You Can’t Make Everyone Happy

You will never be able to make everyone happy. Please accept this and move on.

I am going to poke my head out of Dragon Age Origins long enough to write this post and make sure the Dog is still watching the Bairn. For more about how Dragon Age has disrupted the Rochester household, see these two posts.

There were two stories Thursday about ereaders and how they do or do not serve people with disabilities.

The first, was about how the Amazon Kindle has come under fire from the National Federation of the Blind who is suing Arizona State University for a program to use the Kindle as a textbook distribution system (though that was unclear from the article). The real, and only issue, as far as I can tell, would be if these schools only distributed books on Kindle (or ebook) devices meaning that no other formats were available. None of the schools mentioned in the article seem to have gotten rid of all their print books in favor of ebook readers, so I am not sure what the real issue is here.

If the issue is that schools should not get any ereaders at all because the Kindle is not accessible, that is simply ridiculous. As long as the library does provide other formats, then people should be satisfied. There is still a format available for them to use. I see this as similar to libraries spending money on books I do not like. I do not demand libraries only buy things I like to read or understand or in my language (I would argue mathematics texts are inaccessible to my brain as are languages other than English). Libraries serve many different kinds of people and they must, and should, decide how to best spend their money.

If we try to serve everyone equally, we will succeed in serving everyone in a mediocre way. Never good or even great. Again, we must choose the best way to spend our money to make the greatest impact. The libraries that have chosen to circulate Kindles did not choose to do so because they wanted to discriminate against a particular group; they wanted to serve their population with a new service. Toddler story times do not serve every constituency of a library either, but no one is suggesting we get rid of them. To me, this is just another service that is meant to serve a part of the population. We can not limit ourselves to things that only serve every single person that walks through our doors. That is not a realistic expectation.

On Thursday, the same day everyone was complaining that there were no ereaders accessible to the blind, Intel announced an ereader for… the seeing impaired. This announcement, in my mind, makes the above gripes against the Kindle moot.

If schools have students who would benefit from Intel’s new ereader for the blind, they can afford to acquire one, and it fits the vision the library has for service (i.e. offering more digital formats), they should consider purchasing some of the new devices.

If groups, like the National Federation of the Blind, are angry about the Kindle’s inaccessibility, they should simply not give Amazon their business.

–Jane, only makes one person happy today and you, sadly, are not that person

9 thoughts on “You Can’t Make Everyone Happy

  • Pingback: Michelle Boule on the NSB/Kindle issue | Library Stuff

  • November 16, 2009 at 5:58 pm
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    “”Amazon’s Kindle badly designed””

    We as readers are just at the leading edge of making e-readers and e-books our commonplace, everyday method of enjoying the art of reading. Now think back to another innovation that was proposed as a help to folks with a handicap and remember lots of grousing was heard that parallels the talk against making the Kindle accessible for blind users. I never hear complaints that we have these sidewalk cuts now. The Kindle is an e-book reader that with a bit of forethought on the part of the designers could have had full access for blind and visually impaired readers built in. Retrofitting costs more, always. Upfront design costs less.

    The universities want to have textbooks on the e-reader, and want to provide new materials from the professors, and eventually get materials from the students. It would be MUCH cheaper for the schools to electronically shoot electronic copy into the handheld machine (or make it possible for the students to download the copy). Students who, for any reason, would use other formats would inevitably not be privy to all the same material as the majority of students using e-readers. Separate is inevitably NOT equal.

    To me it just makes senses to point out that the law requires accessibility by the schools, and that additional readers will be available to buy e-books if the technology for the players is accessible, and that we humans are living long enough in our modern world that many of us when we get to our senior years will either like or require recorded books instead of print–why not build in this sensible idea of an accessible machine now, right now? Think of it as a wheelchair cut for YOUR future.

    I hope the next company to design an e-book reader builds in the access-without-looking option for a personal reason. When I am driving, I like to operate a book reader without looking at it. And if it’s an e-reader I’d like it to connect to my car’s speakers and volume control. Why not be able to operate the spoken book machine without looking when I’m in bed with the lights out, or lying in the sun on the beach reading a book with my eyes closed? That would be fabulous!

    Yup. The Kindle is badly designed by a company in a hurry. To quote a certain fighter: “They could have been a contender!”

  • November 16, 2009 at 10:53 pm
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    I am not arguing that Amazon should not alter their design. If they want to expand their business, then they should include more accessibility options. I am not arguing that things should not be accessible or that separate is equal. I know that separate is not equal.

    However, I am arguing that as a business, libraries have to decide, with limited resources the services they are going to offer. Is this fair? No. I assure you that if budgets were fair, libraries would have complete collections for every constituency in their community. This is the real world though and not fantasy land.

    In the real world, we have limited resources. My argument is that you will never be able to spend equally on everyone. You just can’t. If a library feels like they have a group they would like to serve with an ereader and they need it to be accessible to seeing impaired people, they can go with the version from Intel. If they want to test pilot ereaders and the Kindle is the best option, for whatever reason, they should be able to do this without fear of getting sued.

    The programs you are talking in universities, using ereaders exclusively, sending and receiving class content over them, etc. is not, to my knowledge (please prove me wrong) something that any school is actually doing right now. These are ideas only and when they are put into place, there can and should be options for ereaders that would include ones that are more accessible.

