National Federation for the Blind sues over library eReader lending program

Read this news on a Teleread post from last week.  Libraries who are lending eReaders, what are you doing to accommodate visually impaired patrons?  Are you purchasing audiobooks or another type of device that allows text-to-speech functionality? Is that an acceptable solution for the NFB, to have the same content but in a different format?

Here’s more from the press release:

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (May 2, 2012): With the assistance of the National Federation of the Blind, four blind patrons of the Free Library of Philadelphia—Denice Brown, Karen Comorato, Patricia Grebloski, and Antoinette Whaley—have filed suit (case number: 12-2373) against the library because they cannot access one of the library’s programs for which they are eligible.  The Free Library of Philadelphia has instituted and announced plans to expand a program in which free NOOK Simple Touch e-readers, which are manufactured and sold by Barnes & Noble, are loaned to patrons over the age of fifty.  Unlike some other portable e-readers that use text-to-speech technology and/or Braille to allow blind people to read e-books, the NOOK devices are completely inaccessible to patrons who are blind.  The library’s conduct violates Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The Free Library of Philadelphia is aware that the NOOK devices are inaccessible, and library personnel have openly discouraged two of the blind plaintiffs from even attempting to check out one of the devices.  The library is also aware that it is violating federal laws, having been so advised by the United States Department of Education, which has issued both a Dear Colleague letter and a subsequent Frequently Asked Questions document regarding the obligation of federally funded institutions to purchase accessible e-book readers and other technologies.  The Free Library of Philadelphia does have a branch that lends Braille and audio books from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress to blind patrons, but the selection of books is limited, and books are not available in these formats until months or years after they are released to the general public.

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “The technology to make e-books accessible exists, allowing blind people for the first time to buy or borrow books as soon as they are released.  Too many e-book platforms and devices, however, remain needlessly inaccessible to the blind and others who cannot read print.  Libraries have a legal obligation to serve their blind and print-disabled patrons and to not discriminate against them.  They should be purchasing accessible e-book reading devices and demanding that their vendors provide them, not perpetuating the status quo by purchasing inaccessible technology and needlessly relegating their blind and print-disabled patrons to separate and unequal service.  This is the standard to which we intend to hold the  Free Library of Philadelphia and any other public library that chooses to flout the law by purchasing and lending inaccessible e-book technology.”

Denice Brown, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said: “I am disappointed and frustrated that I cannot use the exciting new e-book technology being offered by my local library.  Worse yet, I was treated like a second-class citizen when I visited the library and asked about this new technology, with library personnel initially refusing even to help me fill out a form so that I could check out a NOOK Simple Touch.  I hope that the Free Library of Philadelphia, of which I am a patron, will make a strong commitment to accessibility and cease its discrimination against me and other blind patrons.”

For further illustration of this important issue, please view this video comparing the NOOK Simple Touch with accessible e-book technology.

The plaintiffs are represented in this matter by Daniel F. Goldstein, Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum, and Daniel A. Ross of the Baltimore firm Brown, Goldstein, and Levy; and David Rudovsky of the Philadelphia firm Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg.

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About the National Federation of the Blind

With more than 50,000 members, the National Federation of the Blind is the largest and most influential membership organization of blind people in the United States. The NFB improves blind people’s lives through advocacy, education, research, technology, and programs encouraging independence and self-confidence. It is the leading force in the blindness field today and the voice of the nation’s blind. In January 2004 the NFB opened the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, the first research and training center in the United States for the blind led by the blind.

4 thoughts on “National Federation for the Blind sues over library eReader lending program”

  1. Thanks for the additional information. Putting a basic ebook reader up against the iPad (in their video) is like conducting a crash comparison with a Volvo and a bicycle. I would have rather liked to have seen the Kindle contrasted or even the Nook Tablet. This will be a good case to watch–whether the library will be able to maintain that it has the works in alternate formats or if they should have skipped the program altogether.

  2. Seriously?! While I agree, the patron should not have been discouraged from borrowing the device, that part was clearly wrong, I think its ridiculous that the library cannot introduce a new tech without being sued.

    I’m sorry, its just wrong. If you’re disabled, there are some things that you are just not able to do, hence DISabled. You can’t see the screen, hence, even if it did do text-to-speech, how would you open it???

    I’m fat, I don’t sue the marathon because they don’t provide me with a scooter.

    This is clearly a bunch of people who don’t care about their library, or the rights of the blind. They just want a headline and some attention. Suing the library… Yea, that will free up the funds to purchase more specialized materials for patrons with special needs…

  3. And it doesn’t recognize that it is the content providers (publishers) in some cases who limit the accessibility of what is allowable on a device.

  4. @Rob: There is an Android App called Screenreader Talkback. So you could probably use it at an Android based ereader or better tablet and thus also be enabled to use it if you’re blind. However. And there is the possibility to ask somebody to select the book you wanna read/hear.
    Second, a public institution has the obligation to consider all their patrons needs and not just those of the “normals”. That’s why they get the money from all of us/you, don’t they?

    @Linda: Yeah, that was my thought too. I just hope the NFB sues them next.

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