eReader producers continue fight to avoid accessibility

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Friday, 20 September 2013 10:50am

eReader manufacturers Amazon, Kobo and Sony have petitioned the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to seek  exemption from laws requiring products to be accessible to users with disabilities.

The issue for the companies centres around the 21st Century Video and Communications and Video Accessibility Act requiring any product offering ‘advanced communication services’ to be “accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities”.  However, the companies argue that their budget eReaders, including the Amazon Kindle, are used primarily just for reading, and therefore the Act should not apply. The companies argue that adding accessibility features would lead to products being more expensive, heavier and with shorter battery life.

Debates surrounding eBook and eReader accessibility have been going on for some time with Amazon having faced a number of protests by blind Kindle users as accessibility is considered in an ad-hoc fashion.  With the Kobo now available in Australia for as little as $99, the companies believe that keeping costs down for consumers should be the priority.

However, in recent years the eReader market has evolved with many of the flagship products such as the Kindle Fire and Kobo HD providing full tablet computer functionality, including the playback of media which would require accessibility features.  While the main argument of the manufacturers is around the need to make their budget eReaders accessible, consumers are concerned that an exemption would also apply to high-end or future innovative products that contain media-rich features.

Steve Tyler from the Royal National Institute of the Blind told eAccess Bulletin “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.

“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,” Tyler said.

The manufacturers’ petition [PDF 140 KB] is available on the FCC website, where there are more than 500 public comments.

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