Saturday, September 1, 2012

Blind Faith: The DOJ Cracks Down On E-Readers

I'll be honest. When I first saw this story, I found it hard to believe that the DOJ would sue the Sacramento Library system on an ADA violation for ditributing e-readers without braile features. Surely it's one of those "right-wing media" stories taking some bad Big Gov't facts and turning them up to 11, right? Well, the Sac Bee has picked it up, so here we go:
The U.S. Justice Department says it has reached a settlement with the Sacramento (California) Public Library over a trial program the library was conducting that let patrons borrow Barnes and Noble NOOK e-book readers. 
DOJ and the National Federation of the Blind objected to the program on grounds that blind people could not use the NOOK e-readers for technological reasons. 
The Justice Department said the settlement is aimed at stopping discrimination: “Emerging technologies like e-readers are changing the way we interact with the world around us and we need to ensure that people with disabilities are not excluded from the programs where these devices are used,” said Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez in a news release.
This is, of course, absurd. Not only that, no blind person had complained to the gov't. This was purely a ADA-lawsuit where attorneys and a single plaintiff searching for "harm." In this case, the attorneys were working for the gov't and a non-profit that is really an NGO.
A DOJ official told it interviewed a woman who could not participate in the library's e-reader program due to her disability and concluded that the program had violated the ADA. 
Amy Calhoun, an Electronic Resources Librarian at the Sacramento Public Library who helped launch the ebook reader project, said she was unaware of any objections from a blind person regarding the program. “I have not heard of a specific complaint directly from a patron,” she told “But I do know that patrons who are part of the statewide Braille and talking-book program do get in touch with us for audio books.” 
The Sacramento Public Library Authority, which operates 28 libraries, partnered with the book store chain to provide at least one NOOK e-book reader to each of its libraries, pre-loaded with roughly 20 books in all genres. 
The library describes the program as a “pilot project,” and it requires patrons to fill out a feedback survey as the program works through its initial stages. 
But the Justice Department says a state or local government program that excludes people with disabilities violates the ADA, regardless of whether it is a “pilot” program.
And, of course, the sorts of e-readers that would be ADA-compliant are much more expensive, and produced by different companies. Want to bet if Barnes & Noble tried to produce its own "approved" readers that they would be fending off patent lawsuits?

No one was doing anything wrong here, but the gov't and its allies in the ADA lobbying complex got their pelt anyway.

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