Blatant Adams Lie: Obama DOJ "Stopped The Debut Of The Amazon Kindle"

Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

If you are wondering if there was any lie about the Obama Justice Department so absurd that even New Black Panthers fabulist J. Christian Adams wouldn't push it, today is the day to eat some crow.

In an op-ed in The Washington Examiner, the rightwing activist cites as an example of "bizarre cases have come out of the Holder Civil Rights Division" that "DOJ stopped the debut of the Amazon Kindle because it was not in Braille." Problem 1 with this claim: the Kindle debuted in 2007, during the Bush administration. Problem 2: DOJ didn't block the Kindle's debut.

Adams seems to have a lot of trouble getting the facts right on this; back in August 2010, he offered the similarly false claim that Amazon "tried to sell a talking Kindle reader, but Justice said it couldn't because the button to make the Kindle talk didn't have Braille."

Here's what actually happened: In June 2009, the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind filed suit against Arizona State University on behalf of a bind student after the university announced plans to participate in a pilot program to use the Kindle DX in the classroom. ASU was one of several universities to participate in this program. According to NFB, the program was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act because:

The Kindle DX features text-to-speech technology that can read textbooks aloud to blind students. The menus of the device are not accessible to the blind, however, making it impossible for a blind user to purchase books from Amazon's Kindle store, select a book to read, activate the text-to-speech feature, and use the advanced reading functions available on the Kindle DX.

The advocacy groups also filed complaints with DOJ, which began an investigation of the use of Kindle in classrooms. The impact of these efforts was swift and positive for the blind. Under pressure, Amazon began improving the Kindle to be more accessible to the blind. In January 2010, the groups -- joined by DOJ -- settled with ASU, citing "making improvements to and progress in the accessibility of e-book readers" and the university's agreement that they would "strive to use devices that are accessible to the blind.

That same month, DOJ also reached settlements with three other schools that had been participating in the Kindle pilot program. A DOJ press release stated:

Under the agreements reached today, the universities generally will not purchase, recommend or promote use of the Kindle DX, or any other dedicated electronic book reader, unless the devices are fully accessible to students who are blind and have low vision. The universities agree that if they use dedicated electronic book readers, they will ensure that students with vision disabilities are able to access and acquire the same materials and information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as sighted students with substantially equivalent ease of use. The agreements that the Justice Department reached with these universities extend beyond the Kindle DX to any dedicated electronic reading device.

Notably, the settlements took effect "at the end of the pilot projects."

In June 2010, DOJ issued a letter to college and university presidents warning that requiring the use of digital readers which were inaccessible to the blind would be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A month later, Amazon was praised by NFB after it unveiled a new version of the Kindle with "a voice guide that reads all menu options aloud so blind and other print-disabled people can navigate the device menus."

So to sum up: DOJ did not "stop the debut" of the Kindle. It put pressure on universities and on Amazon on behalf of blind Americans, thus providing an impetus to get Amazon to produce a product that was accessible for the blind.

But when the facts don't line up with Adams' quest to target the Obama DOJ, he changes the facts.

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