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ALA, ACRL, ARL File Comments to Copyright Office in Support of Access for Visually Impaired Readers

The American Library Association (ALA), the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) jointly submitted comments to the U.S. Copyright Office today on the topic of facilitating access to copyrighted works for the blind or persons with other disabilities.  The library associations believe that the blind or persons with other disabilities should be afforded the same access to materials as sighted persons. Presently, only about 5 percent of published books are available in accessible formats for the visually impaired. Some materials are not available at all, particularly scholarly journals, research materials, and other professional resources and local history materials.

Librarians utilize copyright exceptions afforded by federal legislation in order to serve the visually impaired in spite of the complex process that may be necessary to deliver a specific work in an accessible format. Librarians frequently scan and transform materials into accessible formats using a variety of software, coordinate volunteers to make audio recordings of books or other materials, hire Braille translators, and work with school teachers to create accessible supplemental materials for educational purposes. However, this process is cumbersome, and disabled users usually must wait for an accessible copy to be made available. And, while there is a range of technological tools available to libraries to provide access to works in accessible formats, most libraries cannot support such resources due to cost or burdensome coordination efforts. Some libraries opt to work with established adaptive service centers who provide access services to materials.

Librarians are grateful that they can turn to the Chaffee Amendment, the IDEA Act and fair use when meeting the needs of the visually impaired. The library associations recognize that the United States clearly stands apart from other nations in this regard. While current copyright law goes a long way in meeting the information needs of the visually impaired, the library associations also believe that more can be done to improve and expand access. A summary of recommendations and primary findings follows:

  • Eligibility requirements and allowed formats in the Chaffee Amendment, the IDEA Act, and No Child Left Behind should be harmonized, limiting confusion between the various laws.
  • Eligibility requirements necessary to obtain accessible formats need to be relaxed to recognize the growing demographic of people losing sight in their later years.
  • Contract law should not be permitted to expand the exclusive rights of copyright holders in a matter that denies information access for the visually impaired.
  • The needs of visually impaired in foreign countries are not being met by interlibrary loan, for a number of reasons.
  • An international treaty to provide access to information for the visually impaired should be supported if there are no negative consequences to U.S. law and users.
  • Technological innovations that can improve and simplify access to information for the visually impaired should be encouraged.
  • The recent confusion and misinterpretation about user rights in relation to text-to-speech capabilities highlight the importance of educational programming and outreach by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and the Copyright Office.

Full text of comments (PDF)


Carrie Russell (crussell [at] alawash [dot] org)
Director, Program on Public Access to Information
American Library Association Office for Information Technology Policy

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Jacob Roberts is the communications specialist for the ALA Washington Office.


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