Visually disabled students may benefit from bill

By By Jay Logan Rogers

By Jay Logan Rogers

The State Legislature is considering a bill that would require textbook companies to provide an electronic copy of school materials to aid the visually impaired.

Having an electronic copy of a textbook allows a disability resource center to use a computer program to translate it into Braille. Students can also use software to have pages read to them off a computer screen.

House Bill 192, sponsored by Rep. D. Gregg Buxton, R-Roy, was approved by the House Education Committee by a margin of 9 to 1 and passed the House floor by a vote of 61 to 3.

“This is already the law for (books used in) kindergarten through 12th grade,” Buxton said at a Feb. 6 committee meeting. “The (disability resource centers) from all the colleges have felt this was an important issue.”

JoePete Wilson, Director of the Center for Disability Services at the U, told the committee that publishers need not fear a revenue loss from providing electronic copies.

“The students are required to purchase the hard copy, and as a center we certify that. The student is purchasing the publisher’s materials, they’re paying the full retail price, and they have to bring in a receipt and the book to us as part of certifying that the request is legitimate.” Wilson said.

Leslie Gertsch, Executive Director of the Utah Council for the Blind, said that when electronic files are not provided, students have to wait for disability centers to go through the time-consuming process of manually scanning an entire textbook into a computer. That can cause them to fall behind in their classes.

“It takes many weeks to put these into a format if it has to be scanned and edited,” Gertsch said. “If the publisher can provide the book in an electronic format, it can be done immediately, and the student is on the same level with the other students who have the book at the beginning of the semester.”

Rep. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, was the only member of the committee to vote against the bill.

“It doesn’t seem to me that it’s in the purview of the Utah Legislature to pass a bill regulating publishers that function outside of our state on how they produce instructional material,” Dayton said.

Rep. James Ferrin, R-Orem, disagreed with Dayton’s interpretation of the bill.

“I’m not sure we’re mandating that they require an electronic version. It’s only a prerequisite to being able to sell us their books. If that publisher doesn’t wish to provide us with an electronic version, then they don’t have to be selling us their books,” Ferrin said.

Having passed the committee and the House floor, HB 192 awaits Senate approval and the governor’s signature to become law.

Tai Tomasi, a graduate student in public administration who is blind, said the bill could have a big impact on her and other visually impaired students.

“I’ve had semesters when I didn’t get a computerized copy of the book. If you have to scan it, the book’s binding has to be cut, and that means it can’t be sold back,” Tomasi said.

Tomasi said that when she is unable to get access to an electronic copy of a textbook, she has to have someone sit down and read the hard copy to her.

“The bill they’re considering up at the Legislature would help. It would make sure we could use our books when the semester starts like anyone else,” Tomasi said.