2017 Washington Seminar Fact Sheets

Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act (AIM HIGH)

Access Technology Affordability Act (ATAA)

Appropriation to the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) for the Purchase of Refreshable Braille Devices

The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled (Marrakesh Treaty)


Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act (H.R. 1772)
Until a market-driven solution for accessible instructional materials is achieved, blind college students will be denied access to critical course content.

Technology has fundamentally changed the education system.

The scope of instructional materials used at institutions of higher education has expanded. Curricular content comes in digital books, PDFs, webpages, etc., and most of this content is delivered through digital databases, learning management systems, and applications. The print world is inherently inaccessible to students with disabilities, but technology offers the opportunity to expand the circle of participation. Studies have found that, of the 6.5 million students with disabilities in grades K-12, the number who go on to pursue postsecondary education is growing.1

Blind students are facing insurmountable barriers to education.

Instead of fulfilling the promise of equal access, technology has created more problems than the print world ever did. Data show that students with disabilities face a variety of challenges, including matriculation and college completion failure,2 solely because, in the absence of clear accessibility guidelines, colleges and universities are sticking with the ad-hoc accommodations model.3 Currently, schools deploy inaccessible technology and then modify another version for blind students, usually weeks or even months into class, creating a “separate-but-equal” landscape with nearly impenetrable barriers. With only an 18 percent employment rate, compared to 65 percent among people without disabilities,4 students with disabilities should not be denied access by the innovations that could have ensured full participation.

Institutions of higher education need help to identify accessible material and comply with nondiscrimination laws.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act require schools to provide equal access, and in 2010, the US Departments of Justice and Education clarified that the use of inaccessible technology is prohibited under these laws.5 In the six years since, over a dozen institutions have faced legal action for using inaccessible technology,6 and complaints are on the rise. Most litigation ends with a commitment from the school to embrace accessibility, but that commitment does little in a vast, uncoordinated higher education market.7

Accessibility solutions are available, but guidelines are sorely needed to stimulate the market.

The Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act will bring together people with disabilities and the higher education, publishing, tech developing, and manufacturing communities to develop a stakeholder driven solution to the issue of inaccessible instructional materials. With input from all relevant stakeholder communities,8 mainstream accessible instructional materials can be achieved, benefitting both institutions of higher education and the students with disabilities they aim to serve.

Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act:

Develops accessibility guidelines for instructional materials used in postsecondary education.

A purpose-based commission is tasked with developing accessibility criteria for instructional materials and the delivery systems/technologies used to access those materials. Additionally, the commission is tasked with developing an annotated list of existing national and international standards so that schools and developers can identify what makes a product usable by the blind.

Provides incentive for institutions of higher education to follow the guidelines.

Institutions of higher education that use only technology that conforms with the guidelines will be deemed in compliance with the provisions of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act that pertain to schools’ use of technology. For those instances in which accessible technology is simply not yet available, instances that will continue to diminish in frequency as accessible instructional materials become more mainstream, there is a limited safe harbor protection for institutions that otherwise adhere to existing disability law as well as some additional requirements as described in the AIM HIGH Act.

Offers flexibility for schools while reiterating that pre-existing obligations still apply.

Colleges and universities are permitted to use material that does not conform to the guidelines as long as equal access laws are still honored. Conformity with the AIM HE guidelines is only one path to compliance; schools can pursue a different path but will forfeit the safe harbor legal protection.

Cosponsor Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act.

Access Technology Affordability Act (H.R. 1734, S. 732)
Increase the availability of access technology and promote affordability of that technology for blind Americans

Access technology enables blind Americans to participate in today’s connected world.

Blindness, unlike other disabilities, is easily measurable9 but affects each person differently. Despite these differences, manufacturers have designed various tools that enable each blind American to perform tasks that they were once unable to accomplish themselves due to their disability. Braille note takers are frequently used in schools, screen reading software allows workers to check their email at home, and screen magnification software can help seniors losing vision learn about community activities. Despite the need for access technology, public and private entities struggle to meet the demands and provide adequate access technology to their clients, including blind Americans.10 This leads to untimely delays in the delivery of necessary technology and ultimately harms the blind consumer.

