DOJ Targeted Public Library for Lending E-Books 'Inaccessible' to the Blind

Elizabeth Harrington | August 31, 2012 | 11:39am EDT
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Barnes & Noble's NOOK Color

( – The U.S. Justice Department says it has reached a settlement with the Sacramento (California) Public Library over a trial program the library was conducting that let patrons borrow Barnes and Noble NOOK e-book readers.

DOJ and the National Federation of the Blind objected to the program on grounds that blind people could not use the NOOK e-readers for technological reasons.

The Justice Department said the settlement is aimed at stopping discrimination: “Emerging technologies like e-readers are changing the way we interact with the world around us and we need to ensure that people with disabilities are not excluded from the programs where these devices are used,” said Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez in a news release.

A DOJ official told it interviewed a woman who could not participate in the library's e-reader program due to her disability and concluded that the program had violated the ADA.

Amy Calhoun, an Electronic Resources Librarian at the Sacramento Public Library who helped launch the ebook reader project, said she was unaware of any objections from a blind person regarding the program. “I have not heard of a specific complaint directly from a patron,” she told “But I do know that patrons who are part of the statewide Braille and talking-book program do get in touch with us for audio books.”

The Sacramento Public Library Authority, which operates 28 libraries, partnered with the book store chain to provide at least one NOOK e-book reader to each of its libraries, pre-loaded with roughly 20 books in all genres.

The library describes the program as a “pilot project,” and it requires patrons to fill out a feedback survey as the program works through its initial stages.

But the Justice Department says a state or local government program that excludes people with disabilities violates the ADA, regardless of whether it is a “pilot” program.

As part of the settlement agreement, the Justice Department directed the library system to purchase at least 18 e-readers that are accessible to the blind, something that comes in the midst of budget cuts that have forced Sacramento libraries to implement one employee furlough day each month for two years.

The library says it will add iPod touch and iPad devices, which read e-books aloud with a computerized voice.

Adding the Apple devices could cost the library anywhere from $3,582 with the purchase of 18 of the most inexpensive iPod Touch models, to $14,922 if they wish to provide the high-end version of the iPad, which cost $829 a piece.

According to an article posted on NFB's website, while e-books "are an especially exciting development" for blind readers, Nook's "bookstore, desktop software, mobile software, and dedicated hardware reading devices are all inaccessible to blind users."

The settlement agreement also directs the library not to buy any additional e-readers that exclude blind or disabled people; and it requires the library system to train its staff on the requirements of the ADA, the DOJ said.

“We are pleased that the Sacramento Public Library Authority worked so cooperatively to adopt measures that will allow patrons with disabilities to avail themselves equally of the library’s programs and services,” said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California, Benjamin B. Wagner.

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