Incentives Sought to Assure Access to Educational Materials

December 7, 2011

Congress should create incentives to make sure publishers and education technology companies take the needs of disabled students into account when designing new products, the U.S. Education Department’s Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education said in a report released on Tuesday. The commission, which was created as part of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, issued a number of recommendations to Congress in its hefty report, including "establishing a process for creating uniform accessibility guidelines for industry and consumers" and "revisiting the components of existing copyright exception" to make sure digital content can be duplicated in accessible formats. James H. Wendorf, vice chair of the commission, emphasized the latter in a statement: "There is general confusion over the application of the existing [copyright] law and regulations – especially as [the law] applies to students with learning disabilities -- and specific uncertainty as to which organizations are permitted to reproduce instructional materials." The commission reported that, on the whole, publishers had been accommodating of the needs of disabled students, but "some developers of Web applications, social media and productivity software used to support postsecondary instructional practice are less proactive."

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