Make Kindle Ebooks Accessible
The Issue | Background and History | Updates | Ebook Comparison Chart| Dear Colleague Letter and FAQ | Protest Actions | How You Can Help | In the News | Videos | Related Articles | Press Releases | Contact
Amazon.com is undertaking a massive effort to market Kindle ereader devices and Kindle ebooks to both K-12 schools and institutions of higher education across the United States. In some cases Kindle devices have been donated directly to schools, including schools that serve children who are blind or have other disabilities. Kindle ebooks have significant accessibility barriers for blind students, particularly for academic use, and Kindle devices can only read Kindle-formatted content. More important and more disturbing is the fact that Amazon has also built a system called Whispercast that allows teachers and school administrators to purchase and distribute ebooks, etextbooks, and documents to students on a variety of devices, including iPads, Macs, and PCs. Because Whispercast cannot present natively accessible formats like Word and accessible .pdfs accessibly, ebooks and other educational materials in those or Kindle formats distributed through Whispercast are inaccessible to blind students and teachers. This is true regardless of the device or platform used to access the content and regardless of whether the original document or ebook was accessible. Since school districts and institutions of higher education have an obligation under federal law to purchase or deploy only accessible technology and content, Amazon must either make Kindle ebooks accessible or cease and desist from its efforts to have them used in educational settings.
Blind Americans have been asking Amazon to make its Kindle products accessible since 2008, shortly after the Kindle was first released. In 2009, Amazon introduced the first Kindles with text-to-speech output, but blind users could not independently access this feature. Furthermore, under pressure from the Authors Guild, Amazon allowed authors and publishers to “turn off” text-to-speech for specific books. When Amazon began peddling Kindles to institutions of higher education, the NFB brought suit and filed complaints against several of these institutions. These claims prompted a June 29, 2010, Joint Dear Colleague Letter from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice warning educational institutions not to purchase inaccessible technology. A follow-up FAQ from the Department of Education made it clear that the prohibition against the purchase of inaccessible technology also applied to libraries and K-12 schools. In a May 2013 letter, the Department of Education affirmed its position that a school would be in violation of federal law if it adopted technology that offers the features of Whispercast. Despite this, Amazon is still seeking to have Kindle ebooks and devices, Whispercast, and Amazon storefronts deployed in K-12 schools and institutions of higher education, and many school districts and colleges across the United States have already adopted these technologies.
- August 28, 2015, Addendum Email and Chart from President Mark Riccobono to Ursulina Ramirez, Chief of Staff, New York City Department of Education
- August 26, 2015, Letter and Chart from President Mark Riccobono to Ursulina Ramirez, Chief of Staff, New York City Department of Education
- August 25, 2015, Press Release: National Federation of the Blind Postpones Planned Protest Tomorrow: New York City Schools Panel Cancels Vote on Amazon Deal
- August 25, 2015, New York City Department of Education Letter to President Mark Riccobono
- August 20, 2015, MEDIA ADVISORY: Blind Americans to Protest Proposed Amazon Deal with New York City Schools
- August 19, 2015, Blog: “We Must Stop the Amazon Fail”
- August 13, 2015, Letter from President Mark Riccobono to the New York City Department of Education (PDF)
- August 7, 2015, Letter from President Mark Riccobono to the New York City Department of Education (PDF)
- May 6, 2013, Department of Education Reply Letter to Daniel F. Goldstein, Esq. (PDF)
- May 6, 2013, Report: After the New Kindle App for iOS, What Remains to Be Done? (PDF)
- May 1, 2013, Press Release: National Federation of the Blind Comments on Amazon Kindle App
- April 29, 2013, Weekly Message from Illinois State Superintendent Christopher A. Koch RE: Accessibility of Technology for Students and Teachers with Disabilities (PDF). See page six.
- April 10, 2013, Daniel F. Goldstein, Esq. Letter to Department of Education Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Seth Galanter (PDF)
- March 26, 2013, Letter from Dr. Marc Maurer to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn (PDF)
- March 11, 2013, Letter from Dr. Marc Maurer to National PTA RE: Amazon's Sponsorship of the National PTA's Family Reading Experience Program (PDF)
For further illustration of this issue, we have created a comparison chart showing the differences in accessibility between Kindle e-books and accessible e-books.
The National Federation of the Blind's advocacy on this issue led to the Department of Education and the Department of Justice releasing both a Dear Colleague Letter and follow-up FAQ document announcing that educational institutions, including colleges, libraries, and K-12 schools, were not to purchase inaccessible technology. These documents can be found below.
- June 29, 2010 Joint Dear Colleague Letter from the Department of Education and the Department of Justice
- May 6, 2011 Follow-up FAQ re: Joint Dear Colleague Letter
- May 6, 2013 Letter from Seth Galanter, United States Department of Education
On August 25, 2015, the NFB postponed its planned protest at the New York City Department of Education’s Panel for Educational Policy meeting after the Department announced that it had cancelled its vote for the following day on a $30 million contract under which Amazon would construct an electronic storefront for New York City schools and become the primary provider of electronic textbooks and related educational materials for students. To learn more about our efforts in New York City, please see the August 25, 2015, article in the New York Daily News and the NFB’s August 19, 2015, blog: “We Must Stop the Amazon Fail.”
