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Vision and Implementation Plan for a Clearinghouse for Print-Disabled Canadians

3. Findings

3.1. Key Findings

A lot has happened since the report to the Book and Periodical Council on Options for Making Published Materials More Accessible to the Visually Impaired was published in 1998. In the last five years there has been progress in a number of areas including; technology readiness; standardization in formats; a forum for participation that involved all stakeholders; and the continued growth of the e-text market. At the same time many of the process issues remain the same and can only be dealt with through trusted relationships amongst the stakeholders.


What is the most important finding is that the interest and intent to make material available to the Print-Disabled community is strong and that all the parties are looking for more timely and cost effective ways to deliver this material to the Print-Disabled community.

Alternate Format Producers

Alternate format producers fall into four main categories: agencies providing K-12 materials, agencies providing materials to post-secondary students, the CNIB Library for the Blind, which provides materials and other services for Print-Disabled adults, and under contract for the agencies serving students, and private sector companies which provide alternate format materials, primarily for government and businesses to distribute to their clients.

All of the agencies have reciprocal borrowing arrangements with one another and with other agencies. All of the agencies maintain a library of materials they have produced and are willing to share these. However, if items cannot be borrowed or purchased elsewhere, then they must be produced in-house or contracted out.

If the alternate format producers could receive e-text files from the publishers they could eliminate the scanning and correction phase, with significantly reduced costs and more timely delivery.

Access to Material

Today Alternate Format Producers establish direct relationships with publishers. The result has been that there is no consistent program in place to have access to material to produce in alternate formats, communicate its availability and ensure its distribution to the Print-Disabled community at large.

Copyright Protection

There is ongoing concern about the protection of copyright. With the proliferation of technology and the tools for sharing electronic information it has become a major issue for all publishers. The solutions for Digital Rights Management (DRM) are still in development and may never fully protect the copyright of e-text. At the same time publishers realize that there is an opportunity in building a foundation of e-text titles as this will give them better access to evolving markets such as print on demand; and e-books. These opportunities are still in their early stages. To make this work publishers would need to work with alternate format producers via a third party to ensure that their copyright was protected and that access to e-text was limited to the alternate format producers.

Access Copyright has put in place an online capability of managing and granting copyright licensing. It could act as the arbiter between the publishers and the alternate format producers. This would give the publishers and Access Copyright a text case for the management of copyright in a e-text context, where copyright is already granted.

Availability of rights

As in 1998 not all books produced by Canadian publishers are produced in-house therefore the electronic files are not available to the Canadian publisher. As well Canadian publishers distribute imported titles which they in many cases do not have electronic distribution rights for these titles. This also extends to third party rights for electronic distribution. This would mean that a Clearinghouse for e-text would have to address each title individually and in certain cases not be able to bring a title into the Clearinghouse.

Availability of e-text

Today all publishers do electronic publishing using a variety of tools. They recognize the value of their electronic holdings and have either implemented, are looking at or planning on implementing e-text repositories to manage their electronic files. There is a growing recognition of the value of the electronic content for renditioning to other media from one source. Areas such as print on demand for backlists to simultaneous production of paper and electronic books are becoming possible. The opportunity is that this is still in stages of development and the Clearinghouse offers a safe model to test the creation, storing and transformation of e-text.

Variations in production software and changes during the production process

Today most publishers are focused on the production of the paper copy of the book and their investments in tools and technology have been in order to improve this process. To take full advantage of e-text publishers will have to re-tool to be able to focus on the production of the e-text which then can be transformed into various products. Publishers use different page layout software such as QuarkXPress, Frame Maker, and Adobe Page Maker, on either Mac or PC platforms, to prepare files for their book manufacturers.

Standardized file formats

In order to take full advantage of e-text it is necessary to have a standard format for its production. At present the international standards for preparing e-text materials and for dealing with included non-text items such as graphs, charts, pictures, etc. are becoming established.

With the advent of e-books and the potential of there being a market for electronic books a lot of work has gone on to develop standards for their structure and format. The Open eBook Forum ( and Daisy Consortium ( have been working on specifications for e-books that will enable the full production of e-text that incorporates all of the formatting and navigation that are required of books for the Print-Disabled community. The WC3 Web Accessibility Initiative ( has been focused on providing access regardless of disability. Standards built around XML (Extensible Markup Language) for formatting, exchanging and transforming e-text are now coming into the marketplace.

