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.You see, there's nothing in the world more dangerous than a zealot.
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."
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.