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Advocates for the Blind Take Fight to Amazon's Kindle

Advocates for the blind are arguing that an electronic reading device, the Amazon Kindle, is inaccessible to visually impaired students, and the organization is planning a protest at the company's headquarters to deliver that message in person.

The National Federation of the Blind says Amazon is making a "massive effort to deploy Kindle e-readers and Kindle books" in K-12 schools, and the organization has urged the public to write to the company's founder and chief executive officer, Jeff Bezos, to reiterate their complaints about those products.

The federation has taken issue with the Kindle for several years. The heart of the organization's criticism is that neither Kindle devices nor the "book files" used with them are accessible to blind students. The book files can't be read without various software applications that also present barriers to blind students, Chris Danielsen, a spokesman for the federation, told Education Week.

"Kindle content, unlike some other e-book products, is not accessible to blind students, even on devices that are themselves accessible to the blind, such as personal computers and iPads," the federation argued in a statement, adding:

This is because Amazon makes Kindle content available only to its own proprietary text-to-speech engine, if at all, rather than to accessibility applications of the reader's choice. Furthermore, the limited accessibility features that Amazon has implemented do not allow for the kind of detailed reading that students need to do in an educational setting. Although the books can be read aloud with text-to-speech, the student cannot use the accessibility features of his or her device to learn proper spelling and punctuation, look up words in the dictionary, annotate or highlight significant passages, or take advantage of the many other features that Kindle devices and applications make available to sighted students. Kindle e-books also cannot be displayed on Braille devices, making them inaccessible to blind and deaf-blind students who read Braille.

The federation also points to a 2010 "Dear Colleague" letter to college and university officials, issued by the U.S. Department of Education, warning that requiring students to use emerging technologies that are inaccessible violates federal disabilities law.

Amazon officials have yet to respond to a request for comment from Education Week.

The federation says it intends to deliver the letters from supporters of its campaign on Dec. 12 to Bezos directly at Amazon's Seattle headquarters.

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