05 August 2010

From the 'Hatchet, Axe and Saw' Files

Washington Examiner | Byron York | Why did feds claim Kindle violates civil rights?

Did you know the Justice Department threatened several universities with legal action because they took part in an experimental program to allow students to use the Amazon Kindle for textbooks?

Last year, the schools -- among them Princeton, Arizona State and Case Western Reserve -- wanted to know if e-book readers would be more convenient and less costly than traditional textbooks. The environmentally conscious educators also wanted to reduce the huge amount of paper students use to print files from their laptops.

It seemed like a promising idea until the universities got a letter from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, now under an aggressive new chief, Thomas Perez, telling them they were under investigation for possible violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Jesus. Wept.
"We acted swiftly to respond to complaints we received about the use of the Amazon Kindle," Perez recently told a House committee. "We must remain vigilant to ensure that as new devices are introduced, people with disabilities are not left behind."
It's a Pareto improvement. I can not express how batshit crazy I think it is to prefer "nobody benefits" to "just some people benefit."  That seems psychopathic to me.
From its introduction in 2007, the Kindle has drawn criticism from the National Federation of the Blind and other activist groups. While the Kindle's text-to-speech feature could read a book aloud, its menu functions required sight to operate. "If you could get a sighted person to fire up the device and start reading the book to you, that's fine," says Chris Danielsen, a spokesman for the federation. "But other than that, there was really no way to use it."
There's no way for a blind person to use a regular textbook either. Why hasn't the Justice Department banned those too? After all, each new book published only benefits some people, not everyone equally. Think of all the people who don't get to share in the benefits of the newest edition of Russel & Norvig's Artificial Intelligence — everyone who is blind, who can't read, who doesn't know English, who doesn't know intro Comp Sci — all of them are being "left behind."  Surely the DOJ must protect our society from this scourge of inequality in the guise of new books.

Sounds crazy, but this is the same DOJ that is considering forcing movie theaters to provide audio descriptions at half of all screenings so blind people can go to see the moving picture shows. I am not making that up.

(Via Randomscrub.)

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