Resolution 2009-02 Regarding Provision of Readers and Textbooks

         WHEREAS, blind students in Maryland need easy and reliable access to high-quality readers and greater availability of accessible books to manage the volume of printed material encountered during their academic studies and preparation for employment; and

WHEREAS, resources exist through the rehabilitation program and among Maryland's institutions of higher education to provide needed reader services to blind students; and

WHEREAS, provisions in Maryland state law also exist to facilitate increased availability of accessible textbooks for blind students, but the Maryland Department of Education has been quite slow in providing adequate funding to implement this state law; and

WHEREAS, despite the existence of these resources, blind students in Maryland continue to struggle with limited availability of reader services and accessible textbooks, particularly production of textbooks in Braille for disciplines such as mathematics and science in which written exposition of materials is critical to maximum learning; and

WHEREAS, one of the reasons for these continued challenges stems from the long existing dispute between rehabilitation providers and institutions of higher education as to which entity bears primary responsibility for providing reader services and for producing or purchasing accessible textbooks; and

WHEREAS, another challenge to ready availability of reader services and accessible textbooks may be attributed to the uncertainty of blind students about which entity they should approach for support, since representatives of the rehabilitation establishment and institutions of higher education regularly refer inquiries from blind students to one another for response: Now, therefore

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland in convention assembled this 15th day of November, 2009, in the City of Ocean City, Maryland, that we strongly urge officials of the Office of Blindness and Vision Services of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Maryland Department of Education, to take the lead in identifying strategies for developing partnerships and collaboratively working with the state's institutions of higher education to create a common procedure for providing timely and effective reader services and access to college-level textbooks (including establishment of clear rules for who will be responsible for funding and producing Braille materials) so that all involved parties have a clear expectation of who will provide these services, and delays in offering such support will not continue to be caused by conflicting organizational procedures and beliefs about which entity should fund and manage these services; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that rehabilitation and higher education officials in Maryland work with the Higher Education Textbook Access Coordinator at the Maryland Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped to develop efficient processes and procedures for creating or locating accessible textbooks--particularly those that need to be produced in Braille--for Maryland's blind students; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we demand that the Maryland State Department of Education honor the spirit and letter of the adopted higher education textbook law by immediately providing adequate and distinct funding for the administration and practical implementation of this statewide initiative rather than simply exploring cost-saving measures between the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and the Office of Blindness and Vision Services of the Division of Rehabilitation Services that promises only to maintain a minimal effort to render textbooks accessible to students in higher education and, more important, compromises the ability of both programs to devote existing resources to their primary missions.