Feds offer more guidance on eReader accessibility in college

Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) – a vocal critic of eReader programs that didn’t provide alternatives for blind students – said enforcing the government’s civil rights statutes is essential to blind students’ higher education.

“If blind students are to succeed in the 21st century, they must have access to the same technologies as their sighted peers,” Miller said in a statement. “These comprehensive answers to commonly asked questions about the legal obligation to purchase and deploy accessible technology should be immensely helpful to school administrators. “

NFB members, even after national attention to the issue of eReaders and blind and low-vision students, would remain vigilant of campuses that violate federal law when instituting an eReader program.

“We will continue our efforts to hold accountable those institutions that ignore their legal obligations to their blind students,” he said.

Criticism of eReaders in higher education began in 2009 when colleges and universities introduced eReader pilot programs using the Amazon Kindle and Kind DX. Schools that used the popular eReaders included Pace University, Princeton University, Case Western University, and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

Arizona State University ended its Kindle pilot last spring after the NFB and the American Council of the Blind filed a discrimination lawsuit.

The settlement did not involve payment, but ASU pledged that it would “strive to use devices that are accessible to the blind” in future eReader programs, according to a university statement.

Russlyn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights at the Education Department (ED), said last year that ED officials would watch for eReader programs cropping up in K-12 schools and higher-education institutions.

Technical assistance will be provided on a “case-by-case basis,” she said, and the government will be “responsive” to any IT decision makers bringing eReaders to their school or campus.