Amazon Doesn’t Want to Allow Disabled People to Use Its E-Readers

Amazon, Sony and other companies are petitioning the Federal Communications Commission to be permanently exempt from federal accessibility laws for individuals with disabilities. E-readers, according to a letter they sent earlier this year, are “barebones devices” made for only one purpose, reading text, and therefore should not have to be fully accessible to the blind.

Under the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which President Obama signed into law in 2010, equipment that is “used for advanced communications services [ACS], including end user equipment” must be “accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.” Manufacturers who are not in compliance with the law can be forced to do so by the government.

Including features to make e-readers like the Amazon Kindle, the Sony Reader and the Kobo Glo accessible to the blind would make the devices carry a higher price tag. Cost is not the main reason that Amazon and the other companies cite in their letter, though.

Rather, they base their request on the current legal distinction between an e-reader and a tablet. E-readers, the manufacturers contend, have “purposeful hardware limitations” — stripped down browsers, insufficient capacity to display videos, no capacity to generate audio output — that makes them distinct from tablets. Nothing less than the “fundamental nature” of an e-reader would be changed if they included more features.

The suit even argues that “many view the absence of robust communication tools on e-readers as a welcome break from distraction rather than as a limitation.” The requirement to make devices accessible to individuals with disabilities would, says the suit, “convert e-readers into something they are not: a general purpose device.”

The FCC is soliciting public comments on the matter through Sept. 3.

Chris Danielsen, the director of public relations for the National Federation of the Blind, urges Amazon and other manufacturers to do the right thing and “make the devices accessible because you have to. They’re not just being used for pleasure reading; they are being used for education.”

Amazon is in fact giving hundreds of schools that have agreed to use its devices a bulk discount and has created software that would allow teachers to manage students using them.

Amazon is certainly seeking to have its devices used in educational settings. That’s all the more reason that it and other manufacturers must make their devices accessible as under federal law, devices used in educational settings must be accessible to those with visual impairments.

Apple’s iPads have found many uses among individuals with disabilities precisely because they can be adapted to suit their needs. Built into Apple’s mobile devices is an application called VoiceOver, which makes it possible for users to control devices with simple gestures and to hear what is written simply by touching the screen. There are also a number of Bluetooth-powered braille readers for mobile devices and Android is seeking to develop similar features.

As Danielson points out, Amazon, Sony and Kobo are also seeking a permanent ruling about e-readers, devices that have only been available for a few years. “We don’t know what features the market will demand, or what manufacturers will ultimately provide through these devices,” he says.

The argument that Amazon and other manufacturers are making rests on semantic distinctions. The reality is that they are splitting hairs to avoid complying with federal law and showing little regard for individuals with disabilities. As disability rights advocates point out, one day most of us will have disabilities, including possibly visual and hearing impairments. Amazon and other manufacturers must make devices that any and everyone can use.

Tell the FCC not to make e-readers manufactured by Amazon, Sony and Kobo exempt from accessibility laws! E-readers must be accessible to individuals with disabilities.


Photo from Thinkstock


Eric W.
Eric W1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Jim Ven
Jim V1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Jess No Fwd Plz K.
Jessica K4 years ago

I do feel for those who are not able to use this product, but I'm not comfortable with a federal law which forces private companies to make certain products. If people are upset with Amazon for not being more concerned with the visually impaired, then create a boycott and use the press to publicize it and shame them. Let the market decide if their practice is appropriate or not, not the government. Thanks.

Jennifer Smith
Jennifer Smith4 years ago

Helga G. - There's a HUGE difference between an Ipad and an e-reader.

One is a simplified computer. The other is a book who happens to be a screen rather then paper.

An Ipad is meant to do many thing like view movies, TV, read books, or take notes.

An E-reader is simply there to display written words.

Tablets and E-readers are two different things serving very difference purposes. Tables are jack of all trade mini computers. E-readers are a bare bone electronic book.

Jennifer Smith
Jennifer Smith4 years ago


They don't want to re-invent a product who's intent has been to be an electronic book. Not an audio player, not a TV, not a computer, just a book that happens to be electronic rather then paper.

Jennifer Smith
Jennifer Smith4 years ago

E readers are meant for reading. I don't see blind people calling for publishers to publish novels with built in brale. Or a painter adding audo to a painting for the visually impaired.

An e-reader is like a book.

Audio books already exist.
Tablets that can use Ebooks exist.

If they start to add in voice reading, it's not the same thing. This is a device that's in use by people who can read on some level. No offense to the blind, but there are other devices that do this already. An e-reader is simply meant to be an electronic version of a book.

People supporting this stuiped lawsuit here's a valid comparison. You go to the store to pick up a new book. Only you CAN'T get just the book. You need to buy the written book, the brail version, AND the audio version for three times the price. You go up to the store owner, to object saying you just want the printed book, and get told "Sorry but it's the law. We need to sell everything like this now. Otherwise the disabled loose out."

This is the SAME thing. These companies don't want to change what their device is, an electronic reader, they want to keep it what they promised. Basically an electronic book. I refuse to sign this petition because it's misleading. It's a device for those who can see, and in fact has various capabilities to support those who's sight isn't as good to get larger text or back lighting or such.

They don't want to re-invent a product who's intent has been to be an electro

Robin M.
Robin M4 years ago

B A R.- Perhaps you should go back and read my comment again. It appears that you're supporting the other side of this issue, so I'd really rather you didn't raucously praise me for an opinion I do not hold and did not express.
Thanks, though, I guess?

Eric W.
Eric W4 years ago

I'm more concerned that people will latch onto a headline and make major life decisions based on one article rather than actually investigate a little further. I'm also a little disappointed in the article itself. I'm not saying that Amazon is right...nor am I saying that they're wrong. You decide, but base the decision on all the facts. If we want to argue the other side, just for the sake of it, do we believe that Amazon is anti-visually impaired? They've tried to open up a visually impaired "store" on, they've updated their Kindle App for iOS to assist the visually impaired, Kindle e-readers do have a magnification function, and the devices did have a text-to-speech function. Not sure if they still do, but it's worth noting that it's the Authors Gild and some copyright holders that are critical of the technology. Just some points for consideration...

B A R.
BA R4 years ago

Robin M. ______ YOU ARE SO RIGHT ! standing applause ! ! ! !

Disabled folks who are homebound or bedridden:

E-Readers would be VERY BENEFICIAL to the disabled person !

Audio books are ok, & E-Readers are not ?

The joy of reading by sight to many would be much enjoyed.

Someone with sight & failing sight can benefit ... magnification !

Instant Downloading a book from thousands of selections instead of limited ebooks.

some E-Readers have audio.......sooooooooo........ how do you like it now Amazon ! & the sorry other E-Readers mfgs out there!

You just don't want more glitches to deal with......hey ! that's the norm for all computer devices now days. NO E-ELECTRONIC MFGS. CAN NEVER GET IT RIGHT !

Shame on you ....... you & the E-Readers mfgs out there are only concerned with your BOTTOM LINE.



Jessica Larsen
Janne O4 years ago

Well said, Robin M. I agree completely.

What's next - suing grocery stores for not taking into account that some people have lost their sense of taste? Maybe make the word "flavor" the new F-word? This is too dumb. A Kindle is for reading text.