In post-secondary education settings, Accessible Educational Materials – AEM are traditionally referred to as “materials in alternative format,” which are the same specialized formats of print-based texts: digital text, audio, large print, and braille. Disability Support Personnel (DSP) in higher education institutions are responsible for providing materials in alternative format for qualifying students with print disabilities, including blindness and low vision; physical disabilities; and learning disabilities in the area of reading. A position statement by the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) clearly outlines the issues of textbook access in higher ed.
Acquisition of AEM
Books in alternative format can be acquired for qualifying post-secondary students through a number of services, all of which host large collections of higher ed curricular materials:
- Bookshare – Bookshare provides materials in digital text format. Free to all U.S. students with qualifying print disabilities, Bookshare offers both individual and organizational memberships.
- Learning Ally – Learning Ally provides materials in human-narrated audio format and offers both individual and organizational annual memberships. Organizational fees are based on the number of students an institution enrolls in its membership.
- AccessText Network – Founded and supported by the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and higher education textbook publishers, AccessText Network provides digital text files from leading post-secondary textbook publishers. Membership is free for all U.S. post-secondary institutions.
In cases when a book is not available through a service, DSP will request a copy of the book directly from the publisher and convert it “in-house.”
DSPs should provide training to students on how to use alternative formats with assistive technology (AT). Bookshare and Learning Ally both provide free reading tools. Materials from AccessText Network, or converted “in-house,” will require students to use text to speech technology or an audio player, which are free or low cost tools available for laptops, tablets, or smartphones.
DSPs can make alternative format services student friendly and efficient by clearly posting the following information on college websites:
- Procedure for requesting accommodations.
- Procedure specific to requesting textbooks and other curricular materials in alternative format, including timeline considerations and other student responsibilities.
- An online alternative format request form.
- Resources for using alternative formats with AT.
- Information about training and technical assistance.
- Training Resources
- Selection/Acquisition of AEM and AT
- Laws and Policies regarding AEM
- Assistive Technology and AEM
- Transition Planning
- Apps for Students with Learning Disabilities/Dyslexia
- Videos about AEM
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