Free Markets, Free People


“If I can’t have it, nobody can”

As with most good intentions, the American’s With Disabilities Act has grown into something which in some cases obviously violates that initial intent.  Designed to provide equal access to Americans with both physical and mental disabilities, the common sense side of such an endeavor has begun to fall to the more absurd and, frankly, selfish interpretations of the law.

The benign intent – equal access – has become a more authoritarian application and is resulting in penalizing the able.

The latest illustration of that comes to us from the world of academia.  And the result is a bureaucratic ruling which delayed, if not destroyed, a great idea. 

As we all know, college is an expensive proposition.  So anything which helps reduce that cost is something which should be at least explored to see if its viable.  A few schools were engaged in just such a project involving the Amazon Kindle – an e-book reader that users can download books onto.  In this case the books were text books:

Last year, the schools — among them Princeton, Arizona State and Case Western Reserve — wanted to know if e-book readers would be more convenient and less costly than traditional textbooks. The environmentally conscious educators also wanted to reduce the huge amount of paper students use to print files from their laptops.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?  Reduced cost for text books.  Reduced paper usage.  It would seem a perfectly sensible project for schools to undertake.  Well, it did until the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division stepped in based on a complaint from the National Federation of the Blind:

The Civil Rights Division informed the schools they were under investigation. In subsequent talks, the Justice Department demanded the universities stop distributing the Kindle; if blind students couldn’t use the device, then nobody could. The Federation made the same demand in a separate lawsuit against Arizona State.

In short the Federation is saying, “if we can’t use the Kindle, no one can”.  Interestingly, there wasn’t a single blind student in any of the project courses.

The Kindle, of course, is speech capable.  It will read to you.  However, as it was configured then, it required a sighted person to get to that part of the menu.  So while one can understand the complaint to a point, I don’t understand the reaction.  Why must everyone be banned from this common sense approach to saving money and resources because a very small segment of the population couldn’t yet avail themselves of the technology?   Key word – ‘yet’. 

It goes to a premise that we see constantly espoused on the left – only government is capable of adjudicating and enforcing “fairness”, even when such an adjudication is absurd and, as it turns out, an over reaction. 

School officials were a bit baffled by the ruling:

Given the speed of technological development and the reality of competition among technology companies — Apple products were already fully text-to-speech capable — wasn’t this a problem the market would solve?

Of course it would.  And competition would drive it – such as Apple.  But the Justice Department decided if the blind can’t have it, neither can the sighted.

In early 2010, after most of the courses were over, the Justice Department reached agreement with the schools, and the federation settled with Arizona State. The schools denied violating the ADA but agreed that until the Kindle was fully accessible, nobody would use it.

Kindle knew the idea for saving money through using e-text books was a good one.  They also knew, given Apple’s entry, that they would lose out if it wasn’t accessible to the blind.  So they developed a Kindle – the latest version – that is fully accessible to the blind.  And, it was a project which had already been in the works prior to the intrusion of the government.

That, however, didn’t stop the Civil Rights Division from again warning educators:

But as Amazon was unveiling the new Kindle last week, Perez was sending a letter to educators warning them they must use technology "in a manner that is permissible under federal law."

So here we have a problem that was in the process of being solved by the market when the need was identified.  In the mean time, as that problem was being solved, the project could have moved forward and eventually benefitted any number of students with lower cost text books and less paper usage.  Instead, no one was able to use the technological tool, and now that the problem has been solved, the federal government is still warning schools about the use of such devices.

There are those who will claim, some in our comment section, that this would have never happened had it not been for government.  That is simply not true.  As noted, the revised Kindle that would accommodate the blind was already on the drawing board for the next revision.   Instead what we saw is unnecessary government intervention.  Instead of warning the schools off of the project, had the government checked with Amazon, they’d have discovered that the desired product was under development. 

They didn’t.  They instead decided to use the authoritarian approach and threaten the schools with the law.  As one person said:

"As a blind person, I would never want to be associated with any movement that punished sighted students, particularly for nothing they had ever done," says Russell Redenbaugh, a California investor who lost his sight in a childhood accident and later served for 15 years on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. "It’s a gross injustice to disadvantage one group, and it’s bad policy that breeds resentment, not compassion."

