Make Kindle E-books Accessible

The Issue | Background and History | Recent Updates E-book Comparison Chart| Dear Colleague Letter and FAQ | Protest How You Can Help | In the News | Videos | Related Articles | Press Releases | Contact

The Issue

Amazon.com is undertaking a massive effort to deploy its Kindle e-readers and Kindle e-books to K-12 schools 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.  More important, and more disturbing, is the fact that Amazon has also built a system called Whispercast that allows teachers and school administrators to distribute Kindle content to devices other than Kindles.  The problem with all of these plans is that neither the Kindle devices nor the book files used in conjunction with them are accessible to students who are blind or who have other print disabilities.  Since school districts have an obligation under federal law to purchase or deploy only accessible technology and content, Amazon must either make Kindle e-books accessible or cease and desist from its efforts to have them used in the classroom.  

Background and History

Blind Americans have been asking Amazon to make its Kindle products accessible for several years now.  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 Department of Education and the Department of 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. Despite this, Amazon is now seeking to have Kindle e-books deployed in K-12 schools, and several school districts across the United States have already purchased Kindles and Kindle content or received donations from Amazon.

Recent Updates

E-book Comparison Chart

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.

Dear Colleague Letter and FAQ

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.

Protest Action

On Wednesday, December 12, 2012, we held an informational protest, regarding the distribution of inaccessible Kindle e-books in K-12 schools, outside of Amazon Headquarters in Seattle, Washington. Nearly one hundred blind people and their friends marched outside Amazon HQ from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., holding signs that read things like "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 article in the Seattle Times

How You Can Help

There are many ways that you can help us make Amazon aware of the need to make its Kindle e-books accessible to blind K-12 students.

If you are a parent or teacher of a blind child:

  • Find out whether your school is implementing or considering implementing Whispercast or Kindle e-books. 
  • Educate your school and school district’s administrators, teachers, and Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) about the importance of e-book 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 Whispercast 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 vyingling@nfb.org or (410) 659-9314, extension 2440.

​Even if you are not a 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.  

Social Media 

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 tag #KindleBooks4All, as well as the mainstream hash tags and Twitter handles popularized by Amazon and used by the general public. They are as follows: Twitter handles: @Amazon, @AmazonKindle, Hash tags: #Amazon #AmazonKindle #ebooks

We also encourage you to post comments to Amazon's relevant Facebook pages, Amazon and Amazon Kindle

Consumer Reviews

Another way to spread the message about the inaccessibility of Kindle e-books and the harm that will be done by distributing this inaccessible technology in K-12 schools is by leaving reviews on Amazon.com's Kindle Web page or other popular consumer review Web sites. If you are a blind child or teen or the parent of a blind child or teen and own one of the Kindle devices, you can share in the review that you and/or your blind child cannot use it because it is not accessible. 

In the News

Videos

Related Articles and Ads

Press Releases 

Contact

For more information about this critical issue, please contact:

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

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.