Support for the Governor’s Appropriation for the Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access to Education, Public Information, and Commerce

To: Members of the Maryland General Assembly


From: Members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland


Contact: Sharon Maneki, President

National Federation of the Blind of Maryland

9013 Nelson Way

Columbia, MD 21045

Phone: 410-715-9596



Subject: Proposed funding for the Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access to Education, Public Information, and Commerce


Date: January 22, 2015




In 2014, Governor O’Malley and the members of the Maryland General Assembly demonstrated their commitment to promoting access to information for blind citizens in Maryland by awarding a grant of $250,000 to the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) to establish the Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access (CENA) to Education, Public Information, and Commerce. The goal of the CENA was to establish a concentrated center of expertise, best practices, and resources in order to allow Maryland businesses, government agencies, and educational institutions to provide accessible information and services to blind citizens more effectively. The CENA made progress in providing nonvisual access to commerce and public information but was unable to initiate a program to improve nonvisual access to education by creating an accessible academic Ebook service.



The Maryland General Assembly should assist the CENA in developing an accessible academic Ebook service by approving Governor Hogan’s requested total appropriation of $650,000. With this investment, Maryland can make more than ten million digital books available to blind Marylanders–dramatically transforming access to higher education and libraries within Maryland.



The field of nonvisual access is alien to many in the educational, business, and government arenas, but is a natural component of the daily workings of the NFB and its members. Many businesses already struggle to maintain compliance with Maryland code on nonvisual access. With new technologies emerging every day, many academic institutions and businesses are overwhelmed with the nuances and complexities that sometimes accompany adaptive technology and workplace accommodations. The rapid adoption of electronic books in K-12 and higher education presents a significant opportunity to provide greater access to all students. Yet little knowledge exists regarding which reading systems are accessible to blind individuals, and there is not enough research on how to best use emerging technologies to enhance access to images and video. As Maryland state government strives to offer its services in a more flexible manner, it must remember the needs of its blind citizens. The public can now submit questions, complete forms, and report problems to many state government agencies on a twenty-four- hour basis. We must make sure that blind citizens have the same access as the rest of the general public.

The HathiTrust is a consortium of academic and research libraries serving eighty-four of the most prominent and prestigious higher education institutions in the United States and around the world. Housed at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the HathiTrust receives, catalogues, maintains, and distributes the digital collections of books contributed by its member libraries. Access to the collections is granted to students, faculty, and staff of the member institutions that they serve. By initially working through the courts, the NFB secured an agreement with the HathiTrust to expand distribution of the Trust’s digital collections to meet the reading and research needs of blind and print-disabled people, regardless of affiliation with a member institution.

The NFB’s agreement with the HathiTrust presents an opportunity to revolutionize the ability of blind people to access printed information through the establishment of an accessible academic Ebook service. In order for this Ebook service to meet the needs of blind persons, the NFB must conduct research on Ebook reading systems to ensure accessibility. Engineers must determine how to automatically convert and communicate information from images to the blind. The initial development of an accessible and secure distribution pipeline of digital books to blind individuals will establish a framework to incorporate other digital libraries around the world. Establishing this resource in Maryland will further bolster Maryland’s reputation as a leader in academia and a pioneer in accessibility, as it provides blind people with access to more printed information than ever before.

Many institutions of higher education struggle to provide their students with accessible copies of published works in a timely fashion. The proposed academic Ebook service will relieve Maryland’s colleges and universities from having to recreate accessible copies of published works that have already been made accessible. It will allow these institutions to serve students with disabilities more effectively, and it will vastly improve the timely delivery of accessible materials.



Despite advances in technology, access to information remains the greatest challenge that blind people face today. Establishing the CENA was a good step in closing this information gap. More technical development is needed to give blind persons access to the over 10 million books contained in the HathiTrust. The CENA cannot complete this task without assistance from Maryland state government. The Maryland General Assembly should finish this task by approving Governor Hogan’s requested total appropriation of $650,000. The CENA will highlight Maryland as a leader and innovator in providing equal access for blind citizens.