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Top e-Book Reader Makers Contest US Accessibility Law

Three of the biggest e-book reader manufacturers – Amazon, Kobo and Sony – have petitioned the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ask for exemptions from US laws requiring products to be accessible to users with disabilities.

The three are urging the commission to waive parts of the 21st Century Video and Communications and Video Accessibility Act which require any product offering ‘advanced communication services’ (ACS) to be “accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.” The manufacturers say that as e-readers are used almost exclusively for reading, they do not provide more generic ACS. They argue that to make them fully accessible would increase their cost and weight and decrease battery life, essentially turning them into different devices more similar to tablet computers.

“Individuals with disabilities have better ACS options on devices other than e-readers” the petition says. It also states that if accessibility functions were added to the e-readers, these changes “would not yield a meaningful benefit to individuals with disabilities”.

However Steve Tyler, head of solutions, strategy and planning at the Royal National Institute of Blind People in the UK, told E-Access Bulletin that e-readers should be made accessible to all, since they are “game-changing technologies” for blind and partially sighted people. “Tenuous arguments around an increase in weight or low battery life of devices are simply not justified nor representative of the truth around the state of play in the technology market today”, Tyler said.

“Rendering these devices fully accessible through synthetic speech, as well as options around font size and contrast, is a business decision rather than one based on technology,” he said.

The coalition of e-reader manufacturers’ petition is available as a PDF at the following link: http://bit.ly/16gW53i .

Public comments on the petition were invited by the FCC last month, the overwhelming majority of which opposed the coalition’s waiver request. More than 500 comments were sent in all, viewable at: http://bit.ly/16wWHEo

The commission will now consider the submissions before reaching its decision on whether or not to accept a waiver. At the time of writing, no date had been set for this decision.

Comments

  1. Jeff Seager | September 25th, 2013 | 4:27 pm

    I do hope the request is denied. Accessibility solutions have been with us from the beginning of the graphical web, their importance emphatically emphasized by Sir Berners-Lee from the start, and these aren’t the first nor likely the last products to fail because they went off on a proprietary tangent that bypasses inherently accessible XML, XHTML and HTML. Ignorance of the relevant laws is no excuse, and never has been a valid excuse for legal noncompliance.

    The manufacturers’ petition is a reflection of a much larger problem, which is the continuing tendency to design and engineer without consideration of accessibility, then to try to retrofit in some distant tomorrow. Accessibility has to be worked into the primary design criteria at the outset of any project. Otherwise, it’s like pouring the concrete footers after erecting the roof. I’m a bit fanatical about that, but only because it isn’t rocket science; it should be common knowledge and common courtesy.

    If it isn’t accessible, it isn’t well designed. If people want to remain competitive, they’ll have to bring a better product to market. It’s that simple, but time and again we see that corners will be cut if the standards aren’t upheld.

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