ALA opposes e-book accessibility waiver petition

Water fountain.ALA and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) renewed their opposition to a petition filed by the Coalition of E-book Manufacturers seeking a waiver from complying with disability legislation and regulation (specifically Sections 716 and 717 of the Communications Act as Enacted by the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010). Amazon, Kobo, and Sony are the members of the coalition, and they argue that they do not have to make their e-readers’ Advanced Communications Services (ACS) accessible to people with print disabilities.

Why? The coalition argues that because basic e-readers (Kindle, Sony Reader, Kobo E-Reader) are primarily used for reading and have only rudimentary ACS, they should be exempt from CVAA accessibility rules. People with disabilities can buy other more expensive e-readers and download apps in order to access content. To ask the Coalition to modify their basic e-readers is a regulatory burden, will raise consumer prices, will ruin the streamlined look of basic e-readers, and inhibit innovation (I suppose for other companies and start-ups that want to make even more advanced inaccessible readers).

The library associations have argued that these basic e-readers do have ACS capability as a co-primary use. In fact, the very companies asking for this waiver market their e-readers as being able to browse the web, for example. The Amazon Webkit that comes with the basic Kindle can “render HyperText Markup Language (HTML) pages, interpret JavaScript code, and apply webpage layout and styles from Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).” The combination of HTML, JavaScript, and CSS demonstrates that this basic e-reader’s browser leaves open a wide array of ACS capability, including mobile versions of Facebook, Gmail, and Twitter, to name a few widely popular services.”

We believe denying the Coalition’s petition will not only increase access to ACS, but also increase access to more e-content for more people. As we note in our FCC comments: “Under the current e-reader ACS regime proposed by the Coalition and tentatively adopted by the Commission, disabled persons must pay a ‘device access tax.’ By availing oneself of one of the ‘accessible options’ as suggested by the Coalition, a disabled person would pay at minimum $20 more a device for a Kindle tablet that is heavier and has less battery life than a basic Kindle e-reader.” Surely it is right that everyone ought to be able to buy and use basic e-readers just like everybody has the right to drink from the same water fountain.

This decision will rest on the narrowly question of whether or not ACS is offered, marketed and used as a co-primary purpose in these basic e-readers. We believe the answer to that question is “yes,” and we will continue our advocacy to support more accessible devices for all readers.

About Jazzy Wright

Jazzy Wright was a press officer of the American Library Association's Washington Office.

One comment

  1. Thanks for this article! I love how you pointed out, “(I suppose for other companies and start-ups that want to make even more advanced inaccessible readers).” It seems like it’s so difficult for accessibility to “catch up” when so many vendors have an attitude that accessibility of their products isn’t important, and their attitude gets perpetuated. So I’m glad to read ALA is making a statement about this.

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