Monday, November 1, 2010

Blind student in New Zealand complains about price of books that other university students get for free

From The Press in New Zealand:

A blind Canterbury University student is upset that she has to buy expensive textbooks others can borrow free.

Virginia Boyle (pictured), 44, said it was "very unfair and unethical" that she had to buy books for her social-work course before the university's alternative format centre could reformat the books into audio.

Other students could borrow the books from university libraries free.

"There's a gap in the system," the Spreydon woman said.

"Why should a blind person have to pay to buy books which are made available to other students for free?"

University disability resource service team leader Steve Russell said the problem lay with copyright law and publishers.

The law prevented the university from reformatting books on behalf of students without publishers' permission.

Most publishers only allowed access to their electronic text if students had evidence they had bought a copy of it, Russell said.

Publishers' rules did not allow library copies to qualify.

"The university has been investigating the possibility of the print versions held in the library counting as proof of purchase with the publishers, but without success," he said.

Boyle said she wanted tertiary institutes and the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind to push for change or more government funding.

"Texts should be made available for us; it shouldn't be a cost we have to bear."

Through the Tertiary Education Commission, tertiary institutes receive government funding to improve access and achievement for disabled students.

This funding is $28.60 (excluding GST) a year per equivalent domestic fulltime student and, within rules, each institute decides how to spend it.

Individuals can also apply for assistance from funds and scholarships from government departments, their institutes and organisations.

Boyle said she used the limited fund to buy resources such as software.

Russell said TEC's equity funding had been fixed since 2000, and for the past three years had contributed only a third of the total money spent by the university's disability resource service.

The foundation shared Boyle's frustration, spokeswoman Kelly Hawkins said.

Information access was often the biggest barrier for visually impaired tertiary students, she said.

Today is the final day of Blind Week, which aims to fundraise and raise awareness about blindness and sight loss.