RLI 281
ExEcutivE Summary
E-book accessibility may involve as many as three different considerations: the accessibility of the
content, the accessibility of the reading platform, and the accessibility of the device.
Most of the user-facing adaptive technology tools require electronic text to be properly encoded
for the tool to work. It is this basic requirement that is the greatest barrier to making print library
collections and library-mediated digital resources accessible.
The US Copyright Act recognizes the importance of making works accessible and provides
several specific exceptions that support library efforts to create derivative works for this purpose,
including section 107 (fair use), section 110(8) (certain performances and displays) and section 121
(Chafee Amendment). A recent court decision, The Authors Guild, Inc., et al., v. HathiTrust, et al.,
strongly affirms that libraries may rely upon fair use and the Chafee Amendment of the Copyright
Act to make works accessible.
Recently, there have been positive updates to Canadian copyright law, the Copyright
Modernization Act, regarding educational use in general and accessibility in particular. Provisions
in the act will make the following changes, according to the Library of Parliament summary:
the bill provides “amendments to the exceptions available to educational institutions, libraries,
museums, archives and persons with a ‘perceptual disability’ in order to facilitate the use of digital
technologies and make the provisions more technologically neutral.”4
Content provided by libraries is increasingly acquired digitally through a license that provides
specific terms of use. These terms may significantly limit libraries’ ability to make materials
accessible—including journals, databases, e-books, and online textbooks—as accessibility features
may not be built into the vendor platform or the terms and conditions of the license.
Universal design in instruction or learning (UDI or UDL) recognizes that designing the classroom
for maximum inclusion of diverse learning styles and abilities, without sacrificing either standards
or aesthetics, will bring unanticipated benefits to the entire population served.
Studies have demonstrated that, in addition to being more sustainable, integrated accessibility
features are also far less costly in the long run. Moreover, there are many instances of accessible
technologies leading true innovation and widespread adoption, “including the typewriter, the
telephone, email, the PDA, speech synthesis and recognition. These innovations resulted from the
need to meet accessibility needs of individuals.”5
The growing demand for instructional e-content and burgeoning digital library collections
requires greater collaboration amongst all institutional partners, including academic leadership,
research libraries, disability services, and information technology services. These partners should
share knowledge, define roles, and become knowledgeable about print disabilities, in order to
effectively serve users, to meet the requirements of federal and provincial law, to fulfill mission,
and to move the market.
Members of the research library community should collaborate within each institution and actively
participate in cross-institutional and cross-industry efforts to advance universal design standards
for digital information resources, library-mediated or otherwise. Such collaboration will also be
most cost effective in acquiring accessible information products and services.
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