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BLIND STUDENTS WANT FASTER ACCESS TO BOOKS. FEDERAL LAW IS SOUGHT TO SPEED UP THE PROCESS OF ADAPTING TEXTBOOKS FOR VISUALLY IMPAIRED PEOPLE

The following information appeared in the Washington Post.

By Andrew Mollison

Washington Bureau

Thursday, February 7, 2002

WASHINGTON - Blind students from across the country lobbied members of Congress this week to support a new plan to give the next generation of blind students faster access to usable versions of textbooks.

"I use braille and recorded books and readers," said Angela Wolf, a senior at the University of Texas, who is president of the National Association of Blind Students.

But she recalled having to wait two to four weeks for taped or digitally recorded versions and months for braille versions of textbooks that sighted students could use in print versions on the first day of school.

"And sometimes there simply isn't an accessible version," Wolf said. "It's not always easy to find and schedule time with people to be readers (of the print version). That can be a real pain."

The students were seeking a federal law that would require all publishers of new K-12 textbooks to send an electronic file of each textbook in a uniform national format to a newly created nonprofit center. The center would assist state and local educators in helping students and their parents obtain those files, which can be used instantly for large-print, audible or braille-machine versions. The usual six-month delay in obtaining regular braille versions of textbooks could be cut in half.

The plan would cost the federal government $6 million a year. It was crafted during two years of negotiations by about 20 groups, including the schools division of the American Association of Publishers, state education and rehabilitation departments, the American Foundation for the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind.

"It would be more cost-efficient for the publishers, students would have more access, schools would have fewer headaches finding accessible material and society would have more educated workers," Wolf said.

The proposal would apply only to elementary and secondary textbooks, because only those publishers agreed to the plan.

But its advocates anticipate that if the system is created and works smoothly, it would attract support from all other U.S. publishers, including those who supply college textbooks. Federal laws already require colleges and schools to supply students with accessible textbooks and other instructional materials. And just over half the states require publishers to provide electronic copies of print editions of K-12 textbooks.

"However, there is no consistent file format used among the states, and creating one to meet each state's standards takes time and can cost a publisher thousands of dollars," said Marc Maurer, president of the National Federation of the Blind. "The delay and uncertainty can be totally frustrating for the student."

At the publishers' association, Steve Driesler, executive director of the schools division, said, "The financial advantage for our publishers would come from dealing with one standard, as opposed to dealing with 26 state formatting rules, and from the nonprofit center's use of the files in a way that would protect our intellectual property rights."

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