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: 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: bit.ly/16wWHEo