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HQ 557948

September 30, 1994

CLA-2 CO:R:C:S 557948 DEC


TARIFF NO.: 9817.00.96

Mr. John M. Peterson
Eighty Broad Street
Suite 3400
New York, New York 10004

RE: Eligibility of scanner/voice synthesizer reading machine for duty-free treatment as articles for the handicapped under the
Nairobi Protocol; "The Reading Edge"; HRL 088503

Dear Mr. Peterson:

This is in response to your letter dated February 28, 1994, in which you seek a ruling with respect to the eligibility of a scanner/voice synthesizer reading machine for duty-free treatment under the Nairobi Protocol.


The item scanner/voice synthesizer reading machine under consideration ("The Reading Edge") contains a fully integrated reading machine which combines a bookedge scanner, character recognition software, synthetic speech reproduction capability, and a customized keypad. The unit is packed in a briefcase-sized case. The Reading Edge is designed to allow blind or visually impaired persons to enjoy written materials without needing the assistance of another person to read the materials aloud to them.

Literature describing The Reading Edge has been submitted. It details The Reading Edge's specially designed scanner which allows The Reading Edge to scan the pages of books, the proprietary software which allows the product to read and
translate printed or typeset documents, and the unit's voice synthesizer which produces nine different reading voices at various reading speeds. It can read French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Spanish or Swedish.


Whether the scanner/voice synthesizer reading machine is eligible for duty-free treatment pursuant to the Nairobi Protocol.


The Nairobi Protocol to the Agreement on the Importation of Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Materials Act of 1982, established the duty-free treatment for certain articles for the handicapped. Presidential Proclamation 5978 and section 1121 of the Omnibus Trade and Competitive Act of 1988, provided for the implementation of the Nairobi Protocol into subheadings 9817.00.92, 9817.00.94, and 9817.00.96, Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States ("HTSUS"). These tariff provisions specifically provide that "[a]rticles specially designed or adapted for the use or benefit of the blind or other physically or mentally handicapped persons" are eligible for duty-free treatment.

United States Note 4(a), subchapter XVII, Chapter 98, HTSUS, ("Note 4(a)"), provides that, "the term 'blind or other physically or mentally handicapped persons' includes any person suffering from a permanent or chronic physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, or working."

In Headquarters Ruling Letter 088503, dated May 3, 1991, Customs determined that a speech synthesizer was properly classified under subheading 9817.00.96. That machine converted data that was typed on a keyboard into a synthesized voice which enabled the deaf user to communicate. Similarly, The Reading Edge takes scanned data and processes it through its character recognition software and produces a synthetic voice to allow the blind or visually impaired to enjoy written materials without the assistance of others.

For The Reading Edge to be eligible for duty-free treatment, it must be determined that it is "specially designed or adapted for the use or benefit of the blind or other physically or mentally handicapped." Although the article will be used by the visually impaired as well as the blind, there is no question that visually impaired persons are physically handicapped as defined in Chapter 98, Subchapter XVII, Note 4(a). The Reading Edge, therefore, will be allowed to enter free of duty under subheading 9817.00.96.


The Reading Edge scanner/voice synthesizer reading machine is specifically designed or adapted for the handicapped. Therefore, it is eligible for duty-free treatment under subheading 9817.00.96, HTSUS.


John Durant
Director, Commercial Rulings Division

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