UPDATE: Rob Pegoraro has tweeted that Wednesday’s Kindle Learning Initiative event at the State Dept. has been CANCELLED. No reason given. We’ve contacted the State Department and had no info to share. They said a news release might be coming later.
Last week we posted about a no-bid contract between Amazon.com and the U.S. State Department.
On Friday afternoon we learned that U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos will formally announce the Kindle Learning Initiative on Wednesday at an event in Washington D.C.
Today, Marc Mauer, President of the National Federation of the Blind (the largest organization of blind people in the U.S.) sent a letter to Secretary Clinton saying that the agreement with Amazon does not provide a device, the Kindle, that will meet the needs of blind and print disabled.
Unfortunately, the contemplated agreement with Amazon does not provide for accessible Kindles. While the sole-source Justification and Approval the Department issued requires text-to-speech capability for the content, that alone will not render the device accessible. The navigation and menus must also be accessible. As the Kindle is currently designed, a blind person must have a sighted individual enable the text-to-speech function and then the blind reader must listen to the book from beginning to end without the ability to skip around the text or otherwise control navigation through the material.
As the proposed deal between the Department of State and Amazon currently stands, there is no provision that requires the devices be accessible in accordance with the Department’s obligations under Section 508. The requirement that electronic books be accessible to the blind and print-disabled precludes the government from procuring inaccessible e-book reading technology and from continuing to rely upon separate, unequal processes for people with disabilities. It is no excuse that a vendor has not made its product accessible. The inaccessibility of the Kindle devices does not result from the absence of existing technology to make e-books accessible. Rather, it is entirely the product of Amazon’s lack of interest in providing fully accessible e-books and e-book devices that are accessible to the blind or print-disabled.
Mauer also provides some background about issues with the Kindle device and other complaints the National Federation for the Blind has filed about the device.
He also points out two devices that some devices are “fully accessible to the blind and print disabled” including the Apple iPad and KFNB Blio.
The full text of Michael Mauer’s letter to Clinton is embedded below.
Thanks to Carrie Russell from ALA’s Washington Office for her help with this report.