May 26, 2022

Just Released: Report Of The ARL Joint Task Force On Services To Patrons With Print Disabilities

New from the Association of Research Libraries.


Report Of The ARL Joint Task Force On Services To Patrons With Print Disabilities

Task Force Members

Mary Case, Chair (Illinois at Chicago)
Cynthia Archer (York)
Nancy Baker (Iowa)
Will Cross (North Carolina State)
John Harwood (Penn State)
Sarah Hawthorne (California, Berkeley)
Kurt Herzer (Johns Hopkins)
Tito Sierra (MIT)
Ed Van Gemert (Wisconsin–Madison)
Tom Wall (Boston College)

ARL Staff Liaisons:
Prue Adler
Judy Ruttenberg

From the Executive Summary

This ARL task force report focuses on issues relating to users and members of the research library community who are print disabled. Research libraries serve a user community with a diverse set of disabilities every day, and this report is a starting point to address issues and opportunities of accessibility more broadly.

Over the last two years, there have been a growing number of complaints filed by print- disabled individuals in academic and non-academic institutions in the US regarding use of inaccessible IT products and services.

There is a growing sense of urgency regarding how best to effectively address these technology-based accessibility challenges in research libraries and in the broader institutional setting. The common practice today is to “fix after the fact,” either through scanning and editing printed materials as needed or retrofitting an online service or product well after adoption. This approach is costly for both the library and the institution, and it is not fully effective for individuals with disabilities. Moreover, this approach does not scale to the digital environment. New strategies are required.


  • The numbers of students with disabilities in post-secondary education is growing and includes diverse populations such as returning veterans.

  • In the US, there are a number of laws that are the basis of federal policy for persons with disabilities, including the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 individuals with disabilities at colleges and universities. In this role, ED and DOJ issued guidance to colleges and universities in 2010 stating that all programs, including pilot programs, are fully subject to the nondiscrimination requirements of the ADA and Section 504, including “ensuring equal access to emerging technology.”
  • Retrospective print library collections and prospective digital library resources require very different strategies to achieve accessibility for patrons with print disabilities.
  • E-book accessibility may involve as many as three different considerations: the accessibility of the content, the accessibility of the reading platform, and the accessibility of the device.
  • Most of the user-facing adaptive technology tools require electronic text to be properly encoded for the tool to work. It is this basic requirement that is the greatest barrier to making print library collections and library-mediated digital resources accessible.
  • The US Copyright Act recognizes the importance of making works accessible and provides several specific exceptions that support library efforts to create derivative works for this purpose, including section 107 (fair use), section 110(8) (certain performances and displays) and section 121 (Chafee Amendment). A recent court decision, The Authors Guild, Inc., et al., v. HathiTrust, et al., strongly affirms that libraries may rely upon fair use and the Chafee Amendment of the Copyright Act to make works accessible.
  • Recently, there have been positive updates to Canadian copyright law, the Copyright Modernization Act, regarding educational use in general and accessibility in particular. Provisions in the act will make the following changes, according to the Library of Parliament summary: the bill provides “amendments to the exceptions available to educational institutions, libraries, museums, archives and persons with a ‘perceptual disability’ in order to facilitate the use of digital technologies and make the provisions more technologically neutral.”
  • Content provided by libraries is increasingly acquired digitally through a license that provides specific terms of use. These terms may significantly limit libraries’ ability to make materials accessible—including journals, databases, e-books, and online textbooks—as accessibility features may not be built into the vendor platform or the terms and conditions of the license.
  • Universal design in instruction or learning (UDI or UDL) recognizes that designing the classroom for maximum inclusion of diverse learning styles and abilities, without sacrificing either standards or aesthetics, will bring unanticipated benefits to the entire population served.
  • Studies have demonstrated that, in addition to being more sustainable, integrated accessibility features are also far less costly in the long run. Moreover, there are many instances of accessible technologies leading true innovation and widespread adoption, “including the typewriter, the telephone, email, the PDA,  speech synthesis and recognition. These innovations resulted from the need to meet accessibility needs of individuals.”

Direct to Full Text (41 pages; PDF)

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.