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Accessibility


Fewer than 10 percent of the world’s publications are available in accessible formats according to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), yet more than 250 million people are visually impaired and need access to those works. Students and scholars with print disabilities cannot fully participate in classes or contribute to scholarly communication if accessible works are not made available. 

Learn more below about the work being done by ARL and the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) to implement the Marrakesh Treaty in libraries in Canada and the United States . This page also includes accessibility resources, information on the legal and regulatory environment of accessibility in the US, and links to further reading.


World map with icons denoting countries that have ratified or acceded to the Marrakesh Treaty.
Click here for more information on Marrakesh Treaty implementation by country.

Further Reading on ARL/CARL Marrakesh Task Force


Foundational Reading

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Education in a Pandemic: The Disparate Impacts of COVID-19 on America’s Students
US Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, June 2021

Managing Digital Accessibility at Universities during the COVID-19 Pandemic
By Jonathan Lazar
Universal Access in the Information Society (2021)

Open but Not for All: A Survey of Open Education Resource Librarians on Accessibility
By Teresa Auch Schultz and Elena Azadbakht
College & Research Libraries 82, no. 5 (June 30, 2021)

Planning for Digital Accessibility in Research Libraries
By Jonathan Lazar
Research Library Issues, no. 302 (2021): Sustaining Open Content and Infrastructure

Report of the ARL Join Task Force on Services to Patrons with Print Disabilities
By Mary Case et al.
Association of Research Libraries, November 2, 2012

The Law and Accessible Texts: Reconciling Civil Rights and Copyrights
By Brandon Butler, Prue Adler, and Krista Cox
Association of Research Libraries and University of Virginia, July 8, 2019

Resources

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Model Licenses for Accessibility
The Library Accessibility Alliance engages with library vendors in initiatives to improve usability of online resources for all users, including by promoting model license terms.

Scholarly Communication Notebook OER
For more on accessibility and copyright, see this open educational resource (OER) created by Carli Spina for the Scholarly Communication Notebook, which is licensed CC-BY.

US Department of Justice (DOJ) Guidelines
Recent DOJ guidance reinforces accessibility as an enforcement priority for the agency, and supports state and local governments—as well as public businesses—in ensuring their websites are accessible.

Legal Foundation for Libraries Creating Accessible Works

Chafee Amendment

Research libraries are committed to making information resources as broadly accessible as possible. But the exclusive rights of copyright owners, including publishers, can be a perceived impediment to making copyrighted works accessible. Before the enactment of the 1996 Chafee Amendment—now Section 121 of the Copyright Act—libraries requested permission from publishers to make books and other works accessible. The Chafee Amendment clarified that it is not an infringement of copyright for authorized entities like libraries to create and share works in accessible formats. 

In 2019, the US Congress adopted changes to broaden the scope of the Chafee Amendment and clarify who is eligible to create and share accessible works. These changes were part of the US ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled, an international instrument that aims to end the global book famine. Since 2020, ARL and CARL have been working together on a task force to implement cross-border lending under the terms of the treaty.

Fair use

Libraries may also rely on fair use to create and lend accessible works. Fair use is a legal doctrine in the Copyright Act that permits the use of copyrighted works in some circumstances, without the user acquiring permission. In the Authors Guild v. HathiTrust decision, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that libraries digitizing works and storing digital files is a fair use if the libraries also provide full-text access and search functionality to people with disabilities. Critically, the HathiTrust decision clarified that libraries can rely on fair use in addition to the library exceptions enumerated in Section 108 of the Copyright Act. For more information on digital rights, please see knowyourcopyrights.org.

Section 1201 of Digital Millennium Copyright Act

Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) prohibits circumventing digital locks to access copyrighted material, even for noninfringing uses like making works accessible. Users may petition the US Copyright Office for an exemption to this prohibition through a rulemaking process that occurs every three years. In each rulemaking since 2003, members of the disability community including the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and the American Council of the Blind (ACB) have asked for and been granted an exemption permitting people with disabilities to read electronic books. In light of the repeated granting of this exemption, the burden on the disability community, and the requirements of the Marrakesh Treaty to ensure that rules against circumventing digital locks do not impede the availability of works in digital formats, the Copyright Office has acknowledged that it would be appropriate to make this exemption permanent.

Legal and Regulatory Environment for Accessibility in US and Canadian Research Institutions

United States 

In the US, there are a number of laws that are the basis of federal policy for persons with disabilities, including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 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. 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 people with disabilities at colleges and universities.

Section 504 of Rehabilitation Act

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 established nondiscrimination requirements for all entities receiving federal funds

Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates the elimination of discrimination on the basis of disability. Title I prohibits discrimination in public and private employment against individuals with disabilities. Title II provides individuals with disabilities with an equal opportunity to benefit from all state and local government programs, services, and activities. Finally, Title III prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities regarding the “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations” of any public accommodations, including private, postsecondary institutions.

Section 508 of Rehabilitation Act

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 relates to access to federally funded programs and services. The amendment requires that the electronic and information technologies that an agency develops, procures, maintains, and/or uses must be accessible to federal employees and all members of the public. Many states have similar laws and requirements. 

Website Accessibility Standards

After years of a rulemaking process at the US Department of Justice (DOJ) that disability advocates anticipated would align with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the process was canceled. The DOJ affirmed that websites need to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act points to WCAG as a voluntary accessibility standard.

Canada

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. In Ontario, for example, academic institutions and libraries work under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA); whereas, in Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, alongside the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, is applied. 

Unlike accessibility law, Canadian copyright law is under federal jurisdiction. Copyright issues affecting persons with disabilities are dealt with solely at the federal level in the Copyright Act. 

For more information, please see this Report of the ARL Join Task Force on Services to Patrons with Print Disabilities.


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