Kindle DX accessibility lawsuit settled

Department Of Justice
Kindle DX Lawsuit

When Amazon Kindle DX with 9.7″ eInk screen was announced it was dubbed “academic eReader”. Academic publications and textbooks don’t display well on a smaller 6″ screen. When the device was released, several universities and colleges announced pilot programs aimed at evaluating its effectiveness in replacing classic textbooks. However these programs hit the same roadblock everywhere: despite having Text-to-Speech capability (which not other eBook reader has), Kindle DX wasn’t accessible to vision-impaired students. This mostly had to do with the fact that menus and other controls don’t have audio. After this concern was raised repeatedly, Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) promised to address it in a software update that is expected to be publicly released in Q2 2010.

However several educational institutions decided to go ahead with pilot programs regardless. This caused Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the American Council of the Blind (ACB) to file complaints against Princeton University with Department Of Justice. These complaints led to a lawsuit that was recently settled in a peaceful manner. Princeton University was not held accountable for any wrongdoing and in exchange promised to stop pilot program and only resume it after Kindle DX or any other eReader is fully accessible as required by law. Here’s official DOJ letter that settles the case:

U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division

Disability Rights Section – NYA
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530
March 24,2010

Hannah S. Ross, Esq.
Office of General Counsel
Princeton University
120 Alexander Road, Second Floor
Princeton, NJ 08540
Re: Letter of Resolution, D.J. No. 202-48-213 Princeton University

Dear Ms. Ross:

As you know, this matter began with complaints filed by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the American Council of the Blind (ACB) with the Department of Justice, on behalf of the organizations and their members who are current and prospective college students, alleging that Princeton University has violated title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12182, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. 5 947(a), by using the Kindle DX, an innovative, hand-held electronic book reader that is not accessible to students with visual impairments, in a classroom setting. According to the complaints, Princeton University is offering a pilot program that began in the fall 2009 semester. The object of this pilot is to test the utility of the Kindle DX in a classroom setting.

The Department of Justice is responsible for the enforcement and implementation of titles II and III of the ADA. The Department decided to investigate this matter because the Kindle DX is inaccessible to an entire class of individuals with disabilities – individuals with visual impairments. According to its product descriptions, the Kindle DX provides several benefits that make it a potentially superior tool to a standard textbook, including the ability to download all textbooks instantaneously, the ability to carry all textbooks on a hand-held device that weighs just over a pound, the ability to search words and concepts instantly on the device’s web browser, while retaining all the characteristics of a standard text book, such as annotating, highlighting, and taking notes. Under title III, blind students must be provided with “full and equal access” to all of the goods and services of the university, 28 C.F.R. § 36.201(a); must be provided with an equivalent opportunity to participate in and benefit from its goods and services, 28 C.F.R. § 36.202(a), (b); and, must not be provided different or separate accommodations unless doing so is necessary to ensure access to goods and services that is equally as effective as that provided to others, 28 C.F.R. 36.202(c).

The Department acknowledges both that Princeton University denies any violation of the Americans with Disabilities Acts and that it has stated its commitment to ensuring equal access to educational programs, activities and opportunities for students with disabilities.

Both the Department of Justice and Princeton University agree that the emergence of new electronic book reading technologies that benefit the sighted have the potential to benefit blind students and faculty as well. The Department of Justice and Princeton University have decided that it is in their interest to resolve this matter amicably. In consideration of the agreement by Princeton University to undertake the actions set forth below, the United States will close its investigation of this matter.

Princeton University agrees to the following actions:

  1. The University will not require, purchase, or incorporate in its curriculum the Kindle DX or any other dedicated electronic book reader for use by students in its classes or other coursework unless or until such electronic book reader is fully accessible to individuals with visual impairments. Alternatively, Princeton may comply with the terms set forth in paragraph 5.
  2. The phrase “other dedicated electronic book reader” means any wireless, hand-held, electronic book reader that has been or will in the future be produced or offered by or any other corporation, such as but not limited to the Barnes and Noble nook, the Sony PRS-600, PRS-700, PRS 505 or upcoming Sony Daily Edition, and others.
  3. Princeton University will commit a policy reflecting the terms of this agreement to writing within 30 days of the date of the last signature below.
  4. Princeton University agrees that its commitments in paragraphs 1-4, herein, will, take effect on the date following the last day of the pilot project with, Inc., which will terminate no later than the conclusion of the fall 2009 semester,’and will remain in effect through June 30,2012.
  5. As a reasonable modification, the University may provide its students with visual impairments with a dedicated electronic book reader that ensures that individuals who are blind or have low vision are able to access and acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as sighted individuals with substantially equivalent ease of use.

This agreement does not constitute a finding by the United States that Princeton is in full compliance with the ADA, or an admission by Princeton University of fault or noncompliance with the ADA. This letter agreement does not alter nor enlarge the legal obligations of the University, and shall not form the basis for any enforcement action against Princeton University. The decision to close our file in this matter does not affect the rights of private individuals or of the complainants to enforce their rights under the ADA against Princeton University. As indicated in paragraph 4, above, this agreement also has no effect on Princeton University’s current pilot program testing the Kindle DX.

Please countersign and return a copy of this letter to us, indicating your agreement with the representations and terms set forth herein. Once we have received your countersigned copy, we will consider this matter resolved. We will take no further action on this matter unless we become aware of new information suggesting that Princeton is not complying with its obligations under the ADA or this agreement.

We appreciate your cooperation. If you have questions or concerns regarding this agreement, please do not hesitate to contact the Department.


Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division

Deputy Assistant Attorney General


Special Legal Counsel
Disability Rights Section
Civil Rights Division
Deputy Chief

Deputy Chief
Trial Attorney
Disability Rights Section
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
Tel: (202) 5 14-8301
Fax: (202) 305-9775


Counsel for Princeton University
120 Alexander Road, Second Floor
Princeton, NJ 08540
Tel: 609-258-2525
Fax: 609-258-2502

Personally, I believe that eBooks and eReaders are the future of education and when done properly they can provide levels of accessibility previously unobtainable. Hopefully the software updates will be released soon and XXI century publishing can finally happen for textbooks.

2 thoughts on “Kindle DX accessibility lawsuit settled”

  1. This is just ridiculous – not one of my dead-tree books reads itself to me or is in any way accessible to the blind. Perhaps vision-impared students should continue using the same things they are now, while others use the ebook readers?

  2. Paul, if you disagree with the law you should work to change it. Meanwhile, Princeton and everybody else, technology providers included, needs to work within that law. Amazon has the technical means to comply- they have simply chosen not to prioritize compliance. Waste of time for everybody, with an outcome that should surprise nobody.

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