Paying for access technology out-of-pocket creates a difficult economic reality.

Nearly 60 percent of blind Americans are unemployed,11 yet most access technology continues to range from $1,000 to $6,000. For example, a leading screen reader is $900, a popular Braille note taker is $5,495, one model of a refreshable Braille display is $2,795, and a moderately priced Braille embosser is $3,695. Consequently, most blind Americans do not have sufficient financial resources needed to purchase these items.12 These financial barriers can ultimately lead to a loss of employment, insufficient education, or even isolation from community activities.

Medical insurance will not cover the cost of access technology.

Current definitions of "medical care," "medical necessity," and "durable medical equipment" within common insurance policies do not include access technology. These definitions were adopted in the 1960s when medical care was viewed primarily as curative and palliative, with little or no consideration given to increasing an individual's functional status.13 Many states’ Medicaid programs and individual health insurance plans have adopted similar definitions and likewise will not cover the cost of access technology.14

Access Technology Affordability Act:

The Access Technology Affordability Act provides a simple solution that will increase the availability of access technology so that blind Americans can procure these items for themselves.

It establishes a refundable tax credit for blind Americans in the amount of $2,500 to be used over a 3-year period to offset the cost of access technology.

Historically, Congress has created similar tax incentives (e.g., Disabled Access Credit) for business owners required to make accommodations--including access technology--for employees and patrons with disabilities.

Even though Congress created these tax incentives to increase accessibility in the community, these incentives are underutilized.15Meanwhile, blind Americans, for the most part, must depend on others to procure access technology for them.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to meet the access technology needs of all blind Americans. Accessibility requires an individualized assessment of one’s own skills and needs.

Therefore, blind Americans should be given the opportunity to procure access technology on their own to ensure that they are receiving the tools that are most useful for them.


Appropriation to the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) for the Purchase of Refreshable Braille Devices
An appropriation to the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped will save money and lead to the proliferation of critically needed Braille material for blind Americans.

There are 119,487 libraries of all types operating in the United States today;16 however, blind Americans rely on NLS to distribute Braille books across the nation.

Currently these are hardcopy offerings, but new, low-cost displays (known as refreshable Braille displays) can produce electronic Braille, saving money, saving paper, and providing a small device where formerly multiple and large volumes were required for just one book. Until all Blind Americans have access to high-quality, reliable, refreshable Braille, blind people will continue to encounter artificial barriers in literacy, education, and employment.

Innovative advances in refreshable Braille technology could save NLS $10 million per year.

A recent GAO report indicated that the distribution of refreshable Braille devices will result in an annual cost savings of $10 million.17 Since 1931, hardcopy Braille has been embossed and distributed to patrons through a network of regional and subregional libraries. It is impossible to predict the titles that would be requested at any particular regional library. As a result, there could be five copies of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (13 volumes of Braille)18 in Boise, Idaho and none in Richmond, Virginia where several patrons are currently waiting. Moreover, in 2015 the cost of embossing, housing, and shipping hardcopy Braille volumes was $17 million per year.19

Technological innovations now make it possible for Braille to be produced in electronic files.

These can be accessed on refreshable Braille displays and distributed electronically at a cost of $7 million.20 Like other types of electronic files (such as printed materials in .docx format), the same Braille book can be read by potentially thousands of patrons at the same time with refreshable Braille devices. Today, the mass production and distribution of Braille content is not only technologically possible; but the method is cost effective, and vast quantities of Braille material can now be stored, transported, and instantly accessed on refreshable Braille displays.

Braille literacy is essential to employment for the blind.

Among blind people who are employed, 85 percent are Braille readers.21 In 1931 the Pratt-Smoot Act centralized the collection and housing of the very small number of individually produced Braille books then existing in the United States.22 But even though library services have been made available to blind people on a national scale, the broad distribution of hard-copy Braille books is not feasible. Eighty-six years later, the unemployment rate among the blind in 2014 continued to hover around 60 percent.23 Recognizing this fact, in acknowledgement of the importance of Braille literacy, the 114th Congress amended the Pratt-Smoot Act to authorize NLS to provide its patrons with refreshable Braille displays.

