The Kentucky Postsecondary Textbook Accessibility Act: A Promising Practice in Textbook Accessibility Legislation

Date Updated

On March 12, 2003, the Governor of Kentucky signed the Kentucky Postsecondary Textbook Accessibility Act, Senate Bill 85 (SB 85), into law. The purpose of this legislation is

to assure, to the maximum extent possible, that all students with disabilities in any postsecondary institution or independent institution who require reading accommodations in accordance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (29 U.S.C. 794) or with the Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq.), including but not limited to students who are blind, visually impaired, or who have a specific learning disability or any other disability affecting reading, shall have access to instructional materials in alternative formats that are appropriate to their disability and educational needs.

SB 85 was modeled after California Assembly Bill 422 (1999) and Arkansas Act 758 (2001, in PDF, requires Adobe® Acrobat® Reader®). A number of states have now passed accessible textbooks laws, but these were two of the earliest states to do so. Both required that publishers supply electronic versions of textbooks "in a timely manner... upon receipt of a written request."

Kentucky's SB 85, and the implementation of that law, is a promising practice for several reasons. First, it clarifies the phrase "in a timely manner," which is a recurring phrase in accessibility law and has long been a phrase that is subject to dispute. SB 85 defines "timely" very specifically:

The publisher shall transmit or otherwise send an electronic format version of requested instructional material within fifteen (15) working days of receipt of an appropriately completed request. Should this timetable present an undue burden for a publisher, the publisher shall submit within the fifteen (15) working day period a statement to the requesting entity certifying the expected date for transmission or delivery of the file.

SB 85 was also the first law to identify Extensible Markup Language (XML) as the default file format if publishers and educational entities should fail to otherwise agree upon a format. A key concept in selecting an appropriate file format is "structural integrity:" The selected format should be capable of delivering the text of the material, as well as sidebars, the table of contents, chapter headings and subheadings, footnotes, indexes, glossaries, bibliographies, and all other content to students with disabilities. XML is well suited to this task.

Kentucky's SB 85 is also a promising practice because it defines print disabilities broadly, allowing for the provision of alternative versions of materials to a wide range of students. Many states' accessible textbook laws focus specifically on a narrow range of students, such as students with visual disabilities. In some cases this is extended to include students with learning disabilities. However, Kentucky's law extends the definition further still, "including but not limited to students who are blind, are visually impaired, or have a specific learning disability or other disability affecting reading."