National Federation of the Blind Files Complaint Against State Department

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National Federation of the Blind Files Complaint Against State Department

Seeks to Stop Distribution of Inaccessible Kindles Abroad

Baltimore, Maryland (June 27, 2012): The National Federation of the Blind, the oldest and largest organization of the blind in the United States and a leader in the struggle for civil and human rights for blind people all over the world, today filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights for the United States Department of State, alleging that the State Department’s plan to purchase and deploy 35,000 Amazon Kindles throughout the world violates federal law because blind people cannot independently access and use the devices or their content.  Four international organizations representing the blind and dedicated to equal access to books and digital information—the World Blind Union, the South African National Council for the Blind, the DAISY Consortium, and the DAISY Forum of India—are also named complainants.  The State Department has announced plans to purchase 35,000 of Amazon’s dedicated e-reading devices under a sole-source contract, at a cost of $16.5 million, as part of an international learning program being referred to as the Kindle Mobile Learning Initiative.  The aim of this program is to create a global e-reader program that introduces aspects of U.S. society and culture directly to young people, students, and international audiences and to expand English- language learning opportunities abroad.  The plan will involve deploying the Kindles to embassies, libraries, and other entities around the world.  The complaint also alleges that a previous deployment of six thousand Kindles to State Department facilities throughout the world violates the law.  

Of the Kindles currently available, not all are capable of speaking the content of books.  While the State Department proposal specifically calls for the inclusion of this feature, the contract makes no reference to the department’s obligation to purchase accessible technology under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act or otherwise require that the devices procured be accessible to the blind.  Blind readers cannot independently access the text-to-speech reading and voice-guided menu features of the Kindle, and cannot independently navigate within a book once it is opened, meaning that they must simply read it from beginning to end.

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “Access to information is a fundamental human right, and blind Americans, as well as our brothers and sisters throughout the world, insist that this right be upheld.  The State Department wants the international community to learn about United States society and culture; people with disabilities are a part of that society and culture, and the protection of our rights is a national priority as clearly expressed in the Rehabilitation Act and other laws. All federal agencies, including the State Department, are bound by these laws.  We intend to see that the State Department meets its legal and moral obligations to the blind people of this country and the world.”  

Marianne Diamond, president of the World Blind Union (WBU), said: “The WBU represents over 285 million blind people throughout the world and believes strongly that the blind and others who cannot read print must have access to published materials on the same terms as the sighted.  It is critical that the United States demonstrate leadership in this area by procuring and providing reading technology that everyone can use independently.” 

The complainants are represented in this matter by Scott C. LaBarre of the Denver firm LaBarre Law Offices.

Chris Danielsen
Director of Public Relations
National Federation of the Blind
(410) 659-9314, extension 2330
(410) 262-1281 (Cell)