A one-time appropriation of five million dollars to the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped would:

Enable NLS to purchase, through the bidding process, ten thousand refreshable Braille displays to be loaned to NLS patrons.

Make Braille materials more widely available to blind Americans than ever before, thereby improving Braille literacy among blind Americans and leading to increased employability.

Cosponsor the NLS Appropriation for Refreshable Braille Displays.

The Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled (Marrakesh Treaty)24
An international copyright treaty will give blind Americans access to millions of published works and improve the distribution of books around the globe.

Millions of Americans are being denied access to published works.25

Despite the ability to convert print books into accessible formats like Braille, audio, and digital copies, over 95 percent of published works are unavailable to people with print disabilities.26 Literacy and equal participation in society are critical elements of a fulfilling and independent life, but until uniformity is built into the international copyright system, blind Americans will be excluded from accessing works. A blind student seeking to learn Spanish will likely struggle to find an accessible format;27 a work printed in English may have already been converted into an accessible format overseas, but because copies are not exchanged across borders, domestic entities might need to make a duplicate copy or just might deny access altogether by failing to reproduce the work.

An uncoordinated legal approach prevents the cross-border exchange of accessible books.

Unlike the United States, where copyright law includes the Chafee Amendment and other exceptions,28 two-thirds of the world’s nations do not have domestic copyright laws that permit making copies for the blind, limiting the number of works available in an accessible format. Moreover, many countries consider distribution of accessible copies an infringement as well, and even amongst nations that permit distribution, limitations vary. Instead of exchanging books across borders, works are needlessly duplicated, and circulation is significantly limited.

The Marrakesh Treaty was adopted to achieve this goal.

On June 27, 2013, a diplomatic conference convened by the World Intellectual Property Organization, (WIPO) in Morocco adopted the Marrakesh Treaty with enthusiastic support from the US delegation. The treaty, signed by the US on October 2, 2013, currently has eighty-eight signatories, has been ratified by twenty-five countries,29 and has entered into force as of September 30, 2016.30

The Marrakesh Treaty has broad stakeholder support.

Blind people should have full and equal access to all works that enrich lives, further education, and share critical information; the treaty balances this priority with the interests of rights holders. WIPO’s adoption of the Marrakesh Treaty was supported by American-based companies,31 the international publishing community,32 legal experts,33 and blindness advocates.34 The treaty will have tangible benefits for all involved. This is why Congress must act swiftly to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty and pass its associated implementing legislation.

The Marrakesh Treaty calls for contracting parties to provide in their national copyright laws for a limitation or exception that allows for the:

Reproduction of works by an authorized entity for the purposes of converting them into accessible format copies exclusively for beneficiary persons.

Distribution of accessible format copies exclusively to beneficiary persons.

Import of accessible format copies for the purposes of making them available domestically.

Export of accessible format copies for the purposes of making them available to a beneficiary person in another country.

Support ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty.

[1] US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. “Children and Youth with Disabilities” (2016)  http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cgg.asp

[2] Brand, B., Valent, A., Danielson, L. College & Career Readiness & Success Center, American Institutes for Research. Improving College and Career Readiness for Students with Disabilities. 2013.

[3] “Report of the Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities.” (2011) 13

[4] United States Department of Labor. “Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics—2015.” (2016). http://www.dol.gov/odep/.

[5] Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and Department of Education Office of Civil Rights letter to College and University Presidents, June 29, 2010. 

[6] National Federation of the Blind. “The Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education (AIM-HEA) Act.” Last modified December, 2015. https://nfb.org/AIMHIGH

[7] Government Accountability Office. “Education Needs a Coordinated Approach to Improve Its Assistance to Schools in Supporting Students.” Report to the Chairman, Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives.10-33 (2009).

[8] Organizations and institutions that have endorsed the Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act: https://nfb.org/aim_he.

[9] 26 U.S.C § 63(f)(4)

[10] Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services and Disability Research, “Fiscal Year 2017 Budget Request,” https://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/budget/budget17/justifications/i-rehab.pdf, p. I-66.

[11] American Community Survey. www.disabilitystatistics.org.

