A roadblock to e-readers in schools?

by Walter Olson on January 6, 2012

Assisted by a foundation, Baltimore has proposed putting Nook e-reader devices in some school libraries, but a complaint from the National Federation of the Blind says that would violate Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). [Business Wire]

{ 13 comments }

1 Alan Gunn 01.06.12 at 8:06 am

So why don’t they have to get rid of the books, too?

2 John Burgess 01.06.12 at 8:31 am

E-book readers often offer text-to-voice options, even if the voices are computer voices. This is demonstrably better than a ‘dumb’ book that needs to be ‘translated’ into Braille to be equally useful.

3 doug 01.06.12 at 9:32 am

the nook doesnt offer text to speech, unlike the kindle.

4 Richard Nieporent 01.06.12 at 9:47 am

“The National Federation of the Blind will not tolerate blind students receiving an unequal education. If e-reading devices are available in school libraries, they must be accessible to all students, not just the sighted.

This is just another “benefit” of the ADA, the act that keeps on giving. I bet you though the purpose of the ADA was to help disabled people get jobs. How silly of you. No its purpose is to prevent non-disabled people from using new technology. As Alan Gunn stated, using their logic all books that do not also have Braille characters should be outlawed since they are not accessible to blind students. The National Federation for the Blind is living up to its name, when it comes to public relations. Do they think that their stance of faux-outrage is going to engender support for their organization?

5 GregS 01.06.12 at 11:15 am

I doubt that the National Federation for the Blind is opposed to non-disabled people using this technology. This is probably a tactic to force manufacturers of devices like the Nook to take the needs of blind people into account. Text-to-speech isn’t rocket science anymore (the Kindle already does it). I work in the software business, on the development of a business application, and I can tell you the primary reason we spent the time and money on making our application accessible to the disabled (including the blind) was because of the requirement of the U.S. federal government that software it procures be accessible.

6 mjs 01.06.12 at 11:24 am

I have two comments:

e readers in schools is the latest armament in the technology wars among wealthy school districts that has increased district budgets (and property taxes) with no demonstrable educational benefit;

the ADA has gone so far beyond the scope of its original intent as to be unrecognizable

7 John Burgess 01.06.12 at 11:52 am

Might it not be cheaper to provide text-to-Braille readers to all blind students than to find ways to change entire school or library systems to accommodate those students’ real need? Alternatively, a text-to-voice device or service might also be more affordable to schools and school districts.

One example:

http://www.yourdolphin.com/products.asp

8 boblipton 01.06.12 at 1:07 pm

I think a cheaper solution would be to blind all children and insist on only Braile books.

Bob

9 Don 01.06.12 at 1:12 pm

In 2009, Amazon was sued by the book publishers because they said that the Text-to-Speech option infringed their copyright. I think the argument was that Text-to-speech becomes a public performance, or that it infringes on the market for audio books

Amazon was forced to back down. They have a flag on E-Books now that give the publisher the right to decide if the Text to Speech option will work on each specific book.

10 DJ 01.06.12 at 3:23 pm

Ok, I want you folks who are decrying this lawsuit to take a challenging course with information that is very new to you. Blindfold yourselves throughout the classes. You will get access to the written materials for the course only several weeks after everyone else gets it. You will be given the same tests on the same timetable, except you will keep having to work out exceptions to that timetable because your acquisition of the materials will be hit or miss. Hopefully you and your instructor will be able to keep track of it all and will not have confusion, and hopefully your instructor will be cooperative and organized enough to help support you, rather than just resentfully doing the minimum and wishing you would go away.

Multiply this by 6-7 courses. You will be expected to understand and to remember everything you hear the first time you hear it, although your instructor will often use vague language and unclear visually-oriented referents. Your workload in terms of organization and obtaining materials will easily be 20 times more difficult than that of students without disabilities. Your workload in terms of having to listen through recordings of complete class sessions will be twice that of students who only sit through the class without having to use difficult unindexed straight recordings of the class session in order to review what was said later on, when you do have the materials to which the discussion referred.

Moreover, let us not forget that auditory is the most difficult learning medium for most learners both with and without disabilities, and that it is far more difficult to place new info into long term memory if you only hear it, rather than read it.

It’s almost an impossible burden for the student with a visual impairment. They are NOT automatically granted magical auditory abilities to compensate for their blindness. That is a myth.

There is no reason why Baltimore cannot choose a more accessible medium for instruction. They do exist. Our VI students have a hard enough time in the first place. It is not that expensive to set things up in a way that provides access. The technology is there already. It just takes people with brains and hearts that are bigger than a walnut who set to the job of providing access to ALL students from the get-go, instead of wasting precious time (and money!) whining about it and fighting it. There is no reason the Nook could not have been made more accessible. However, e-book info that is provided on the Nook can be provided on other machines that are accessible, so there is probably a great way to work this out if Baltimore and the Nook folks will only do their homework before trying to hand it in as a half-finished product.

11 Melvin H. 01.06.12 at 8:03 pm

DJ, all well and good….but the Baltimore school district and its board are NOT granted magical money-getting abilities to compensate for fewer students, more mandates that are unfunded, less tax money and aid coming in, and more lawsuits.

12 Richard Nieporent 01.06.12 at 8:06 pm

DJ,

Boblipton has already given you a solution that should make you happy. While it is very sad that some people are blind, we are not responsible for their condition. If the National Federation for the Blind wins its lawsuit, all it will mean is that nobody can use the Nook. It will not improve the condition of the blind students one iota. I have no sympathy for their attempt to hold other students hostage to get their way.

13 David Smith 01.06.12 at 9:55 pm

Lemme see . . . .

I guess the army should stop putting sights on rifles to level the playing field for the blind soldier.

Comments on this entry are closed.