Mason Libraries participates in new, national initiative to make educational materials accessible


“Federating Repositories of Accessible Materials for Higher Education” awarded a $1,000,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

FAIRFAX, VA – January 22, 2019: Joined by the Office of Compliance, Diversity and Ethics, the University Libraries is pleased to announce George Mason University’s participation in a new, national initiative to make educational materials accessible for students with print and learning disabilities at institutions of higher education. “Federating Repositories of Accessible Materials for Higher Education” is a two-year project funded by a $1,000,000 grant from the Andrew M. Mellon Foundation to the University of Virginia.

George Mason will host the kick-off meeting for the new project on Friday, February 15, 2019, when representatives from all of the pilot participants will attend to plan activities within the scope of the project. In addition to representatives of the University of Virginia (the project PI), George Mason University will be joined by Texas A&M University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Northern Arizona University, and Vanderbilt University. Additionally, representatives for three of the largest content repositories – HathiTrust, the Internet Archive, and Bookshare – will also attend and participate.

Such collaborations are vital to address the issue of duplicate efforts and delayed services that affect student success. Students with print disabilities require text to be reformatted for screen readers, text-to-speech software, or other forms of audio delivery, and often universities have few on staff to do this necessary work.

About the project, John Zenelis, Dean of Libraries and University Librarian, remarks, “George Mason University is well positioned to engage with and contribute to this project of national significance due to its existing campus partnerships in this space and its innovative Assistive Technology Initiative that brings together Mason’s Office of Compliance, Diversity and Ethics; the Libraries; the Office of Digital Learning; Information Technology Services; the Purchasing Office; and the Office of University Counsel. We are excited to work together with our colleagues at the other institutions and to collaborate on this national pilot project for creating and sustaining a system of readily accessible learning materials that supports student success at all levels.”

The goal of this ambitious project is to establish a national platform for sharing learning materials that have been remediated for students with print disabilities, thus reducing duplication of efforts, allowing cumulative improvement of accessible texts, and decreasing turnaround time for delivery of texts to students and faculty. At all of the participating universities, the libraries and disability services offices will be included in the work and at four of the institutions (including Mason) the university presses will participate. The project aims to address the large gap between what the law requires of universities with respect to students with learning challenges and what staff members in supporting offices can provide.

Korey Singleton, Manager of the Assistive Technology Initiative (ATI) notes, “Over the last twenty years, Mason has made significant strides towards ensuring students with disabilities are afforded equivalent and timely access to their educational materials. This is due not only to the dedicated staff within the ATI, Disability Services, and Compliance, Diversity and Ethics, but also, in large part, to the many university partners that have supported and championed these efforts. As Dean Zenelis commented, we are excited by the opportunity to extend these partnerships to our colleagues at other institutions and look forward to being a part of this cutting-edge pilot project.”

The project also depends on HathiTrust, the Internet Archive, and Bookshare – three large digital repositories, each of which already provides service to users with print disabilities – to provide a federated network of storage and delivery and to draw on their individual networks of social commitment and technical expertise. The Association of Research Libraries will also provide support for a meeting of legal experts at the outset of the project.

The grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will fund the creation of library infrastructure at UVA called EMMA (Educational Materials Made Accessible) which will handle authentication, search, selection, and download, while also providing an upload path for texts produced or remediated on the campuses of the seven participating universities. EMMA will connect university librarians or disability service officers operating on behalf of students (or faculty) with disabilities at any of the seven participating universities to materials created on any of their campuses or by any of the three repositories.

CONTACT:  Jessica Clark, Development and Communications Officer,, 703.993.2251

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