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Case Western Reserve University strikes agreement concerning Kindle use with Department of Justice

Lauren Hennen

Issue date: 1/29/10 Section: News
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Media Credit: Denton Zhou
[Click to enlarge]
Freshman Evan McDowell shows off his Kindle. Case Western has agreed not to implement the Kindle as a widespread academic tool in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Media Credit: Denton Zhou
Freshman Evan McDowell shows off his Kindle. Case Western has agreed not to implement the Kindle as a widespread academic tool in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
[Click to enlarge]
In the fall of 2009, Case Western Reserve University began a pilot program to test the applicability of Amazon's Kindle DX in academic pursuits. The pilot, which received Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval, involved distributing Amazon Kindles to a randomly selected group of incoming first year students enrolled in CHEM 111.

As part of the pilot, the university monitored students' use of the Kindle in order to determine whether future students would benefit from a wholesale adoption of the Kindle as an academic tool. However, in light of recent findings that the Kindle is not accessible to blind or vision-impaired students, the university has reached an agreement with the Department of Justice to refrain from adoption of the electronic readers until such a time when it can be made more user-friendly for the blind.

The university's agreement with the Department of Justice came on the heels of a lawsuit filed against Arizona State University. The suit was brought against Arizona State by a blind student, the National Federation of the Blind, and the American Council of the Blind, who argued that the school's use of the Kindle was in violation of federal law.

"They felt that the Kindle was not accessible to everyone and that it gave students who had the Kindle a competitive advantage," said Mace Mentch, CWRU's ITS education assessment specialist.

The lawsuit against Arizona State was settled out of court, and shortly afterward, the Department of Justice struck its agreement with CWRU.

"We have a commitment to provide equal opportunity access for all students," said Mentch. "We will not move forward with the Kindle until it is accessible to blind or low-vision students."

Though the Kindle does have a text-to-speech feature, which Mentch said would be a real advantage to a blind student, such a student would be barred from making full use of this feature due to the fact that the Kindle's menu does not have these capabilities. Because of this, moving from one book to another or jumping to a different location in one book would be impossible for a vision-impaired user.

To ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the university has agreed that it will not adopt the Kindle as a widespread academic tool until it becomes accessible for blind students. However, Mentch said that Amazon has indicated a desire to work to make the Kindle more accessible for these students, and should they succeed, the university may once again consider the Kindle for use in an academic capacity.

Though this agreement will impact the university's future use of the Kindle, it has absolutely no bearing on the pilot program that was started this fall, Mentch said.

"This was a pilot study, and research is ending. We are going to share our findings."

The pilot study began with the distribution of the Kindle DX to the 40 randomly selected first year students. The team researching the Kindle's academic applicability followed the students' use of the Kindle through two surveys, two focus groups, and four individual one-on-one guided interviews. All of this, Mentch said, was designed to look into the potential benefits or pitfalls of using the Kindle as a study tool, and to generate a recommendation for its future use in an academic capacity.

"With this or any other study, we want to make sure that if we are going to recommend a technology, it's going to be useful, easy to use, and the students have a good attitude about it," Mentch said.

The details of the report on the Kindle's academic uses will be not be impacted by the university's agreement with the Department of Justice, and this agreement will have no bearing on the researcher's recommendations. The report, which will present the opinions of students involved in the pilot program on the Kindle's use as an academic tool, should be available for public viewing on the ITS website sometime next week.

Student reaction to the news that the university will not be using the Kindle until it is redesigned to be more user-friendly for blind students has been mixed. Zachry Floro, one of the CHEM 111 students randomly selected to receive a Kindle, said that while the Kindle can be cumbersome, the features that make it valuable for studying shouldn't be overlooked.

"It's a lot lighter than carrying textbooks, and it has a search option where you can look up any word or phrase you're looking for," Floro said. "And I'd use it [for studying] because most textbooks are about half-price on the Kindle."

Floro also said that the text-to-speech feature makes the Kindle potentially usable for blind or vision-impaired students.

Jordan Lajoie, another first year student who received a Kindle at the start of the fall semester, said that while location codes in place of page numbers makes the Kindle somewhat difficult to navigate, it does have possibilities for application as an academic tool.

"I think it would be really useful for building a professional library," Lajoie said, "because you'll always have access to those books. If you needed to look something up quickly, you could use the search feature to do it."

Because of the number of potential uses for the Kindle, Lajoie said that the university's agreement with the Department of Justice to refrain from its adoption as a studying tool on campus until it is redesigned seems short-sighted.

"Not every technology is applicable to every situation, but that doesn't mean you stop using it," he said.
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    posted 1/29/10 @ 10:01 AM EST

    This is crazy. Let's hold everyone back for the sake of a miniscule segment of the population. Sounds like the DOJ is putting the majority at a "competitive disadvantage" by not allowing them to take advantage of readily available technology. (Continued…)

    Details   Reply to this comment

    this is sad

    posted 1/29/10 @ 4:07 PM EST

    let's ban chalkboards and mediavision too, since the blind can't see those either, and are clearly being discriminated against.

    Details   Reply to this comment

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