This white paper, part of a project supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, analyses how institutions of higher education can meet their mission of providing all students with equitable access to information within the current legal framework. Ensuring access to research and learning materials is critical in protecting the civil rights of people with disabilities.
The white paper is informed by the robust discussions during a two-day meeting of experts at ARL in January 2019 concerning legal and practical issues related to accessible-text management. The paper examines civil rights laws that require creation and distribution of accessible texts by higher education and research institutions as well as the copyright laws that are sometimes perceived as barriers to providing equitable access. The authors discuss how limitations and exceptions in copyright law can be used to create and distribute accessible formats, comply with disability rights laws, and support institutional missions of providing equitable access to research and learning materials.
Ultimately, the existing copyright framework in the United States can and should be used to support and ensure equitable access to information for people with disabilities. As the white paper concludes, “What has emerged is a hierarchy of legal interests, arrayed under the general heading of the First Amendment and its protection for expression and access to information. Contrary to what some have assumed in the past, the first priority under that heading is accessibility, which consistently trumps the exclusive rights granted by copyright when the two come into conflict.”