Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Education issued a joint letter to colleges expressing concern over the use of e-book readers that do not adequately accommodate students with visual disabilities, stating that "it is unacceptable for universities to use emerging technology without insisting that this technology be accessible to all students." This letter is in response to several universities that engaged in the Kindle e-book pilot study with Amazon; such programs have had opposition in the past, such as last year, when Arizona State University faced a discrimination lawsuit filed by National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind, which prompted an investigation into the practices of other universities as well. The Department of Justice recently reached settlement agreements with colleges that had Kindle pilot projects, and these universities agreed not to purchase, require, or recommend the use of the Kindle or any other electronic reading devices that are not accessible to visually impaired students.
"Technology can be a driving force in making equal educational opportunity a reality," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "Given what technology now makes possible, no student should be the denied the opportunity to benefit from an enhanced educational experience based simply on a visual disability."
In order to comply with The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Universities will need to ensure that they are not inadvertently discriminating against students with disabilities when embracing and implementing e-reading technology.
At the end of last year, Amazon stated that it would be adding features to the Kindle—primarily audible menus—in order to make the devices more accessible to the visually impaired. These modifications are expected to be ready some time this summer. According to Chris Danielsen, a spokesman for the National Federation of the Blind, “Of the e-readers produced by four companies—Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and Apple—only Apple's iPad can be used by blind people.”
An article from Inside Higher ED discusses this topic further, and the Department of Education also posted a Frequently Asked Questions page about the letter, the laws in place, and the people affected.