On December 12, 2012, the NFB held an informational protest, regarding the distribution of inaccessible Kindle ebooks in K-12 schools, outside of Amazon Headquarters in Seattle, Washington. Nearly one hundred blind people and their friends marched outside Amazon Headquarters from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., holding signs that read "Stop Sending Broken Books to Schools!" and "Equal Access in the Classroom." We also delivered dozens of letters from blind students, parents, and friends to Mr. Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, as part of the protest. To learn more about our protest action, please see the December 12, 2012, article in the Seattle Times.
There are many ways that you can help us make Amazon aware of the need to make its Kindle ebooks accessible to blind K-12 and college students and teachers.
If you are a student, teacher, or parent of a blind child:
Find out whether your school is implementing or considering implementing an Amazon storefront, Whispercast, or Kindle ebooks.
Educate your school and school district’s administrators, teachers, and Parent-Teacher Association about the importance of ebook accessibility. Be prepared to explain why accessibility is critical, why it is important to ensure during the procurement phase that technology is accessible, and that accessible technology is required under the law. Provide your school and school district with copies of the ebook accessibility comparison chart and the Dear Colleague letters.
If you learn that your school or school district uses or is planning to use Whispercast or Kindle content, through either Kindle devices or a Bring Your Own Device program, please contact Valerie Yingling, paralegal at the NFB, at email@example.com or (410) 659-9314, extension 2440.
Even if you are not a student, parent, or teacher, you can still help us get the word out via social media or consumer reviews. More details on these options are below.
We are often posting content related to this issue to our Twitter and Facebook feeds. We encourage you to share this content with your own networks. We also encourage you to create your own content—videos, photos, or blog posts—and share the content on social networks. When posting content about this issue on Twitter, please use our hash tags #KindleBooks4All and #AmazonFail, as well as the mainstream hash tags and Twitter handles popularized by Amazon and used by the general public. Twitter handles include @Amazon and @AmazonKindle; hash tags include #Amazon, #AmazonKindle, and #ebooks.
Another way to spread the message about the inaccessibility of Kindle ebooks and the harm that will be done by distributing this inaccessible technology in K-12 schools and institutions of higher education is by leaving reviews on Amazon.com's Kindle Web page or other popular consumer review Web sites. If you are a blind student or the parent of a blind student and own a Kindle device, you can share in the review that you and/or your blind child cannot use it because it is not accessible.
- Education Week (8/28/15): $30 Million Amazon Contract for New York City Schools Held Up By Accessibility Concerns
- New York Daily News (8/25/15): E-books at NYC Public Schools Leave out Blind: Advocates
- Seattle Times (12/12/2012): Visually Impaired Protest at Amazon
- KPLU.org (12/12/2012): Blind Protesters March at Amazon over Kindle Accessibility
- The Kindle at School: The REAL Story (70 MB)
- Kindle E-books vs. Accessible E-books Demonstration (17 MB)
- A Letter to Jeff Bezos from a Blind Student (14 MB)
- Advertisement in Education Week (December 5, 2012)
- Mainstream Access to E-Books: What Works, What Doesn't, and What is Still Unclear (Braille Monitor, January 2012)
- Equal Access to Information: the Urgency and the Law (Braille Monitor, December 2011)
- Access to Electronic Books, a Comparative Review (Braille Monitor, May 2011)
- A Crisis in Instructional Technology in Higher Education (Braille Monitor, February 2011)
- Fighting for the Right to Read (Braille Monitor, June 2009)
- National Federation of the Blind Postpones Planned Protest Tomorrow: New York City Schools Panel Cancels Vote on Amazon Deal (August 25, 2015)
- MEDIA ADVISORY: Blind Americans to Protest Proposed Amazon Deal with New York City Schools (August 20, 2015)
- National Federation of the Blind Comments on Amazon Kindle App (May 1, 2013)
- National Federation of the Blind Condemns Amazon's Push to Put Kindle E-Books in Schools (December 4, 2012)
- National Federation of the Blind Comments on New Kindles (September 6, 2012)
- National Federation of the Blind Files Complaint Against State Department (June 26, 2012)
- National Federation of the Blind Condemns Lack of Access to New Kindle Fires (September 29, 2011)
- National Federation of the Blind Comments on Release of New Large Screen Kindle (May 6, 2009)
- National Federation of the Blind Comments on Authors Guild Statement on the Amazon Kindle 2 (February 12, 2009)
For more information about this critical issue, please contact:
Director of Public Relations
National Federation of the Blind
(410) 659-9314, extension 2330
(410) 262-1281 (Cell)
For future updates on this issue, please follow NFB_Voice on Twitter (and please use the hash tag #KindleBooks4All when posting about this issue), become a fan of the National Federation of the Blind on Facebook, or sign up to receive our press releases. Please help us to achieve true equality for blind students.