[12] Erickson, W., Lee, C., von Schrader, S. (2016). "Disability Statistics from the 2014 American Community Survey (ACS)." Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute (EDI). Retrieved November 11, 2016, from www.disabilitystatistics.org.

[13] National Council on Disability, “Federal Policy Barriers to Assistive Technology,” (May 31, 2000) 8, http://www.ncd.gov/rawmedia_repository/c9e48e89_261b_4dda_bc74_203d5915519f.pdf.

[14] Assistive Technology Industry Associates, “AT Resources Funding Guide,” https://www.atia.org/at-resources/what-is-at/resources-funding-guide/ (last accessed December 15, 2016).

[15] U.S. Gen. Accounting Office, Business Tax Incentives: Incentives to Employ Workers with Disabilities Receive Limited use and have an Uncertain Impact 1, at 14, (Dec. 12, 2002) http://www.unclefed.com/GAOReports/d0339_sum.pdf.

[16] "Number of Libraries in the United States." Professional Tools. 2015. Accessed December 12, 2016. http://www.ala.org/tools/libfactsheets/alalibraryfactsheet01.

[17] United States Government Accountability Office. “Library Services for Those with Disabilities” Report to Congressional Committees. April 2016.

[18] United States Government Accountability Office. “Library Services for Those with Disabilities” Report to Congressional Committees. April 2016.

[19] United States Government Accountability Office. “Library Services for Those with Disabilities” Report to Congressional Committees. April 2016.

[20] United States Government Accountability Office. “Library Services for Those with Disabilities” Report to Congressional Committees. April 2016.

[21] Bell, E. C., & Mino, N. M. (2015). “Employment Outcomes for Blind and Visually Impaired Adults.” Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research, 5(2). Retrieved from https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/jbir/jbir15/jbir050202.html. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5241/5-85.

[22] Pratt-Smoot Act, Pub. L. No. 71-787, ch. 400, 46 Stat. 1487 (1931) (codified as amended at 2 U.S.C. §§ 135a, 135a-1)

[23] American Community Survey. www.disabilitystatistics.org.

[24] Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled, June 28, 2013 http://www.wipo.int/edocs/mdocs/diplconf/en/vip_dc/vip_dc_8_rev.pdf.

[25] World Health Organization, Fact Sheet, Visual impairment and blindness, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs282/en/ last modified August 2014.

[26] World Blind Union, FAQ Sheets on UN and Human Rights Instruments, Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled, http://www.worldblindunion.org/English/resources/Pages/Global-Blindness-Facts.aspx  last modified March 2014.

[27] LaBarre, Scott. “Literacy Without Borders: The Road to Marrakesh,” Braille Monitor, August/September 2013. “Originally I had planned on a double major in government and Spanish. Ultimately I dropped that Spanish major precisely because I could not get access to Spanish novels and other materials.” https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm13/bm1308/bm130811.htm.

[28] 17 U.S.C. § 121.

[29] World Intellectual Property Organization, WIPO-Administered Treaties webpage http://www.wipo.int/treaties/en/ShowResults.jsp?treaty_id=843, Last modified on October 6, 2016.

[30] World Intellectual Property Organization, Marrakesh Notification No. 21 Entry into Force http://www.wipo.int/treaties/en/notifications/marrakesh/treaty_marrakesh_21.html, Last modified on June 30, 2016.

[31] Association of American Publishers, Statement on Completion of WIPO Treaty, Press Release, June 27, 2013. http://publishers.org/press/112/.

[32] International Publishers Association, Closing Statement by the International Publishers Association, 27 June 2013. http://www.internationalpublishers.org/images/stories/copyright/statements/closing_statementFinal.pdf.

[33] American Bar Association, Resolution 100, August 11, 2014. http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/mental_physical_disability/2014_hod_annual_100%20Marrakesh.authcheckdam.pdf 

[34] National Federation of the Blind, National Federation of the Blind Joins Stevie Wonder and World Blind Union Calling Upon International Negotiators to Conclude Successful Treaty for the Blind and Print Disabled, Press Release, June 24, 2014. https://nfb.org/national-federation-blind-joins-stevie-wonder-and-world-blind-union-calling-upon-international.