The opportunity these standards offer is the ability to generate the e-text and have it act as the foundation for production of the book in any media. The implications of this are very challenging for the publishing community as it will requiring significant re-tooling and modifications in the processes that they use to generate their publications. This will have to take place over a number of years. In the meantime alternate format producers are adept at dealing with the problem of re-structuring texts for alternate formats and will work with the files that are provided. The opportunity is that these files can be transformed into a standardized format through the production of the alternate format. There must be national (and preferably international) agreement on technical specifications that once established, will allow the broadest access to materials.

Digital Library Initiatives

There are a number of digital library initiatives occurring with agencies involved in providing services for the Blind and Print-Disabled Canadians. These initiatives are creating repositories for digital collections that will be maintained in electronic master copies, from which all accessible formats (i.e. braille, audio synchronized to text and electronic text) can be created.

An example is the CNIB Library for the Blind's digital library that will act as an electronic repository. The CNIB digital library system is the most advanced program of its kind in the world and a model that will be closely watched by an international community of 175 libraries producing alternative format information. The system in development is called the Integrated Digital Library System (IDLS).


Most publishers have given permission to alternate format producers to distribute their publications in the traditional alternate formats of Braille and audio tape. However, publishers have ongoing concerns regarding distributing those publications in an electronic format. Concerns centre on the ease of copying and loss of control over their intellectual property.


Canadian Copyright Act (April, 1997)

The Copyright Act (April, 1997) allows any person or non-profit organization to put any title into an alternate format if it is for the use of an individual who is blind or visually impaired. Specifically, the Act states that:

32.(1) It is not an infringement of copyright for a person, at the request of a person with a perceptual disability, or for a non-profit organization acting for his or her benefit, to (a) make a copy or sound recording of a literary, musical, artistic or dramatic work, other than a cinematographic work, in a format specially designed for persons with a perceptual disability.

Two limitations are cited - Subsection (2) states that this does not authorize the making of a large print book, and Subsection (3) states that this does not apply where the work or sound recording is commercially available in a format specially designed to meet the needs of any person referred to in subsection (1).

What is it means is that there is no requirement for organizations serving Print-Disabled individuals to request copyright clearance from Canadian publishers or to pay a fee to Access Copyright.

The Instructional Materials Accessibility Act of 2002 (IMAA)

Legislation that will dramatically improve access to textbooks for students who are blind or who have other print disabilities in elementary and secondary schools was introduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. The purpose of this bipartisan legislation is to ensure that instructional materials for blind or other people with print disabilities are received in an accessible medium at the same time as their non-disabled peers. To this end, the IMAA will harness advances in technology to create an efficient system for acquiring and distributing these materials in specialized formats, which include Braille, synthesized speech, digital text, digital audio and large print.

The IMAA was drafted collaboratively by the American Council of the Blind (ACB), American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), American Printing House for the Blind, Association of American Publishers (AAP), Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, National Federation of the Blind, and Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, in concert with several other national groups.

The Instructional Materials Accessibility Act of 2002 would require publishers to make all texts used in elementary and secondary schools available in electronic format so they can be readily accessible to print-impaired schoolchildren in the U.S.

This legislation would:

  1. Require written statewide plans to ensure that students who are blind or have other print disabilities have access to instructional materials in accessible formats at the same time those materials are provided to students without such disabilities;

  2. Develop a uniform electronic file format for instructional materials prepared by publishers;

  3. Require publishers to produce a copy of each textbook in the uniform electronic file format and furnish it to a National Instructional Materials Access Center for distribution to schools; and

  4. Provide capacity-building grants to assist state and local educators in using the electronic files supplied by publishers.

3.2. Benefits of the Clearinghouse Model

Members of the Council saw that the vision of Clearinghouse would provide the following benefits, in order of priority:

  1. Includes all parties currently involved in the production of alternate formats and distributes responsibilities based on their mandate.

  2. Leverages work currently going on in the development and management of e-books/e-text.

  3. The Clearinghouse can be built in phases.

  4. It provides a safe model for publishers to test the distribution of e-text.

  5. Costs can be minimized as the vision leverages the work planned or underway by the participants.

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