Just over a year ago the FCC granted US makers of ereader devices a limited exemption from complying with certain accessibility regulations, and this past week the FCC extended that waiver for another year.
As I reported last year, this waiver excuses Amazon et al from having to make ereaders which comply with the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010. This law requires that makers of "advanced communications services" to make sure those services are accessible to the disabled.
That is a generally good idea, but one tiny problem with the law is that the term "advanced communications services" is fairly broadly defined. It covers pretty much everything that connects to the web, from software to services to hardware, including tablets and ereaders.
Naturally this presents a problem for ebook readers, given that most do not offer TTS. Those same ereaders also lack the verbal cues required to make their menus usable by the visually disabled. This lead Amazon, Sony, and Kobo to ask for a waiver in August 2013.
A one year waiver was granted last January, and was extended this week. It's now set to expire on 28 January, 2016.
The waiver continues to exempt ereaders from this regulation, and defines them as:
- the devices have no LCD screen;
- they have no camera;
- they are not offered or shipped to consumers with built-in email, IM, VoIP or other similar ACS client applications and the device manufacturer does not develop ACS applications for them;
- they are marketed to consumers as reading devices and promotional material about them does not tout the capability to access ACS.
Obviously tablets are excluded from this definition, and so are some ereaders. For example, Onyx and Pocketbook both make devices that have email, or web abilities, or a camera, and so might not be able to enjoy the exemption. Luckily for Onyx and Pocketbook, the devices aren't sold and marketed in the US, so they can continue to skate the 2010 law.
Not all are happy about the renewed waiver, with David Rothman writing over at Library City:
This decision is a setback not just for disability-related causes but also literacy-related ones. Regardless of what the industry lobbyists say, TTS is reading—just a different kind. Even people without disabilities can benefit, using TTS to whet their interest in a book, and then getting hooked and enjoying the text the usual way. Not to mention all the commuters who could start aurally and continue with traditional reading. A little commonsense and social awareness, please. Can’t this be about more than K Street needs and arcane legal and legislative technicalities?
While I can understand how he feels, if I were in the position to need an accessible device, I think a tablet would suit me just fine. Given how much work Apple has put into the iPad and the accessibility features found in the latest versions of Android, I think they would serve better than an ereader with an E-ink screen.
And while we're on the topic, let me add that this waiver only covers the one federal regulation. All other regulations, including rules about libraries buying accessible devices and companies making their services accessible to the disabled, still apply.
image by kodomut