There are many ways for children and adults with print disabilities to access books and information—but only if the material is formatted to be inclusive. On this page, we cover accessible publishing, accessible web sites (including how to write appropriate alt-text in an instructional video), and the legal rights of people with print disabilities.
People with print disabilities have a number of legal rights guaranteeing equitable access to information. While the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and a host of other laws and regulations govern many aspects of disability rights, some key laws specifically affecting accessibility and literacy are outlined here:
The Chafee Amendment (formally Section 121 of the Copyright Act), passed in 1996, created copyright exceptions for accessible materials. Certain “authorized entities,” such as the NLS, may create and distribute books, magazines, music, and other materials in accessible formats exclusively for use by print-disabled persons without seeking copyright permissions or paying royalties. In 2018, the United States signed the landmark Marrakesh Treaty To Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled into law. First adopted by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in 2013 and since ratified by more than 50 countries, the Marrakesh Treaty allows for the exchange of accessible books for print-disabled people across international borders. This will allow libraries and organizations around the world to share a variety of accessible materials in audiobook, e-book, braille, and other formats and greatly expand access to reading for people with print disabilities.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), first enacted in 1975, is a federal law governing the rights of children with disabilities to receive a free and appropriate public education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 13.2% public school students were supported by special education programs under IDEA. In 2004, the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) regulations were added, requiring accessible formats of print-based instructional materials for pre-K through grade 12 students. This requires that printed instructional materials must also be available in alternative formats: braille, large print, audio, and machine-readable digital text.
Section 508, a 1998 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, requires that all electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government be accessible to people with disabilities, meaning comparable to the access available to others. Section 508 follows the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0), the globally recognized standard for web content and accessibility.
Accessibility is important to keep in mind when publishing anything on the internet to ensure that your content can reach everyone. Using guidelines from Web Accessibility in Mind (2016), the following features can be easily adjusted by publishers to make resources accessible to people with print disabilities:
Different considerations need to be taken to ensure that a site is accessible to people with differing needs. Font size and style and color schemes are important for a reader with low-vision. For people using screen reader software, like JAWS, it is important to use alt-text when including images. Alternative text, or "alt-text," conveys the meaning that the image adds to the content in text form so that it can be read by the screen reader.
This video gives an overview of how to write appropriate alt-text:
You can easily check the accessibility of your website using an evaluator such as the WAVE Web Accessibility Tool.
Broadly, "a completely 'accessible product' is one which offers the maximum flexibility of user experience for all readers and allows the content to be accessed and manipulated with ease by those with or without disabilities" (Hilderley, 2013). Yet it is common for resources to be published without accessibility accommodations, or for the accessible versions to be published much later. Instead a material should be "born accessible" from the beginning. For a digital book, according to the following guidelines provided by Inclusive Publishing, that means:
These groups are working to integrate accessibility considerations into the publication process, so that when books, websites, and other resources are published they are accessible to all:
Accessible Book Consortium seeks to promote the publication of "born accessible" books, so that everyone can use the same product. This is achieved through EPUB3 standard of digital publishing, and including accessibility features in the descriptions of each product. If its accessibility features are used correctly, EPUB3 allows for the creation of an electronic file that can then be used to produce accessible digital books in various formats.
The DAISY Consortium is a global collective of organizations working to achieve the common vision that people have equal access to information and knowledge regardless of disability. DAISY is home to tools, standards, advice, and best practices for publishing and reading to ensure accessibility for people with print disabilities in both specialist and mainstream formats. It also provides downloadable software for use in the creation, conversion, and validation of accessible publications (including talking books and e-books). A subsidiary of DAISY Consortium, Inclusive Publishing is an initiative that shares knowledge to make mainstream publications accessible to all, including people with print disabilities. The site includes articles and links for the best approaches to producing, delivering, and reading accessible content that can be available to everyone in the same format, at the same time and at the same price.
Abbott, N. (2019). Marrakesh Treaty in action. Library Journal, 144 (4), 32-24.
Hilderley, S. (2013). Accessible publishing: Best practice guidelines for publishers. Retrieved from https://www.accessiblebooksconsortium.org/publishing/en
Pionke, J. J. & Manson, J. (2018). Creating disability LibGuides with accessibility in mind. Journal of Web Librarianship, 12(1), 63-79. https://doi.org/10.1080/19322909.2017.1396277
Inclusive Publishing. (n.d.). Improving the accessibility of your mainstream digital content. Retrieved from https://inclusivepublishing.org/publisher
National Center on Accessible Educational Materials. (n.d.). What are AEM & accessible technologies? Retrieved from http://aem.cast.org/about/what-are-aem-accessible-technologies.html
National Library Service. (2019). The Chafee Amendment: 17 U.S.C. 121. Retrieved from https://www.loc.gov/nls/about/organization/laws-regulations/copyright-law-amendment-1996-pl-104-197
National Library Service. (2019, May 8). Marrakesh Treaty. Retrieved from https://www.loc.gov/nls/about/organization/laws-regulations/marrakesh-treaty
U.S. Department of Education. (n.d.). About IDEA. Retrieved from https://sites.ed.gov/idea/about-idea
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2019). Digest of Education Statistics, 2017 (NCES 2018-070), Chapter 2. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=64
U.S. Government Services Administration. (2018). Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Retrieved from https://www.section508.gov/manage/laws-and-policies
Web Accessibility in Mind. (2016, March 15). Introduction to web accessibility. Retrieved from https://webaim.org/intro
Web Accessibility in Mind. (2019, October 14). Alternate text. Retrieved from https://webaim.org/techniques/alttext