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Mauer2clinton Nfb

Mauer2clinton Nfb

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Published by LJ's infoDOCKET

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Published by: LJ's infoDOCKET on Jun 18, 2012
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Marc Maurer,
200 East Wells Street
at Jernigan Place 
Baltimore, MD 21230
410 659 9314
410 685 5653www.nfb.org
June 18, 2012SENT VIA E-MAILThe Honorable Hillary ClintonSecretaryU.S. Department of State2201 C Street NWWashington, DC 20520Re: Kindle Mobile Learning Initiative Purchase of Inaccessible Kindle E-ReaderDevicesDear Secretary Clinton,I am the president of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the largestmembership organization of blind people in the United States. It has come to myattention that the United States Department of State is pursuing a contract withAmazon.com, Inc. for the acquisition of 35,000 Kindle e-readers at the anticipatedvalue of 16.5 million dollars and that the United States intends to announce thisweek a partnership with Amazon.com to create a global e-reader program, theKindle Mobile Learning Initiative, which will involve the deployment of Kindle e-readers to United States embassies and libraries abroad. The sole-sourceJustification and Approval issued by the State Department does not require that theKindles to be procured by the United States be accessible to the blind and otherswith print disabilities. Because it is technically feasible for e-readers to beaccessible, any agreement by the United States to procure inaccessible Kindle, orother, e-readers is a violation of the law, including Section 508 of the RehabilitationAct.The NFB is a national nonprofit membership organization of over 50,000members. The ultimate purpose of the NFB is the complete integration of the blindinto society on an equal basis. The NFB engages in advocacy, education, research,technology, and programs encouraging the independence and self-confidence ofpeople who are blind or have low vision. Since the late 1990s we have devotedsignificant resources to ensure equal access to digital information. Equal access todigital information is critical, not only because of the increasing pervasiveness ofdigital content, but also because, unlike print, digital information is not inherently
The Honorable Hillary ClintonJune 18, 2012Page 2 of 4visual. Rather, digital content can be made available visually, aurally, and tactilelyall at the same time and from the same original digital source.Technology advances in general can enable the blind to have greater accessto books, periodicals, and other print materials traditionally available only in print. Inthe past, when libraries and education programs provided only print books, the blindhad to rely on separate processes to obtain accessible versions of books. However,because e-books which, consist of ones and zeros, are not inherently visual, aural,or tactile, they offer individuals the opportunity to access content through whatevermethods are available to them. Indeed, some e-book reading technologies availablein the marketplace today are fully accessible to the blind and print disabled. Theyinclude, for example, Apple’s iPad and KNFB Reading Technology’s Blio. Moreover,the cost of a fully accessible Apple iPad 2 is $399 compared to the more expensive$471-per-unit inaccessible Kindles the proposed United States agreementcontemplates.We understand the United States intends, through the Kindle Initiative, to“create a global e-reader program that introduces aspects of U.S. society andculture directly to young people, students, and international audiences in new waysand expands English language learning opportunities worldwide.” While the NFBrecognizes the enormous promise that e-book technology offers and the significantbenefits to youth and students abroad, these benefits cannot be denied to theworld’s blind and print disabled youth and students. Indeed, the great disparity inaccess to information that exists between the sighted and the blind and printdisabled in this country is even greater still in most countries abroad. For someblind and print disabled individuals in the communities in which the United States willadminister the program, an accessible e-reader may be the only opportunity thestudent has to access independently such information.Unfortunately, the contemplated agreement with Amazon does not provide foraccessible Kindles. While the sole-source Justification and Approval theDepartment issued requires text-to-speech capability for the content, that alone willnot render the device accessible. The navigation and menus must also beaccessible. As the Kindle is currently designed, a blind person must have a sightedindividual enable the text-to-speech function and then the blind reader must listen tothe book from beginning to end without the ability to skip around the text orotherwise control navigation through the material.As the proposed deal between the Department of State and Amazon currentlystands, there is no provision that requires the devices be accessible in accordance
The Honorable Hillary ClintonJune 18, 2012Page 3 of 4with the Department’s obligations under Section 508. The requirement thatelectronic books be accessible to the blind and print-disabled precludes thegovernment from procuring inaccessible e-book reading technology and fromcontinuing to rely upon separate, unequal processes for people with disabilities. It isno excuse that a vendor has not made its product accessible. The inaccessibility ofthe Kindle devices does not result from the absence of existing technology to makee-books accessible. Rather, it is entirely the product of Amazon’s lack of interest inproviding fully accessible e-books and e-book devices that are accessible to theblind or print-disabled.In 2008, shortly after Amazon introduced the Kindle, my colleagues and I metwith the Kindle product development team to persuade them of the mainstreamcommercial worth of making e-book content available audibly through a text-to-speech engine and the marginal additional cost of making the menus and navigationaccessible so that the device would also be accessible to the blind. Subsequently,Amazon released the Kindle 2, in which it made the content available audibly, butdid not add the additional technology to make the device accessible to the blind andprint disabled. When the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the AuthorsGuild objected to Amazon’s enabling audible content, Amazon asked the NFB tohelp with the expectation that it would create a Kindle the blind and print disabledcould use. We subsequently helped form the Reading Rights Coalition, whichincluded organizations for people with print disabilities including dyslexia, cerebralpalsy, and upper spinal cord injuries who cannot access print visually with anyfacility to persuade the publishers to keep text-to-speech on the content. Our effortsculminated in a statement issued by the White House with agreement from the NFB,the Authors Guild and AAP that digital books should be accessible.Amazon has failed to render a fully accessible e-reading device. We havesince filed complaints against institutions that have purchased Kindles for theirpatrons in violation of their legal obligations. These efforts included complaints withthe Departments of Justice and Education against universities that piloted theinaccessible Kindle DX and ended in resolutions prohibiting the universities fromcontinuing to purchase or use inaccessible e-readers.Legal Obligations of the United StatesSection 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires “that individuals withdisabilities, who are members of the public seeking information or services from aFederal agency, have access to and use of information and data that is comparableto that provided to the public who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an

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