Supporting Students With Print Disabilities

In DR offices across the country a typical workflow for generating accessible instructional materials generally follows these steps:

  1. Each semester, students notify DR that they wish to use the services for accessible instructional materials and provide information about the courses they are taking.
  2. DR researches which materials need to be provided in alternative form and check to see if accessible versions are available. If a ready version is unavailable, DR searches for a version that can be easily modified.
  1. If an electronic copy of a text is unavailable or of very poor quality, or if the publisher does not respond, a school will obtain a print copy and scan it, often resorting to cutting the binding of the text to obtain a good scan. The scan is run through optical character recognition (OCR) software and then further modified.
  2. Each student is served individually, so the processing of the digital file will depend on the needed output for the student. In some institutions, DR has established standard file formats from which students can choose. Other institutions will adapt their work to the student’s preferences. For example, a blind student may want some text in braille but other text provided in a structured Microsoft Word document. A student with a reading disorder may want text-based electronic files to be accessed through text-to-speech software or they may want an MP3 version so they can focus on listening. External service providers may be needed to work on some projects (such as braille and video captioning) and subject experts may be needed for some materials (e.g., interpreting graphs for a prose description).
  3. When the copy is ready, the file is distributed to the student.
These processes all take valuable time and effort. It seems odd to say but “imagine” what could be done by students and DR staff to support student access with all that time and energy. If the titles that students with print disabilities need for their courses could be purchased commercially in an accessible format, just like all their peers get to do, much of what I have outlined could go away and students with print disabilities would start the semester with access to the information and content that they need. It seems like this is actually possible if publishers would be willing to adopt workflows that produce accessible formats such as EPUB3.  After all, one goal of publishing is to share knowledge. Why not share it with everyone, equitably?

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