RLI 281
PriNt DiSaBiLitiES, LiBrariES, aND HiGHEr EDucatiON
Against the backdrop of this recent history and set of campus dynamics, information technology
and digital publishing exploded, and research libraries found themselves transforming their role in
research, teaching, and learning. Research libraries occupy a unique space in these transformative
times—as stewards of long-held, carefully built print collections and as partners in the emerging cyber-
infrastructure that propels and sustains e-research. In the past decade, research libraries have collectively
digitized millions of print volumes, moved collection expenditures decisively from print to electronic
resources, and invested in a range of desktop and mobile technologies for accessing and manipulating
both print and electronic information for diverse user populations. Research libraries now have a central
role to play in the digital age in providing equitable access to information resources to their users. This
report will highlight emerging and promising strategies to meet this goal of enhancing access to
the print disabled.
Research library investments in digital content have ranged from locally built websites to
commercially licensed electronic databases, online catalogs, e-journals, and e-books. The marketplace
of digital educational goods and services has opened some doors of accessibility while closing others.
This report will address the technological, legal, and service factors in research libraries 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 the 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. Libraries thus provide a basis for ongoing and new partnerships and collaboration both
inside and outside of individual institutions.
Just as the ground has shifted for research libraries with respect to their responsibilities to the print-
disabled community, so too has the ground shifted for disability services offices, who have from the
outset been in the business of accommodations and individualized, specialized attention for students
with disabilities. The concept of born-accessible materials is a key solution to an IT landscape that
includes new players and new roles across the entire research institution.
In 2011, researchers at the University of Maryland posed the inclusion challenge to a range of
institutional actors:
Educators that work with students training to become developers—such as computer
science faculty—could work to better incorporate accessibility into curricula, so that all
developers are prepared to make accessible products and understand that accessibility
is the socially responsible approach to development. Researchers in fields related to
accessibility—such as computer science, information science, sociology, public policy, and
communication—could also better support a culture of online accessibility by producing
more research to contextualize the impacts of inaccessibility on people with disabilities,
to support the development of accessible products, and to study policy options related to
Research libraries occupy a distinctive position in that they have multi-level relationships with a wide
range of institutional entities. Working with content creators—such as faculty or other researchers—
to use available accessibility features of authoring software in their own work could be an excellent
opportunity for library outreach, engagement, and expertise.
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