Alternative Media Access Center Joins EI2; Serves Persons with Disabilities

The Alternative Media Access Center (AMAC), which provides textbook support services for persons with disabilities, has become the newest unit of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2). Formerly based at the University of Georgia in Athens, AMAC recently completed its move to Atlanta, opening a facility on the southwest side of the Georgia Tech campus.

Funded in 2007 with $600,000 from the University System of Georgia Board of Regents and membership fees from participating institutions, AMAC initially served the 35 Board of Regents higher education institutions. Since then, its mission has expanded to include all types of post-secondary institutions, K-12 educational settings, government agencies and even corporate clients. According to Christopher Lee, AMAC director, the timing, circumstances and resources were right for a move to Atlanta.

“Our member institutions pay membership fees for alternative media production, student tracking, access to assistive technology, training and technical support,” he explained. “UGA incubated us and supported us; they really were a good place for us to start. But as we’ve grown and been charged with generating revenue, it does kind of change our mission a little bit. We needed an environment that was highly entrepreneurial, so EI2 stood out.”

EI2 provides integrated support to entrepreneurs and early-stage companies in Georgia, helping companies with business planning, team-building and making connections to the people and resources necessary for success. Programs include the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), a nationally-known science and technology incubator. Since its founding in 1980, ATDC has graduated more than 120 companies, which together have raised more than $1 billion in outside financing.

Because AMAC essentially serves as a small manufacturer of accessible media formats for those with print disabilities, Lee was also interested in EI2’s manufacturing expertise. Through its Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership program, EI2 assisted nearly 2,000 Georgia companies last year, helping them reduce operating costs by more than $17 million and improve sales by more than $110 million.

Among its services, AMAC converts standard textbooks to formats usable by persons with disabilities. When books arrive, their spines are removed and pages are run through a high-speed scanner. The scans are then converted into a format that has been requested by the institution serving the students, whether it is an accessible PDF, an MP3 or hard-copy or electronic Braille.

“Our mission is to serve these students through a manufacturing process providing them with not only the textbook, but also the adapted software,” Lee said. “We provide a specialized software package that the students download along with their content and they intertwine for a holistic approach.”

Since its establishment in 2007, AMAC has experienced significant and steady growth. Requests for services increased 135 percent in the program’s second year, resulting in increased file production revenue. To date the AMAC production and fulfillment model has resulted in a cost savings of nearly $2 million to its members and institutional cost savings has lead to a doubling of membership.

In addition to the AMAC project, Lee oversees the Access Text Network, a venture that operates as a conduit between the publishing world and post-secondary institutions’ disability programs. Founded and supported by the Association of American Publishers and higher education textbook publishers, Access Text will serve as the national nucleus for post-secondary distribution of approved alternative textbook file exchanges, training and technical support.

“Access Text is developing a national system that tracks historical data, so an institution can see how many times a title has been requested, in what format it was requested and how long it took for the files to be delivered. That information can be used to improve the request response time, ensuring more timely access to students requiring alternative formats,” Lee noted.

Since Access Text launched last November, nearly a quarter of the nation’s higher education institutions have signed up to participate and Lee’s staff of nearly 20 persons has fielded more than 17,000 requests. The need is great: approximately 15 million children, adolescents and adults in the United States have learning disabilities.

“Nationwide, it’s a huge area that needs to be addressed. We’re seeing an increase in the population of people with disabilities – the elderly, returning veterans – and we’re going to need AMAC and Access Text,” said Lee, who was diagnosed with dyslexia as a child. “There’s a national movement toward publishers creating this content, so we’re really on the cusp of helping define the issues with publishers and disability groups. There really aren’t any organizations similar to AMAC out there that are as holistic as we are.”

By joining EI2, AMAC will be able to better bring together the manufacturing, entrepreneurial and student pieces of the puzzle while drawing on the wealth of expertise within the organization. Stephen Fleming, vice president and executive director of EI2, says that AMAC will be a boon for Georgia Tech and EI2.

“AMAC not only brings extensive knowledge around accessibility issues for students with disabilities, but also has a national presence with its prestigious Access Text program,” noted Fleming. “Georgia Tech and the Enterprise Innovation Institute are proud to have AMAC join our team.”

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:

The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

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Writer: Nancy Fullbright