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ARL Report: A Great Overview of Print Accessibility

Comprehensive overviews of accessibility issues that one can still read relatively quickly don’t often appear. However, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) has produced just that in its November 2012 report, Report of the ARL Joint Task Force on Services to Patrons with Print Disabilities (http://www.arl.org/accessibility/). The report concisely reviews the legal and regulatory provisions that colleges and universities face in relation to accessibility for persons with disabilities generally. It then discusses how those requirements apply in the context of the digital information resources and services that research libraries provide. Since many of the issues and concepts overlap with the provision of digital resources and technologies writ large, higher education IT leaders and professionals will find the report a useful reference as they consider the accessibility of the overall institutional IT environment.

Recommendations that may translate in particular to the broader institutional technology context include the following (Report of the ARL Joint Task Force, pp. 8-9):

  • “Universal accessibility should be embedded in future licensed and acquired products and services so special conversion to a usable format will only be required for retrospective works. With born-digital texts, e-readers, and other mobile devices, research libraries should advocate for accessible solutions up front—born-accessible materials—obviating the need for resource-intensive reformatting and retrofitting. Accessibility should be a central decision factor in choosing information products and services. Such an approach will meet both mission and the law.”
  • “Accessibility and universal design considerations should be integrated into the library’s technology planning and procurement processes. New technology-based library services should be evaluated for accessibility standards.”
  • “Licensing must be done deliberately to protect the values and meet the legal requirements of accessibility, particularly in light of libraries’ increasing reliance on licensed content in the digital environment. Research libraries should negotiate for more favorable terms in order to permit broader latitude to adapt content to meet the needs of patrons. With copyrighted works, research libraries should aggressively assert fair use in support of accessible services for the print disabled.”
  • “Research libraries should identify a point person to partner with institutional assistive technology experts and information technologists to monitor trends and developments in this area on an ongoing basis, such as conducting usability testing with disabled students, faculty, and staff as well as helping to guide the organization’s efforts to provide universal access for library collections and services. Similarly, this team should work with legal services and stay up to date on legal developments and best practices so that licensing and fair use determinations reflect current practice.”

Higher education IT leaders and professionals may also find particularly helpful the model licensing language on accessibility that the task force has provided in an appendix. As the report notes, the model language provides institutions with an effective starting point for discussions with their general counsel’s office, procurement departments, and vendors on licensing provisions that best suit their specific needs. The suggested licensing language for the U.S. reads as follows:

Model U.S. License

Licensor shall comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), by supporting assistive software or devices such as large-print interfaces, text-to-speech output, refreshable braille displays, voice-activated input, and alternate keyboard or pointer interfaces in a manner consistent with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines published by the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative. Licensor shall provide Licensee current completed Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) to detail compliance with the federal Section 508 standards. In the event that the Licensed Materials are not Accessibility compliant, the Licensee may demand that the Licensor promptly make modifications that will make the Licensed Materials Accessibility compliant; in addition, in such an event, the Licensee shall have right to modify or copy the Licensed Materials in order to make it useable for Authorized Users.

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