Blind Student Sues Over Classroom Kindle Use

By Pam Robinson

Jul 6, 2009 6:18am

 
ABC News On Campus reporter Toby Phillips blogs:
Darrell Shandrow is a blind student at Arizona State University who uses computers with speech capabilities on a daily basis. "I think there's a public perception that we (blind people) don't use technology," he said. "I have a talking computer right here."
 
Yet the avid technology user is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against ASU that seeks to stop a new pilot program that would put Amazon's Kindle-DX book-readers in classrooms as an electronic alternative to textbooks. This is "not an issue of innovation or technical challenge on the part of ASU or the part of Amazon," Shandrow said. "This is a matter of choice. This is a people issue."
 
In its newest version, the Kindle has a text-to-speech feature. However, there is no way to navigate the Kindle's menu, page turn, note-taking, highlighting, or other functions without being able to see the device. Which means blind or visually impaired people, like Shandrow, have a hard time using the reader.  
 
So, the junior journalism major filed a lawsuit in conjunction with the National Federation of the Blind and American Council of the Blind.
 
The suit claims that "To advance the role of e-books in the classroom without regard to accessibility has the potential to exclude blind students from this important new technology for the foreseeable future."
 
The Kindle is slated to be used in two sections of a first-year course in Barrett, the Honors College.
And while Shandrow is not in the honors college, he wants ASU to stop the pilot program until a version of the Kindle, with access for blind or visually impaired people, is available so that "everybody could enjoy the progress," he said. "The blind, visually impaired and sighted students."
 
In a statement, Martha Dennis Christiansen, director of counseling and consultation and associate vice president of University Student Initiatives, said ASU is "committed to equal access for all students…focused on providing the necessary tools so that all students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to be successful in their academic pursuits."
 
While ASU says it is committed to equal access, Shandrow hopes Amazon "will see the light, so to speak."
 
In a blog posting, Amazon wrote that it has heard from many of its blind or vision impaired customers. "We want to let those customers know that this is something we are working on and we look forward to making it available in the future,"  the blog reads.
 
Shandrow stressed that he is not opposed to advancing technology on campus. And he doesn't think that filing a lawsuit to stop the Kindle project is preventing progress. Some may say "why are these blind people taking this opportunity away from sighted college students?," Shandrow said. "That perspective needs to be balanced with the civil rights of everyone, including the blind and visually impaired."  The suit, which seeks no damages,  was filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix.

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