Saturday, September 5, 2015

The National Federation of the Blinds War Against Amazon


Amazon has been trying to make inroads in the educational market for the last six years and they have been consistently been stymied  by the National Federation of the Blind. The organization has done everything from staging protests outside the Amazon Seattle headquarters and filing petitions to United States Departments of Education and Justice.

Over the course of the month Amazon won a $30 million dollar bid  to provide the The New York City Department of Education to create a single, massive e-book marketplace for the city's 1,800 public schools.  The National Federation of the Blind has been sending the Educational Department over 10 different emails, trying to persuade them to cancel the deal and even threatened to stage a protest.   The campaign worked and 24 hours before the final vote to approve the Amazon contract the Education Department officials issued their decision to postpone the initiative.

The National Federation of the Blinds biggest concern with Amazon trying to break into the e-book market in New York is the lack of MathML. The Kindle format for e-readers and tablets does not support complex mathematical formats, but EPUB3 does. The NFB also has concerns that the Fire line of tablets does have audio capabilities to read text aloud, vision impaired people need assistance to set it up. The organization is trying to convince New York to employ Vitalsource technology because they use the evolving standard MathJax javascript framework to render MathML. MathJax fully supports accessibility including ChromeVox, Texthelp, JAWS, MathPlayer with more player support planned.

Amazon and the National Federation of the Blind have been at war with each other since 2008.  Amazon originally tried to enter the educational market in 2009 and the NFB immediately filed a lawsuit and filed complaints against several of these institutions. These claims prompted a June 29, 2010, Joint Dear Colleague Letter from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice warning educational institutions not to purchase inaccessible technology. A follow-up FAQ from the Department of Education made it clear that the prohibition against the purchase of inaccessible technology also applied to libraries and K-12 schools. In a May 2013 letter, the Department of Education affirmed its position that a school would be in violation of federal law if it adopted technology that offers the features of Whispercast.

Everyone needs an arch-nemesis. He-man has Skeletor, Tigra has Mumra, GI.Joe has Cobra and Amazon has the National Federation of the Blind.

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