January 27, 2022

National Federation of the Blind Tells Secretary of State Clinton That Kindle Does Not Meet Needs of Blind/Print Disabled

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.

The story got pcoverage from several news organizations including some impressive reporting from Laura Hazard Owen at paidContent. Many questions are still unanswered.

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.

Mauer Writes:

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.

Mauer2clinton Nfb

Thanks to Carrie Russell from ALA’s Washington Office for her help with this report.

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.



  1. […] Earlier today, Marc Maurer, the president of the National Federation for the Blind, sent a letter to Hillary Clinton stating that because e-readers are not accessible to the blind, “any agreement by the United States to procure inaccessible Kindle, orother, e-readers is a violation of the law, including Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.” Infodocket has the full letter. […]

  2. […] e-readers is a violation of the law, including Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.”  Infodocket has the full letter.  It’s unclear whether the letter is the reason the event was postponed." (I thought this […]