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Sacramento Public Library Settles With DOJ Over Inaccessible Nook eReaders

About 4 months ago I reported on a lawsuit against the Philly Free Library over some recently purchased Nook Touch ereaders. The National Federation for the Blind sued the PFL because the Nook Touch is not accessible to the visually impaired.

I left that story hanging because I was waiting for the other show to drop. And today it did.

The Sacramento Public Library just settled a similar lawsuit which was brought by the Dept of Justice and the NFB. This library had also purchased Nooks in order to check them out to patrons, and they were also sued because the visually impaired could not use the ereaders. That settlement is probably going to be adopted as policy by most US libraries (with the goal of not being not sued), so it’s definitely going to make waves.

According to the DOJ press release, the SPL agrees to buy 18 accessible reading devices and add them to the collection so they can be checked alongside the Nooks.  But that’s not the important part of the settlement, which is:

Under the settlement agreement, the library will not acquire any additional ereaders for patron use that exclude persons who are blind or others with disabilities who need accessible features such as text-to-speech functions or the ability to access menus through audio or tactile options.

They cannot buy any more Nooks. They also cannot buy any Kobo Touch, Sony Reader, or Pocketbook. This is truly going to put a crimp on everyone who wants to sell ereaders to libraries.

First and foremost, this settlement just torpedoed 3M’s ereader; it’s not accessible nor do they have any plans to make it accessible. And that ereader is the core of their sales pitch for the 3M Cloud Library. They boast about having an integrated ereader and now no library can legally buy it. And it gets worse for 3M because last I checked their apps have not been tested for accessibility either. Whoops.

But more importantly, this settlement is going to affect how libraries buy their gadgets. I asked around when this came up back in May and a couple librarians told me that they would probably have to buy at least some iPads and iPod Touch in order to meet the accessibility requirement. Thanks to the hard work of Apple’s engineers, those are the most accessible devices in their price range.

This settlement is also going to be especially hard on Barnes & Noble; it is likely going to affect all their institutional sales (both schools and libraries) and that was a sales channel they had been pushing rather strongly. It’s really not a coincidence that both lawsuits over accessible ereaders involve the Nook; B&N has really been working to get the institutional sales.

With this new settlement, the libraries are going to have to buy only accessible devices and that means they will likely go for iPads. It’s not the only option but it is the most obvious and IMO gives the best return for the cost. They might also get the iPad Mini, assuming it launches next month, but short of buying a several thousand dollar custom piece of equipment it’s Apple or nothing.

And yes, I am glossing over current Android tablets; they fall far short of the abilities of the stock iPad. The differences are stark.

In fact, not even the newer Kindles qualify; the K4 doesn’t have sound and the Kindle Touch doesn’t seem to have the vocal menu options which a visually impaired user would need. So it is the iPad or nothing.

P.S. Once you settle on the iPad, you now have to answer the question of which app will it run? There are a number of options that should work, and they can be tested before lending the iPad.


image by vlasta2

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Richard Adin August 30, 2012 um 11:57 am

I wonder why the DOJ hasn’t also sued libraries over their purchases of print books. The blind can’t read them, quadriplegics can’t hold them, many elderly can’t handle them, many high school "graduates" can’t understand them.

Xyzzy August 31, 2012 um 5:27 am

I’m fairly sure that there’s an ADA clause that states technology paid for with public funds should not exclude citizens that are blind or have poor vision.

It might be that libraries in the past didn’t need to conform with paper books because the Library of Congress ran a National Library for the Blind that let blind people borrow popular books/magazines/etc. in Braille and later in volunteer-read audiobook form that used a special reader. (A girl I was friends with online I had that was born blind was beta-testing their first digital reader when she was a university student. I’d never even heard of them until then.)

