Four blind patrons of the Free Library of Philadelphia, with the assistance of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), filed suit against the Library in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on May 2 because of a program that loans Nook Simple Touch ereaders to patrons over 50. Unlike some other ereaders, the Nook is unaccessible to blind users. (This report from the Colorado State University Libraries reviews how some of the most common ereading devices stack up when it comes to accessibility.)
In the complaint, plaintiffs Denice Brown, Karen Comorato, Patricia Grebloski, and Antoinette Whaley claim that the library’s choice to purchase and lend Nooks, rather than an accessible ereader, violates Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as American Library Association policy and IMLS regulations. The United States Department of Education issued both a Dear Colleague letter and followup Frequently Asked Questions on the obligation of federally funded institutions to purchase accessible ereaders.
“We cannot comment on this issue because it is part of ongoing litigation,” Alix Gerz, director of communications and brand marketing for the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation, told LJ. The library has not yet filed a response to the complaint with the court.
Dr. Marc Maurer, president of the NFB, said in a statement, “Libraries … should be purchasing accessible e-book reading devices and demanding that their vendors provide them, not perpetuating the status quo by purchasing inaccessible technology and needlessly relegating their blind and print-disabled patrons to separate and unequal service.” Maurer said the Federation intends to hold any other public library buys and lends inaccessible ereaders to the same standard, presumably by filing lawsuits against them as well.
The Free Library of Philadelphia does include a Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, but books provided through that branch do not come out until much later than the release of regular editions, and many are not available at all.