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Federal Complaint Accuses NYU and Northwestern of Discriminating Against Students With Visual Impairments

A complaint filed Tuesday with the federal government accuses New York University and Northwestern University of discriminating against blind students by adopting Google e-mail and other programs that aren’t fully compatible with technology that translates written words into speech.

The National Federation of the Blind has requested a Justice Department investigation into the schools’ use of Gmail and other Google programs, saying that requiring students to use them violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Baltimore-based group is also asking other colleges not to adopt the software until it’s accessible to all students and faculty.

The federation said that some Google products are partially accessible to blind users, but are difficult to use without assistance from a person who can see the screen. With Gmail, for example, the process of creating an account is the biggest problem, with other glitches in navigating while relying on screen readers, said Chris Danielsen, a spokesman for the blind federation. The group said there are also problems with Google Calendar, Google Groups and other programs.

Northwestern and NYU recently adopted the free suite of Google Apps for Education for campus e-mail and other classroom services used by students to collaborate on assignments. The blind federation says that a significant number of U.S. colleges are outsourcing their e-mail to Google. In such cases, Google often provides hosting services for campus e-mail. Schools are covered by the federal law protecting rights of the disabled, while Google may not have the same obligations with products it creates.

Last June, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education issued a letter to college presidents requiring schools that use Kindles and other e-book readers in the classroom to make sure the gadgets have accommodations for blind and vision-impaired students. The federal government examined the campus e-reader technology after a blind student sued Arizona State University over use of the Kindle and was joined by the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind. Amazon.com Inc. announced changes last year to the Kindle to make it more accessible for blind and vision-impaired users.

For the entire article: NYU and Northwestern Discriminate Against Students
For the Google Apps Demonstration: www.nfb.org/nfb/googleaccessibilityvideos.asp

 

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