It is bad policy, and as it was used in this case, bad law.  Anyone who has made it into adulthood knows that life is not fair, never has been and will never be.  We each, to some degree or another and in varying degrees of severity, have disabilities for which we have to compensate.  Most of us have no problem with reasonable and common sense accommodations which enable those among us with more severe disabilities the chance to participate more fully.  However, when you begin to penalize the able because the disabled don’t have the same opportunity to participate for whatever reason, then it is a level of intrusion that is both unwelcome and unwarranted. Unfortunately, though, it is all too common.

~McQ

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27 Responses to “If I can’t have it, nobody can”

  • The Kindle, of course, is speech capable.


    This won’t help students who are blind and deaf, and therefore is unacceptable!

  • As represented this ruling makes absolutely no sense.  Textbooks, as they currently exist are not accessible to the blind AT ALL.  You have to buy separately printed special books to be accessible.  So why would a digital technology, which at least affords the possibility of a future upgrade, be banned?
    I smell government favoritism.    Since Apple already had blind accessible devices, this clearly steers business away from Amazon and directly to a competitor.

  • This is both typical and predicable.
    http://hindenblog1.blogspot.com/2010/06/burn-regulated-to-stupid.html
    BIG GOVERNMENT ruins.
    Markets innovate, and improve the standard of living.
    It really is THAT simple.

  • “Anyone who has made it into adulthood knows that life is not fair, never has been and will never be.”
    So liberals can’t be considered adults.  QED.

  • This is reason number 8,470,817,713 why liberals should never, ever be in government.
    Thomas Perez is the same DoJ official who testified to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights about the DoJ’s role in killing the Black Panther voter intimidation case.  It was his testimony that caused J. Christian Adams, one of the lead officials on that case, to resign from the DoJ.
    This Perez seems to like his role as a mindless bureaucrat able to tell others how important his role is.  Except for his role in securing the voting rights of Americans, that is.

  • What do retarded lawyers use?

  • There is a limit to almost everything except Government stupidity!—CONEY

  • I don’t understand this case.   Students are routinely given assignments and the like which the blind cannot access.   In such cases our university has an office which will purchase special books, or if it’s a film hire another student to screen the film with the blind person and explain what’s going on.   It’s inanely stupid to deprive others of things to enhance the value of their education just because it might take some special accommodations for some students.   I don’t know, Arizona seems a screwy place lately, it’s pushing South Carolina aside in that regard.

    • Scott, in case you haven’t noticed yet, this is SOP for big government.  Take a good idea, e.g. making sure buildings and other accouterments of daily life don’t present additional obstacles to those who’ve already got obstacles to overcome, and transforming it into a legal requirement backed up by fines and/or jail time.  The “solution” devised will be “one-size-fits-all”, and it will grow and mutate to cover things and situations never foreseen by the original proposers.  It will also, along the way, spawn an industry or two that depend on this bundle of regulations being enforced.
      Why does this surprise you?
       

    • I don’t know, Arizona seems a screwy place lately, it’s pushing South Carolina aside in that regard.

      What an interesting selectivity!  This was the CENTRAL TOTALITARIAN (i.e., “comprehensive”) government at work.  Causing RUIN…what they do.
      “Screwy” seems to be your interpretation of “common sense” to the rest of us.
      If you want “screwy”, why not cite to Kulhifornia or New York….???  Or Maine?

    • We had an office like that too, at Utah State.  I don’t suppose it would be too much trouble to ask the few blind students to go to that office and get their Kindles set up for voice by a sighted person, especially since the alternative is going to that selfsame office to get Braille versions of their hardcopy textbooks.  But like Alanstorm said, this is how governments do it: in the manner that makes the least possible sense.

  • Well done Prefesser… you caught the wave – “I don’t know, Arizona seems a screwy place lately, it’s pushing South Carolina aside in that regard.”

