An individual with a physically-based disability that makes it difficult or impossible to read a printed book likely will qualify for Bookshare® services.  Organizations (schools, libraries, and rehabilitation and social services agencies) can also obtain Bookshare services to support their efforts to meet the reading needs of people with these disabilities.  The individual signing up for our services, or the organization serving that individual, will be asked to provide Bookshare with a Proof of Disability (certified by someone who is a Competent Authority as described below) during the registration process. As explained in more detail below, the Qualifications to enroll in and use Bookshare services are based on an exception contained in Section 121 of U.S. Copyright law, commonly known as the Chafee Amendment.  These qualifications are not set by Bookshare itself -  we have to comply with the law that makes Bookshare possible as a qualified provider of these copyrighted materials.  Many of the copyrighted books in Bookshare are provided to us through permission agreements with publishers, and our commitment to them is to limit the distribution of copyrighted materials to people with disabilities, using the same set of qualifications.  Because of differences in national laws, and limitations in permissions agreements, not all Bookshare titles are available in all countries.

This webpage, including the Table that follows and the answers to Frequently Asked Questions, below, provide the guidelines for determining what qualifies as a print disability. It also lists examples of Competent Authorities qualified by law to make this assessment. A Competent Authority is a person with professional qualifications which permit that professional to certify that the prospective Bookshare member qualifies under U.S. Copyright law or its local equivalent.  For more detailed information, carefully review the Frequently Asked Qualifications Questions below the table. 

View the video: "Who is Eligible for Bookshare?" 


Qualified/Not Qualified

Examples of Competent Authorities

  • Visual Impairment (VI)
  • Blindness / Low vision

Qualified, if confirmed by a listed  Competent Authority

A family doctor, ophthalmologist, optometrist, Teacher of the Visually Impaired, Special Education teacher

Certification from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in the U.S. or similar national body in other countries

  • Physical Disability (PD)

Qualified, if confirmed by a listed Competent Authority that the disability significantly affects the use of printed materials

A family doctor or other medical professional, physical therapist, resource specialist, Special Education teacher

  • Learning Disability (LD)
  • Reading Disability

Qualified, if confirmed by a listed Competent Authority, that the disability has a physical basis and significantly affects the use of print

A neurologist, psychiatrist, learning disability specialist, Special Education teacher, school psychologist, or clinical psychologist with a background in learning disabilities

  • Autism
  • Emotional disabilities
  • ADHD
  • ESL and ELL
  • Intellectual Disabilities
Not qualified under this diagnosis,

unless accompanied by a qualifying visual, physical, learning or reading disability as certified by a Competent Authority as above

Examples listed above


Frequently Asked Questions: Qualifications

  1. I have a vision disability; how do I know if I qualify?
    If you are legally blind, you qualify. In addition, if you don’t meet the legal blindness standard, a functional vision assessment that indicates a significant problem accessing text is also acceptable.
  2. I have a learning disability; how do I know if I qualify?
    If you are a K-12 student in the U.S. who has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) with a specific language learning disability and a need for text accommodations, your school should be able to confirm that you qualify and sign you up for Bookshare membership.  But, other K-12 students with learning disabilities as well as adults and people residing in other countries also may qualify.  People with a significant learning disability that affects reading should be able to obtain an equivalent proof of print disability through their school or a professional with expertise in learning disabilities.
  3. I have a physical disability; how do I know if I qualify?
    If you cannot pick up a book, turn pages, maintain visual focus on a book or do not have the physical stamina to work with printed material, you most likely qualify for Bookshare membership.
  4. So, who doesn’t qualify?
    The 98% of the population who can pick up a book and read it (or could if they learned to read). The copyright exemption exists to help the small number of people whose disabilities have a major impact on their ability to read. Other people who don’t qualify include: 
    • People without disabilities
    • People who have not yet learned to read, but could
    • People who do not speak the language of material they want to read
    • People with disabilities that do not impact the ability to read (for example, most hearing and emotional disabilities)
    Some people with these disabilities might qualify on another basis. For example, someone who is both deaf and legally blind qualifies for Bookshare. Someone with a developmental disability and a learning disability might qualify.
  5. I’m a certifying professional who qualifies as a Competent Authority. How can I access the technical requirements of the law for certification?
    The full technical and legal details are available on the Library of Congress’ Chafee Amendment page and the supporting regulations (Section B.2.i.).  If you are certifying someone who has a physically-based disability (including dyslexia) that makes it difficult to read standard print effectively, he or she should meet the technical requirements and you should be able to confirm this in writing if your professional expertise is applicable to such a determination.  Outside the United States, we accept professionals with equivalent qualifications.
  6. Do other significant disabilities, such as autism, intellectual disabilities, ADHD, or a hearing loss count as qualifying print disabilities?
    By themselves, these other diagnoses do not qualify as a print disability under the laws and agreements that determine Bookshare eligibility.   Many people with one or more of these disabilities do not experience a significant limitation when it comes to reading print books.  It is quite possible that some people with these disabilities could still qualify because of other factors. For example, a severe visual or learning disability could also be present in a person with these other disabilities. So, a person who is both deaf and blind, or ADHD and significantly dyslexic, could qualify.
  7. What about disabilities that affect reading that are temporary?

