The Annals of Government Stupidity: No Kindles for You!


When the good people at the Justice Department aren't wasting taxpayer dollars prosecution John Stagliano, they are wasting taxpayer dollars investigating a program allowing a small group of college students to test drive the Kindle DX—an initiative, says Amazon, that could potentially save students hundreds of dollars on exorbitantly priced textbooks. So what on Earth could these idiot bureaucrats find to fault in a pilot program designed to reduce student costs and the amounts of paper used to print textbooks? Well, say the geniuses at DoJ, a few small programs providing DXs at a few universities, both public and private, might discriminate against the blind. Seriously. The Washington Examiner's Byron York tries to explain:

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"…

In May 2009, Amazon announced the pilot program, under which it would provide Kindle DX readers to a few universities. It wasn't a huge deal; Princeton's plan, for example, involved three courses and a total of 51 students, and only in the fall semester of that year. University spokeswoman Emily Aronson says the program was voluntary and students could opt out of using the Kindle. "There were no students with a visual impairment who had registered for the three classes," says Aronson.
Nevertheless, in June 2009, the federation filed a complaint with the Justice Department, accusing the schools of violating the ADA. Perez and his team went to work.

"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."

When I was in college, it was possible to get a discounted (sometimes free) newspaper subscription, subsidized by…somebody. By the logic of DoJ, because newspapers don't talk, this was discriminatory, putting blind students at an unfair disadvantage.

The DoJ successfully pressured Arizona State to abandon the program; the rage-inducing settlement agreement can be read here. A letter harrassing Case Western University can be read here.