards in the system by threat of prosecution.
This isn't the sensible way to do anything, but voluntary stuff just hasn't worked.
Classic advice given by colleagues to my blind friend? 'Read more books' and the patronising (to a bloke twice as bright as them) 'don't you think you'd be better off on a vocational course?'
There's more depth on this one Julia - though a lot that does happen comes from years of spite build-up because of third rate treatment and crap promises. More than 99% of websites are not accessible and most university education remains so, even though it's quite easy to get it right.

Brian, follower of Deornoth said...

Harrison Bergeron would understand perfectly.

SadButMadLad said...

@Bucko - The old system of text books is seen by the officials at the Justice Dept as being exactly the same as braille books. The officials are so stupid they see the word braille book and think they are the same as normal books.

The mistake Amazon made was to call them Kindles. Maybe they should have called them screen books - or some other equally stupid name.

gordon-bennett said...

If they gave blind people a blank or empty Kindle, wouldn't that do the trick?

JuliaM said...

"I dont understand how the old system of texbooks was more accessible to the blind??? "

As SadButMadLad said, the issue seems only to have arisen as a result of the new technology. Presumably, they were just fine with the status quo of a library carrying two different versions.

"Law across the western world now states that all websites, buildings and so on MUST be accessible - but then goes on to give all kinds of opt outs (usually on cost) that ensure 'business-as-usual'."

Yes, the London Underground being a prime example. They'd rather persecute a small historical monument than take on the bigger problem...

"More than 99% of websites are not accessible and most university education remains so, even though it's quite easy to get it right."

The problem being that, to make anything 100% accessible, usually means stripping it of all the interesting bits that would draw everytone else! And most companies/individuals can't easily bear the cost (in money and time) of maintaining two versions...

"If they gave blind people a blank or empty Kindle, wouldn't that do the trick?"

*chuckle*

The King of Wrong said...

@Bucko:
That's not the point. Textbooks wouldn't be allowed now, but they're already in use, so it'll be a few years before they can be banned... Just like salt, butter, alcohol, guns, cars that run on 4*, houses that don't meet energy/electrical/plumbing standards, air travel...