“Six American higher education institutions that are subject to federal laws requiring that they not discriminate against students with disabilities plan to deploy this device, even though they know that it cannot be used by blind students. The NFB will not tolerate this unconscionable discrimination against and callous indifference to the right of blind students to receive an equal education,” he said.

Beth Tyner Jones, of the law firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge and Rice, said the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 established that ASU must take all steps necessary to ensure that no student with disabilities is denied any benefits or excluded from participation in any educational program or activity because of the absence of some type of auxiliary aid.

“The challenge here is that the office of civil rights in the Department of Education has always required that communication with disabled folks…[must be] as effective as it is with non-disabled,” she said.

However, Jones said that because the Kindle DX program is only a pilot and because the program also gives students access to materials in traditional form, compliance might not be a problem. She said the school does not have to provide materials to person with disabilities in the exact same way as it does to non-disabled students.

But Shandrow, the blind ASU student cited in the lawsuit, said the use of the Kindle DX will put him and other blind students at a competitive disadvantage related to their sighted peers.

“While my peers will have instant access to their course materials in electronic form, I will still have to wait weeks or months for accessible texts to be prepared for me, and these texts will not provide the access and features available to other students,” he said.

Wendy Harbour, executive director at the Taishoff Center for Inclusive Higher Education at Syracuse University, said pilot programs still need to be accessible.

“You really need to be careful, when doing a pilot, that things are accessible from the outset. But the interesting issue to me is that sometimes while you’re doing a pilot, you find access problems. So I am a little bit nervous about what will happen with this lawsuit, just from a researcher perspective. What if access problems are found during the pilot, is that then grounds for another lawsuit?” she asked.

She stresses that in her view the idea of using electronic texts in class is overdue for colleges and universities.

“I want to be clear. I think Kindle is a great idea,” she said. “But if students can’t access all of the features that make electronic texts so exciting and able to enhance students’ education, then that’s not access.”

Links:

Arizona State University’s Kindle DX Pilot Program

National Federation of the Blind

American Council of the Blind

Experts split on ‘Kindle in Every Backpack’

Cheaper eBook reader challenges Kindle

New Kindle is textbook friendly


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