By Debra Ruh, CEO and Founder of Ruh Global Communications
My family has been an Amazon customer for many years and I use the Kindle application. I was discouraged to learn that Amazon’s latest Kindle the Kindle Fire is once again NOT accessible to people with vision loss. I was shocked to read the NFB and AFB press release and blogs noting that Amazon Kindle Fire was not accessible to people with vision loss? How can that happen again? Accessibility has built accessible products and this process should have been built into the process life cycle?
National Federation of the Blind Condemns Lack of Access to New Kindle Fire, Baltimore, Maryland (September 29, 2011): Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “Blind Americans have repeatedly asked Amazon to include accessibility for the blind in its Kindle product line. The feasibility of including accessibility in similar products has been demonstrated. The Department of Education and the Department of Justice have made it clear that Kindle devices cannot be purchased by educational institutions, libraries, and other entities covered by this country’s disability laws unless the devices are fully accessible. Despite all this, Amazon has released a brand new Kindle device, the Kindle Fire, which cannot be used by people who are blind. Enough! We condemn this latest action by Amazon and reiterate that we will not tolerate technological discrimination. The National Federation of the Blind seeks nothing less than equal access to all technology for blind people. It is one of the most critical civil rights issues facing blind Americans in the twenty-first century, and we will do everything in our power to see that this right is secured.”
Darren Burton writes a blog for AFB: “I have written several articles in AFB’s AccessWorld Magazine chronicling the lack of accessibility of Amazon’s Kindle electronic book reading devices as they have evolved over the last few years. The original Kindle was completely inaccessible to blind people, and our community protested loudly and clearly. Amazon responded by adding some text-to-speech functionality to the second and third versions. Although that still did not lead to what I would call an accessible Kindle, the incremental improvements did give us some hope for the future.
Unfortunately, that appears to have been wasted hope as Amazon recently announced the impending release of the new Kindle Fire. The Fire is a touch-screen version of their popular device, and I understand that this version will again be completely inaccessible to blind people. To be blunt, I am absolutely disgusted with Amazon, as they apparently have no shame. They have no excuse in this day and age, as it has already been proven by Apple that a touch screen tablet can be made accessible. Amazon knows very well that we expect equal access to their devices, and they turned their backs on us once again. It is simply outrageous that Amazon and others who create many of today’s electronic books also create barriers for millions of potential customers who are blind. For people with vision loss eager to read, I recommend ebooks from Apple’s iBooks app on the iPhone/Pod/Pad. Bookshare is also a great resource.” 1
As noted by NFB and AFB, the community has been through this situation with Amazon several times before. The first version of the Kindle was accessible and was applauded by the community of people with disabilities. The community also bought many of these devices. We were dismayed when they next version was inaccessible and the community voice their concerns.
“Arizona State University’s decision to use the Kindle 2 in a pilot program has drawn criticism from advocates for the blind, who say the electronic book reader is inaccessible to blind students. The National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind are seeking a preliminary injunction in federal court to stop ASU’s plan to use the device in place of traditional textbooks in three class sections. They say ASU’s decision to pilot the Kindle discriminates against blind students because they cannot access all of the device’s features. At issue is the Kindle’s navigation menu, which contains no audio option. A blind person cannot select a book or activate features such as the function to have the book read aloud. Advocacy groups want ASU to hold off until the device is fully accessible. They worry that if the pilot succeeds, more professors will start incorporating Kindles into their classrooms.”2
The debate raged and got international attention and Amazon finally decided to make the Kindle 2 accessible.
“The Authors Guild has objected to the Kindle 2’s text-to-speech feature and Amazon — which also sells audiobooks — is giving publishers the ability to stop it working. Following objections from the Authors Guild in the US, Amazon has caved on the text-to-speech features of the new Kindle 2 ebook reader. It will now enable publishers and authors to disable the text-to-speech (TTS) function if they want. There shouldn’t be anything controversial about TTS: it’s been available on personal computers since the 1970s. It’s important to people who have impaired or no vision, but little used by anyone else. However, the Authors Guild argues that the audio rights for a book are different from the reading rights, even if the audio is provided by a software robot.”3
The community also took the time to praise Amazon after the made the Kindle accessible and we rewarded them by purchasing their products and services. See the following note by the NFB after Amazon released an accessible version.
“National Federation of the Blind Commends Amazon on Unveiling of New
Accessible Kindle, Baltimore, Maryland (July 29, 2010): The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) today commended Amazon on the unveiling of a new, accessible Kindle. Amazon announced Wednesday that the new Kindle will come equipped with a voice guide that reads all menu options aloud so blind and other print-disabled people can navigate the device menus. Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “We commend Amazon on the unveiling of a new Kindle that blind and print-disabled people can use. In order to compete in today’s digital society, blind and print-disabled people must be able to access the same reading technologies as the sighted. The National Federation of the Blind has long been urging Amazon to make its reading device accessible, and we are pleased that our efforts have come to fruition.”4
It is a shame when the next version of an accessible product was released in an inaccessible version. 1 out of 3 households in the U.S. is impacted by disabilities. Worldwide, this group numbers 500-750 million people and is a key influencer of the public’s perceptions. The Internet has opened many opportunities and has greatly improved the quality of life for these users, but they still face barriers. You might think of disabilities in extreme terms such as blindness and deafness, but it also includes many others with visual or hearing impairments that are increasingly common in our aging population, and other challenges such motor and cognitive impairment. Can any organization afford to lose this audience?
Amazon is a wonderful company and I am sure they will make the new Amazon Kindle Fire accessible but it would be nice if it could become part of the process so that all future released will be accessible. It sends mixed messages to the community for the products to be released inaccessible and then after we make a fuss the product is made accessible. Why not just make is accessible from the beginning? We all want to buy and enjoy your products, please consider making all products and services accessible during the development life cycle.
1. The Latest Amazon Kindle: Lighting a Fire of Outrage by Darren Burton on 10/5/2011 2:32:50 PM
2. Advocates for blind students sue ASU over Kindle use. Anne Ryman – Jul. 27, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2009/07/27/20090727nobooks0724lawsuit.html
3. Amazon caves to Authors Guild over Kindle’s text-to-speech reading
4. National Federation of the Blind Commends Amazon on Unveiling of New Accessible Kindle7/29/2010
5. The Latest Amazon Kindle: Lighting a Fire of Outrage by Darren Burton on 10/5/2011 2:32:50 PM