Leading the Blind

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Thomas E. Perez is the statist hack who heads the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. According to the DOJ’s website (employing no sense of irony or shame): “Perez has spent his entire career in public service.”

Like the president, Perez attended a lesser Ivy League college for his undergraduate degree and then Harvard Law School. Also like the president, Perez is cagey about his academic performance at these schools — which allows the inference that he benefited from affirmative action admission and rent-seeking. And, most significantly like the president, Perez has a poor grasp of the limits of government authority.

His latest adventure in statism is a war on the Amazon. com Kindle ebook reading device and the internet in general. His cudgel is the wretched Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); his theory is that, since a Kindle requires sight to operate, it discriminates illegally against the blind. His solution is that, since blind people have trouble using Kindle, no one should.

Specifically, the peevish Perez threatened to sue a group of colleges if they tested letting students use Kindles for reading textbooks. (Kindle does have a “text to speech” function that allows users to listen to book content; but you have to see to start this app.) “We acted swiftly to respond to complaints we received about the use of the Amazon Kindle,” Perez told a House committee. “We must remain vigilant to ensure that as new devices are introduced, people with disabilities are not left behind.”

Beware of rentseekers who talk about remaining vigilant.

The Justice Department demanded that the colleges stop distributing Kindles under a pilot program sponsored by Amazon. If blind students couldn’t use the devices, no one could. According to Perez, keeping the Kindles out of sighted students’ hands was essential to “full and equal educational opportunities for everyone.” The colleges capitulated — and agreed that the program would be shelved until Kindles had more text-to-speech features.

By the time the colleges issued their carefully-worded press releases, Perez had moved on to a new cause: declaring the internet a “public accommodation” under the ADA, which could require web sites to guarantee “disabled access” for everyone from manic depressives to halfwits with Attention Deficit Disorder.

There’s a lot to dislike about the ADA. But two things stand out from the rest: first, it doesn’t define “disability,” so just about any physical or psychological condition can be considered one; second, its definition of “public accommodation” is poorly worded enough to allow Perez’s Kafkaesque nonsense.

But reality counts for something. And watching Perez try to regulate the internet should be humorous. Maybe he’ll sue me for laughing. Putz.

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