Xyzzy August 31, 2012 um 6:47 am

I’m amazed that libraries didn’t see this mess coming — but much more so than that, I’m shocked (and somewhat appalled) that Google didn’t have Android inherit the accessibility features that the Linux community has worked to include & refine for so long. IMHO we’d have good accessibility apps if Google hadn’t alienated a huge percentage of the idealistic talented Linux programmers (they’re the most likely to work on free software for to help society/others) and made existing code incompatible.

There *are* less expensive options in the short-term than an iPad for giving access to people that are blind or have low vision. One would be to buy a comparable number of existing devices that are specifically for them, like the ones mentioned in the LoC’s National Library Service digital reader fact page. Another would be to add something like the software add-on reviewed over at, Qread, which evidently works on a variety of devices/OSes (I think it’s browser-based).

Tip from experience: I learned a while ago that that when I’ve never heard of solutions for a particular disability — including my own — the best approach is usually to wander assistive tech news sites & blogs by folks with the condition. Kind of like how childless/childfree folks like me typically have no clue about stuff related to problems babies have, but an experienced parent will rattle off all kinds of solutions & products. 🙂

sharon September 5, 2012 um 12:44 am

Nate, in this blog post you indicate that Kindles are not accessible. Yet in the Philly article you link to, it says they are. Just trying to get a sense whether circulating Kindles is still a viable option versus the ipads. Can you clarify? Thanks.

Nate Hoffelder September 5, 2012 um 7:30 am

The Kindle 3 is accessible. The K4 and the Kindle Touch are not, and that complicates matters.

Angie September 6, 2012 um 9:53 pm

Makes me wonder if Apple was somehow behind the lawsuit??

Rusty September 9, 2012 um 2:55 pm

If you were to follow the decision of the DOJ. It means there are almost no e-ink readers that work with libraries. Tables yes, but e-ink readers no. As of the newest release of the Kindle, the only e-ink readers from any company that have speakers and accessibility features that support libraries are the Kindle DX and Kindle Keyboard 3G.

And Amazon has now stated that they will sell off the remaining Kindle DX’s but they will not continue to make them. So that leaves 1 e-ink reader from 1 company that fits all of these rules and works with libraries.

Libraries already are incredibly hindered by the publishers. These publishers want people to buy their books not get them from libraries. There is actually a term for it, it’s called "Friction". Publishers have made it hard to check out a library ebook and easy to buy an ebook.

I am saddened by this decision because I believe the purpose of these laws were to include everyone. And the actual result is e-ink readers are basically not allowed. So instead of make things inclusive the DOJ is making them more exclusive.

Nate Hoffelder September 9, 2012 um 3:11 pm

I understand how you feel, but I also want to add that you shouldn’t blame the DOJ or the NFB, the independent group who sponsored the lawsuit. This issue is one that the device makers should have seen coming.

Think back to early 2009 when Amazon unveiled the Kindle DX. As part of the launch Amazon also announced several pilot programs where a number of universities were going to use the Kindle DX for textbooks. Several of those pilots didn’t happen, and as you might recall they were cancelled after one or more visually impaired students sued.

That was 2009, and B&N really should have been paying attention to the lawsuit. The same goes for Kobo and Pocketbook. Amazon paid attention, and you can see that in the K3 menu design. Apple also paid attention to those lawsuits, and that’s why the iPad is so accessible to the blind.

I’m more surprised that B&n didn’t think it through before selling Nooks to libraries.

Terri September 13, 2012 um 6:25 pm

So even if a e-ink reader has a text to speech function it would still not qualify as a ereader that a library could circulate?

Nate Hoffelder September 13, 2012 um 6:28 pm

It would need to also have voice options for the menus. Right now only the Kindle 3 can comply.

Nancy November 20, 2012 um 10:00 am

Hi Nate
Are there any legal problems with libraries circulating ebooks pre-loaded with titles from B&N? Aren’t publishers prohibited the sharing of ebooks after they are purchased?

Nate Hoffelder November 20, 2012 um 10:23 am

Technically there are rules against it, but I’m not sure they’ve ever been enforced.

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