DECEMBER 2012 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A QUARTERLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC
EDUCAUSE. It is likely that more challenges will be forthcoming, given the tension between rapidly
changing IT products and services and the need to ensure accessibility to these information services and
resources for all members of academic and research community.
There is a growing sense of urgency regarding how best to effectively address these technology-
based accessibility challenges in research libraries and in the broader institutional setting. The common
practice today is to “fix after the fact,” either through scanning and editing printed materials as needed
or retrofitting an online service or product well after adoption. This approach is costly for both the library
and the institution, and it is not fully effective for individuals with disabilities. Moreover, this approach
does not scale to the digital environment. New strategies are required.
In May 2012, ARL formed a Joint Task Force on Services to Patrons with Print Disabilities, sponsored
by two of ARL’s strategic directions, Influencing Public Policies and Transforming Research Libraries.
This task force was established to expand upon the ongoing work of the Library Copyright Alliance
(LCA), of which ARL is a member, in support of an international instrument for the print disabled that is
under active consideration by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).2
This ARL task force report highlights emerging and promising strategies to better align research
libraries with other institutional and related partners in ensuring accessibility to research resources
while fully meeting legal requirements. The report addresses the technological, service, and legal factors
relating to a variety of information resources with respect to print disability. These factors resonate
closely with the existing research library agenda to make scholarly communication more open, to foster
independence among its user base by teaching information literacy, to honor and invest in diversity, as
well as to focus on the growing trend toward universal design in instruction.
• The numbers of students with disabilities in post-secondary education is growing and includes
diverse populations such as returning veterans.
• In the US, there are a number of laws that are the basis of federal policy for persons with
disabilities, including the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation
Act of 1973, and a 1998 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act (Section 508). Combined, these statutes
and amendments ensure accessibility for individuals with disabilities to public accommodations,
services, employment, and more.
• In Canada, accessibility law is under provincial or state jurisdiction. There is no national legislation
specific to the area of accessibility. Therefore, practices supporting people with disabilities may
vary from province to province.
• The US Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division and the US Department of Education
(ED) Office of Civil Rights share oversight and enforcement of legal provisions relating to
individuals with disabilities at colleges and universities. In this role, ED and DOJ issued guidance
to colleges and universities in 2010 stating that all programs, including pilot programs, are fully
subject to the nondiscrimination requirements of the ADA and Section 504, including “ensuring
equal access to emerging technology.”3
• Retrospective print library collections and prospective digital library resources require very
different strategies to achieve accessibility for patrons with print disabilities.