Skip to main content

The Chafee Amendment

AEM Center Notes

Understanding the Chafee Amendment is helpful to anyone who is responsible or advocates for the progress of learners who have difficulty reading or accessing text-based materials due to a disability. Text-based means materials with static text and images. Both print and digital materials can be text-based, such as textbooks and related curriculum materials.

Section 121 of the U.S. Copyright Act is known as the Chafee Amendment. It was named for Senator John H. Chafee, who introduced the amendment to Congress in 1996. It built upon a series of previous copyright laws that were passed to ensure that blind individuals and others with certain physical impairments had access to standard print works. These laws date back to 1931 when Congress established the National Library Service (NLS) to administer the “free national library program of reading materials for print-disabled individuals.”

Prior to the Chafee Amendment, the NLS needed permission from authors and publishers to convert copyrighted works to special formats without royalty. This requirement resulted in delays to providing materials to qualifying patrons with disabilities. 

The Chafee Amendment addressed this delay. Since 1996, organizations and services known as authorized entities are allowed to create and provide accessible formats of copyrighted works for exclusive use by eligible persons. 

The key terms in the Chafee Amendment are accessible format, authorized entity, and eligible person

Accessible Format

Under the Chafee Amendment, accessible format means

[A]n alternative manner or form that gives an eligible person access to the work when the copy or phonorecord in the accessible format is used exclusively by the eligible person to permit him or her to have access as feasibly and comfortably as a person without such disability.

Understanding the definition of accessible format helps guide processes for selecting usable formats for learners who need them. Rather than specify types of file formats, the legal definition of accessible format is an inclusive and functional term that focuses on the experience of the user, emphasizing that an alternative format enables the eligible person to have access to the work “as feasibly and comfortably as a person without such disability.”

Authorized Entity

Under the Chafee Amendment, an authorized entity means

[A] nonprofit organization or a governmental agency that has a primary mission to provide specialized services relating to training, education, or adaptive reading or information access needs of blind or other persons with disabilities.

Understanding the definition of authorized entity helps guide the process of identifying sources of accessible formats. Authorized entities are accessible media producers (AMPs), as well as education agencies. See Acquiring Accessible Formats for examples of authorized entities.

Eligible Person

Under the Chafee Amendment, an eligible person means

(A)n individual who, regardless of any other disability— 

(A) is blind;

(B) has a visual impairment or perceptual or reading disability that cannot be improved to give visual function substantially equivalent to that of a person who has no such impairment or disability and so is unable to read printed works to substantially the same degree as a person without an impairment or disability; or  

(C) is otherwise unable, through physical disability, to hold or manipulate a book or to focus or move the eyes to the extent that would be normally acceptable for reading.

Understanding the definition of eligible person helps guide the process of determining learners’ qualifications to receive accessible formats from authorized entities. The NLS provides a list of professionals who may certify a learner as an eligible person:

Doctor of medicine, doctor of osteopathy, ophthalmologist, optometrist, psychologist, registered nurse, therapist, and professional staff of hospitals, institutions, and public or welfare agencies (such as an educator, a social worker, case worker, counselor, rehabilitation teacher, certified reading specialist, school psychologist, superintendent, or librarian).

Each authorized entity has a process for providing certification of a learner’s eligibility to receive accessible formats. 

Top of Page