    WTF? ARIZONA?
    From the posting -
    “Well, it did until the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division stepped in based on a complaint from the National Federation of the Blind:”
    “Last year, the schools — among them Princeton, Arizona State and Case Western Reserve — wanted to know if e-book readers would be more convenient and less costly than traditional textbooks. The environmentally conscious educators also wanted to reduce the huge amount of paper students use to print files from their laptops.”
    “The Civil Rights Division informed the schools they were under investigation. In subsequent talks, the Justice Department demanded the universities stop distributing the Kindle; if blind students couldn’t use the device, then nobody could. The Federation made the same demand in a separate lawsuit against Arizona State.
    Fact – NFB not based in Arizona
    Directions to the National Center for the Blind
    (Headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind)
    Mailing Address:
    200 East Wells Street
    at Jernigan Place
    Baltimore, Maryland 21230

    Fact – Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is not BASED in Arizona.

    Wasn’t this a special opportunity for you to jump on the EVIL Arizona Band Wagon Prefesser?   Probably want to deport blind people AND illegal aliens if they thought they could get away with it huh? How awful they are for enforcing immigration laws and trying to get a handle on the illegals.

    In the process Scott, I’m afraid you’ve failed the reading comprehension portion of the exam.

    Pity – you were actually right – the special allowances made for the blind can continue to be made, instead of penalizing EVERYONE else.  That was sensible.  But you just couldn’t avoid the opportunity to take a swing at Arizona.

  • McQ

    You have to remember who writes the textbooks (and thus makes money off them).

    Professors.  In fact at many large colleges the professors write books explicitly to be used in their classes.  These books are then sold in the bookstore at a nice profit for the professors.  These books would probably not be available on kindle or if they were the profs woudnt make as much cash.  Also if students demanded kindle books then the profs would be out of money.

    Follow the money and who makes it on textbooks.  A good portion goes back to college professors who are in the teachers unions who vote democratic.

    • Yet another wild-eyed conspiracy theory graces the comments page here at QandO.

      Yes, the college professors are in cahoots with the democrats and the Justice Dept. and the Teachers Union and Apple computers and the National Federation of the Blind.  All conspiring against Amazon e-books so that the professors can make a few extra bucks.

      Dude, check your meds.

    • But many professors try to keep  costs down for students, e-mail them the ISBNs of upcoming textbooks so they can order them used or from Amazon.  I try  to find on line readings that are free of charge. Textbooks are going out of style because of professors who want to keep costs down for their students.  In 20 years “textbooks” will likely be a thing of the past, and students will download free or very cheaply everything they need to read.

  • The college I went to is located on the side of a hill.  To my knowledge, I have never seen a physically handicapped person in a wheelchair or scooter device in the 4 years I spent there or any time that I visited the campus since.
    Should the college be required to level the hill (the locals call it a mountain) ? .. or merely relocate ?
    Perhaps we could require that the Rocky Mountains be pushed into the Grand Canyon so the entire West will be handicapped accessible.

  • Neo, remember who you’re dealing with.  Don’t give them any ideas.

  • There’s something more besides a bureaucracy going on here.

    Its bureaucrats trying to justify their existence at best.  At worst, its bureaucrats trying to extort companies and the public to increase their importance, power, and kickbacks.

  • What’s next?  No books at all because they aren’t “accessible” to illiterate students???

    McQ[The Kindle m]akes sense, doesn’t it?  Reduced cost for text books.  Reduced paper usage.

    Hell, reduced weight.  My niece is in high school.  For reasons that escape me, the time between her classes is very short, her school is very large, and hence she has to lug a ruck full of books heavy enough to qualify her for an honorary EIB.  It would be nice if she could simply carry an e-reader or even a laptop and read her books that way.

    • No lockers allowed. You know students will hide drugs and weapons in the lockers…

  • When our daughter was young, she was a great fan of the Little House on the Prairie books. We took her to visit Rose’s farm and museum in Missouri and thoroughly enjoyed seeing the house and the exhibits. However, we were not allowed to go up a ladder and see the upstairs rooms. Why? Because it was not handicap accessible, and since the handicapped could not climb the stairs, no one else was allowed to see go up and see those rooms.