NLS on the Move

September 26, 2019

The latest on our new initiatives


NLS launches pilot to test expanded access

NLS is launching pilot projects in Texas and Pennsylvania next month to explore the impacts of easing access to the program for people with reading disabilities.

Under current regulations, people with dyslexia and other reading disabilities may enroll in the NLS program—but only if a medical doctor certifies that their disability is the result of “organic dysfunction.”

A 2016 report by the Government Accountability Office urged NLS to relax that requirement. In addition, the 2018 Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act expanded the definition of who can benefit from programs like NLS to include individuals who are “blind [or who have] a visual impairment or perceptual or reading disability[.]” Of course, many network libraries have expressed strong interest in loosening the certification requirement to increase access for individuals who would benefit from talking books.

“We want to relax the requirement that only a medical doctor can certify eligibility for people with reading disabilities, but we need data to help us project, and prepare for, the increase in enrollment that will bring—an increase that will impact both NLS and our network libraries,” NLS Director Karen Keninger said. “We expect this pilot project to give us that data and let us test some of our assumptions.”

The Texas Talking Book Program (TTBP) was chosen for the pilot because Texas recently enacted a law requiring that schools refer students with reading disabilities to the TTBP. Its participation will help us understand how active engagement by the education community could impact enrollment in the program.

The other pilot participants are our two network libraries in Pennsylvania: the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and the Free Library of Philadelphia. Pennsylvania, another state in the top five for population, doesn’t have a law like the one in Texas, so NLS can compare and contrast the two states’ experiences.

Pilot participants will be instructed how to download books using the BARD Mobile app on a smart device; they will not be provided with a digital talking-book machine unless they request a hardship waiver.

The pilot will begin next Tuesday, October 1, and continue through September 30, 2020. NLS plans to provide an update on the progress of the pilot at the biennial conference in Lincoln, NE, next May.


Tuesday also launches a new era for NLS—the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled. Operations Alert 19-61, on September 16, included language about the name change that you can use in your newsletters, social media, or on your websites. A follow-up Operations Alert, 19-62, also clarified the Spanish form of our new name: Servicio Nacional de Bibliotecas para personas ciegas o con dificultades para acceder al texto impreso.

If your library uses the NLS logo on any materials or channels and would like to replace it with the new one, please contact Kristen Fernekes ([log in to unmask]) or Mark Layman ([log in to unmask]).

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