    A person who is temporarily disabled when it comes to reading print may utilize Bookshare services during the period of significant print disability. However, once an individual has regained the ability to read normally, he or she no longer qualifies for access to Bookshare and should cancel their account.

8.    Why doesn’t Bookshare follow Special Education Law in determining eligibility for services?

Bookshare is a nonprofit entity established with a principal purpose of helping people with disabilities. It would very much like to see more people with disabilities, including more students, benefit from our services. However, we are bound first, by copyright law and, when it comes to serving students, special education laws. So, some students with disabilities who could benefit from accommodations for accessing text, who are entitled to these adaptations under special education law in the U.S., don’t qualify under the copyright law exemption.   Not all students with Individual Education Plans (IEPs) qualify for Bookshare services.  For example, a deaf student with an IEP who is reading text at grade level would not meet the copyright definition of print disability, while qualifying for other services related to deafness. Yet, many students without IEPs or 504 plans (in the U.S.) may qualify for access under the copyright law exemption.

The standards set in the U.S. Copyright laws which permit copying and distribution of these copyrighted materials apply only to certain specified groups of people.  Bookshare qualifies under the Chafee Amendment (17 USC §121), to provide such services, which would otherwise be a copyright infringement. Thus, Bookshare does not set the rules for qualification. It is very important that Bookshare respect these rules to ensure we can continue to serve people with the most significant disabilities when it comes to reading print. 

This copyright law exemption is a social bargain which tries to balance the needs of people who are unable to read normal print with the economic rights of publishers and authors.  It is not simply based on who might benefit from access to accessible materials.  It restricts the exemption to a group of people who are assumed to not be able to access regular print materials because of a severe disability.  Publishers and authors do not receive a royalty under this copyright exemption, so they have an economic interest in ensuring it stays narrowly focused on the two percent of the population who cannot read standard print.

Because of the provisions of the law, Bookshare is required to place the responsibility of certification on the professional signing the Proof of Disability form to confirm that each Bookshare Member meets the copyright definition. Here is a simplified guide on students who should be able to qualify for Bookshare services and to have a certifying professional (who meets the legal definition of a Competent Authority) sign-off on the specifics of a student’s qualification:

  • Students with visual impairments that keep them from reading standard print (blind, legally blind, or with other functional vision limitations).
  • Students with severe learning disabilities that keep them from being able to effectively read standard print. This includes students with IEPs that call for text accommodation to respond to specific language learning disabilities.
  • Students with physical disabilities that prevent them from reading print or using a print book. Such a limitation could be the result of a spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, a neurological condition, etc.

Our Bookshare team believes strongly in the value of accessible media for all students who might benefit from them, beyond those who currently qualify under these copyright exemptions. Bookshare is working with domestic and international publishers to see if there is a market model solution for these other students that provides publishers and authors with compensation. We would like all mainstream ebooks sold to be accessible, and to see that all material that is born digitally is born accessibly for all. It is also important that Bookshare continues to operate in careful compliance with copyright law to ensure that Bookshare can continue to serve students with severe disabilities today.  We look forward to the day when everybody who might benefit from accessible materials has access to them.  Thank you for your understanding.