Sony does not want this e-reader accessibel to people with disabilities.
By John M. Williams
In a letter sent to the Federal Communications Commissiona coalition of technology giants is petitioning the FCC to excuse them from making their e-readers accessible, under advanced communication services, to people with disabilities. The coalition of e-reader manufacturers consists of Amazon.com, Inc., Kobo Inc. and Sony Electronics Inc. They are asking for an exemption for the Amazon Kindle E-Reader, the Sony Reader and the Kobo Glo.
Presently, devices allowing people to surf the web or swap electronic messages have to be accessible to people with disabilities.
The companies are united in their goal to convince the FCC that e-readers should not be held to the same accessibility standard required by the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act as tablets and other devices since they are limited to one service — reading.
CVAA updates federal communications law to increase access of persons with disabilities to modern communications. The CVAA makes sure that accessibility laws enacted in the 1980s and 1990s are brought up to date with 21st century technologies, including new digital, broadband, and mobile innovations.
Advanced communications services are defined as (1) interconnected voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) service; (2) non-interconnected VoIP service; (3) electronic messaging service; and (4) interoperable video conferencing service. This includes text messaging, e-mail, instant messaging, and video communications.
The petition argues e-readers are a distinct class of equipment built for the specific purpose to read written material such as books, magazines, newspapers, and other text documents on a mobile electronic device. E-readers, the petition mentions, are designed with special features optimized for the reading experience and are marketed as devices for reading. Although they have a similar shape and size to general-purpose tablet computers, the petition states e-readers lack many of tablets’ features for general-purpose computing, including ACS functions. The petition stresses that “e-readers simply are not designed, built, or marketed for ACS, and the public understands the distinction between e-readers and general-purpose tablets.”
The petition also stresses that the public interest would be served by granting this petition because the theoretical ACS ability of e-readers is irrelevant to how the overwhelming majority of users actually use the devices.
“Rendering ACS accessible on e-readers would require fundamentally altering the devices to be more like general-purpose tablets in cost, form factor, weight, user interface and reduced battery life, and yet the necessary changes, if they were made, would not yield a meaningful benefit to individuals with disabilities,” the letter argues.
The coalition contends that rendering ACS accessible for disabled persons on e-readers would impose substantial and ongoing engineering, hardware, and licensing costs because the devices would first have to be redesigned and optimized for ACS. It would be necessary to add hardware such as speakers, more powerful processors, and faster-refreshing screens. It also would be necessary to revise the software interface in e-readers to build in infrastructure for ACS and then render that infrastructure accessible. In short, the mandate would be to convert e-readers into something they are not: a general purpose device.
It is not merely cost but the very nature of a specialized e-reader device that is at issue. Adding a substantial range of hardware and new software changes the fundamental nature of e-reader devices. A requirement to make these changes would alter the devices’ form factor, weight, and battery life and could undercut the distinctive features, advantages, price point, and viability of e-readers. In particular, the higher power consumption necessary to support a faster refresh rate necessary for high-interaction activities such as email would put e-reader power consumption on par with that of a tablet, whereas today the lower power consumption and resulting far-longer battery life of e-readers is a key selling point.
Disability advocates hold that the reasons stated by the three companies lack credibility because e-readers are being marketed to schools.
The FCC is soliciting public comment on the matter through Sept. 3.