    Instead of starting a lawsuit, would it not have been easier to simply have an open dialog with the schools and libraries in question about the accessibility issues? It just seems, to me, from the outside, like a lot of fighting and yelling when a conversation and compromise would have done the trick.

  • November 19, 2009 at 11:08 am
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    Dear Jane,

    I agree that libraries have limited resources and I agree they must modernize into the e-book digital age. All the more reason to insist that functional designs are right for all their readers the first time. Money does talk. When California would not buy cars without pollution controls, we all got pollution controls. When we car-buyers began to care about miles per gallon, we got better mpg. That is how our free economy works, of course.

    I have read the information posted on http://www.readingrights.org/ which shows that the National Federation of the Blind did a great deal of talking with Amazon and the publishers guild before getting their full atention with the lawsuit. The laws are on the books, but (again) that is how our modern world works.

    It is my assessment that we will all benefit when the NFB convinces all e-book machine-makers to build in accessibility. This means benefits for those library patrons without a print-reading handicap, and those over 30 million American patrons(*) who are visually impaired, blind, dyslexic, brain-damaged, temporarily unable to read due to illness or accident, foreigner learning English, and in categories I do not presently know exist. All will benefit and non are harmed.

    Thanks for getting an important subject out there.
    Lorraine

    (*)PS: I got the 30 million stat from the Reading Rights Coalition.

  • November 20, 2009 at 1:04 pm
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    I would like to know if the NFB talked to the colleges first though. It is not apparent from the press release if the NFB talked to Arizona State before filing the suit against them.

    The quote from the blind journalism student, who I am assuming is named on the case, wants to be able to use the functions of an ereader for his courses and I understand that because the Kindle is awesome. But this sounds more like a want to me and not a need. However, I would ask two questions:

    1. Is the Kindle the ONLY way that course materials are provided? (ie. There are no other formats available, including for students who do not have a KIndle)
    2. Is ASU expected to provide Kindle for students who for instance can not afford a Kindle?

    There are two issues here: The first is that, yes, having an ereader is nice, but if it is not required and it is an extra (like owning a computer,cell phone,etc.) then what is the issue? If the blind student can not use one because of sight issues, should the school provide ereaders for students who can not afford them as well? Because poor students would not “have access” to all the fancy things Kindles do either and I know that not every student walking around ASU campus can afford a Kindle.

    The bottom line is that unless the course material is ONLY available on the Kindle and NO OTHER way, there is no issue. Is it nice to have a Kindle with all those fancy things,like note taking and Internet browsing, yes? Is it necessary? No.

    I have to state again that the fact that Intel has an ereader out for the blond makes this entire conversation moot. People who want to support accessibility should give their money to Intel and not Amazon and that will be that.

  • November 21, 2009 at 6:32 pm
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    The bottom line is that unless the course material is ONLY available on the Kindle and NO OTHER way, there is no issue. Is it nice to have a Kindle with all those fancy things,like note taking and Internet browsing, yes? Is it necessary? No.

    From what I have heard of arguments put forward by the National Federation of the Blind, it is exactly because the Kindle does not provide an accessible version of all those fancy things that is the issue. From the NFB perspective, the question is about equity of experience with the content as much as it is about access to the content. If the Kindle makes it possible for a sighted person to make notes with the Kindle interface, that same capability must be available to the non-sighted person. If the Kindle makes it possible to share those notes with others (I don’t know if the Kindle does or not, but other e-textbook platforms do), then the same capability must be available to all users of the Kindle.

  • November 22, 2009 at 5:48 pm
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    Peter,
    If that was the NFB’s main argument, then why sue ASU? Why not just sue Amazon?

    My argument is not that Amazon should not make the Kindle more accessible; they should if they want to expand their business model. My argument is that suing ASU, as opposed to a discussion and adoption of a different device, is extreme.

    The notes from a KIndle can be downloaded onto a computer as a word doc and I assume that could be put through a reading program for a person who needed the notes read to them.

  • November 22, 2009 at 8:14 pm
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    ASU was sued because of the way the laws are written. I am not a lawyer, but from what I understand it is the educational institution that is responsible for providing equitable access to course materials. Since ASU decided to offer the Kindle, it becomes ASU’s responsibility for providing equitable access. This is why many schools are choosing to drop out of the Kindle-for-textbooks program. Now whether Amazon responds by addressing the concerns of students with disabilities is a very interesting question to ponder.

    I can only speculate on NFB’s motivations for using the lawsuit tool rather than other avenues. Perhaps the other avenues were tried without satisfactory end. Perhaps, as a new technology, the NFB wanted to be sure its concerns were aired early and strongly as to effect the product development lifecycle before expectations were set and development energy spent in other areas.

    On the question of notes, I’m not sure the issue is as much reading the notes as it is creating (and possibly automated sharing with classmates) the notes to begin with.

  • November 25, 2009 at 8:29 am
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    For the record, the National Federation of the Blind idd approach ASU and the other schools conducting pilot projects with the Kindle before any litigation was filed. Litigation is always the Federation’s tactic of last resort; it is extremely expensive.

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