For the Blind, Kindle Good for Nothing but Kindling by Cindy Bennett and Natalie Shaheen

From the Editor: Cindy Bennett is the secretary of NABS and is a member of the committee that publishes the Student Slate. Furthermore, she is a new Seattleite and was delighted to join the Amazon protest. Here is her summary of the day's events along with a passionate breakdown of the issue by the Jernigan Institute.

This was my first protest. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew that I was excited about the cause. We marched to Amazon's headquarters, a hundred of my federation family and I, in Seattle's Southlake Union neighborhood. Of course it was raining, but that didn't dampen our spirits as a podium was erected and we raised our signs. We circled chanting phrases like “All I want for Christmas is a book to read!” and “same books, same time!” I met people I had known for years and newcomers who were invited to take part. I met some people who weren't even members of the NFB but who supported our cause. I marched and conversed with longtime federation leaders and students of all ages. We were convening in response to the inaccessibility of Kindles and their promotion in K-12 schools. Below is an excerpt from the NFB's web page on the components of the issue. is undertaking a massive effort to deploy its Kindle e-readers and Kindle e-books to K-12 schools across the United States. In some cases Kindle devices have been donated directly to schools, including schools that serve children who are blind or have other disabilities. More important, and more disturbing, is the fact that Amazon has also built a system called Whispercast that allows teachers and school administrators to distribute Kindle content to devices other than Kindles. The problem with all of these plans is that neither the Kindle devices nor the book files used in conjunction with them are accessible to students who are blind or who have other print disabilities. Since school districts have an obligation under federal law to purchase or deploy only accessible technology and content, Amazon must either make Kindle e-books accessible or cease and desist from its efforts to have them used in the classroom.

I marched because I was a privileged child who received braille instruction that kept me above grade level during my K-12 education. And because of that I know that being literate is the cornerstone of future success. But I know that many children do not receive their rightful instruction, and putting Kindles and other inaccessible technologies in schools would set back continuing efforts that the NFB makes to level the educational playing field. I marched because even though I was lucky, I still encountered teachers who maintained lower expectations of me despite my success in the classroom. Inaccessible technology that does not promote braille use or spelling grammar instruction will reaffirm lower expectations like too many other things in our society.

I received the honor of interviewing with three media sources, and I wove this unfortunate reality into my conversations. As I educated, I was invigorated. Passing cars honked their horns; passersby stopped to look and even asked some questions; various leaders in the NFB and blindness-related fields dawned the mic and transmitted their passionate speeches to the surrounding blocks. My favorite of these came from Natalie Shaheen, the Director of Education at the Jernigan Institute. Below is a text copy of her speech.

I am a teacher and I am frustrated with the way Amazon is deceiving my colleagues regarding the effectiveness of Kindle content in the classroom.

I have been a teacher for several years now. So, I am familiar with the type of person who enters my profession. Educators are generally good-natured people who love learning and want to share that love with all of the children in their classes. I have not met a single teacher who would knowingly exclude a student from a learning opportunity.

Today, teachers are accustomed to adapting their instruction to meet the needs of diverse student groups. General educators have come to realize that the adaptations they make to accommodate students with disabilities, actually improve instruction for all of their pupils. As a result, some techniques which began as accommodations have become an integral part of many teachers' instructional methods.

In today's 21st century classrooms technology is central to instruction. It isn't just being used in the classroom as the new paper and pencil or slate and stylus. Technology is integral to the learning our children engage in daily. The Common Core State Standards specifically reference technology, demonstrating its significance to ensuring students are college and career ready.

With the increased use of technology in the classroom, accessibility is paramount. Without the features and functionality that make a device accessible, a student with a disability is left out. As is the case with other accommodations made for students with disabilities, the inclusion of accessibility benefits all users of a device. Recognizing the importance of the accessibility of technology used in the classroom, the Department of Education wrote a dear colleague letter and a frequently asked questions document to educate schools on their legal responsibility to use accessible technology in the classroom.

Unfortunately, many educators, including administrators, remain unfamiliar with the features that make a technology accessible to all students. Manufacturers like Amazon are taking advantage of the ignorance of educators with regards to accessibility and touting their Kindle products as revolutionary tools that will enhance the learning of all students.

Fellow educators, do not believe the lies Amazon is telling you. Instead, listen to teachers and other professionals who are experts in accessibility. As a teacher of the blind and a special educator, I know accessibility when I see it, and trust me kindle isn't it! Blind students cannot use kindles independently, access text with refreshable Braille, look up words in the dictionary, or complete dozens of other tasks using kindle content.

Amazon, it's time for you to wise up. My colleagues and I who are knowledgeable about accessibility will work tirelessly to ensure teachers and school administrators in the US are aware of the lack of accessibility in your products. Knowledgeable educators will not buy your products because as I mentioned earlier, educators won't knowingly exclude a student from a learning experience.

If you want Kindle content in the schools, incorporate full accessibility in all of your products. Then I will happily promote the use of your technology alongside other accessible technologies in the classroom.

I want my blind students to become successful blind adults, in order for that to happen, they must be Braille literate and technology literate. They cannot develop either type of literacy using your products.

It's the 21st century Amazon, separate and unequal doesn't cut it!

To sum up the profound impact the protest had on me personally, I will summarize a quote from an Amazon employee conversing with one of my fellow Seattle chapter members. “this is ridiculous. The newest Kindle was released and we just haven't had time to make it accessible.” This means that we need to keep fighting. There is no reason why accessibility should be a delayed afterthought. And this poor business decision should most certainly not be applied to technology that is meant to instruct students.

Access the NFB's page on Amazon's Kindle at, and access the quoted speech and other content on Natalie Shaheen's blog. The URL for this blog post is