NEADS Conference 2004 - Right On!


Trent Copp

Trent Copp


Trent Copp is currently a library assistant at McMaster University focusing on special needs. Trent’s position includes coordinating access to required textbooks for students with print-related disabilities, as well as advocating for the availability and technological accessibility of electronic books or “e-books.” Trent has previously conducted research concerning secondary students with learning disabilities and has worked as a community support facilitator for adults with brain injuries.




The Provision of Alternate Formats: A Librarian’s Perspective

This presentation will focus on the provision of materials in alternate formats from a librarian’s perspective. In recent years, technology has advanced to create an eclectic list of resources that can be accessed to obtain materials in alternate formats. While many resources are generally good, each has its drawbacks and its positive points. Advances in technology, underlying screen reader programs, have helped to augment the viability of a new resource, e-books. One barrier to fully utilizing these resources is Canadian legislation, which is sadly behind American legislation. Canadian publishers too often refuse to grant such wishes as obtaining e-texts without a legislative push. Other barriers to accessing academic materials in a format of choice are also present and will be discussed in this presentation.


Trent Copp, Library Assistant (Special Needs), McMaster University, discussed the “steps to Utopia” for alternative-format texts. Explaining the pros and cons of various formats, he said that audio, Braille, and large print are familiar but costly, labour intensive, and cumbersome. They also have a limited market. On the other hand, e-text is both cost- and labour-effective and is often available in the public domain. It can be read with screen readers and magnifiers such as Kurzweil and JAWS, or with other free or less costly limited-feature alternatives.

Copp recommended a website with recordings for students with blindness and dyslexia: However, Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D) provides American editions only. Institutional production is inefficient and fails to take advantage of inter-lending. Student self-production takes away valuable study time. McMaster University has a Resource Services Library that coordinates inter-lending through the Amicus, LOUIS, and CNIB catalogues, for example. But financial resources continue to be a problem when materials need to be produced. Time is also a major issue. Copp noted that, typically, he must start working in October to fill student needs by January.

On the positive side, major publishers now have online request forms, and new editions are increasingly more likely to be available as e-text. McMaster has also found it useful to provide assurance to publishers through an e-text contract that students sign, agreeing not to copy the material for other use. The use of e-text reduces the need for storage space and alternative-format production, the layers of administrative involvement, and the need for volunteers. And, although technology intimidates some students, and screen readers cannot handle math and diagrams, advancing technology is addressing those barriers.

Copp’s roadmap to Utopia includes educating software companies and smaller publishers, promoting the benefits of screen readers, pressuring faculty, and adopting legislation. Publishers are currently able to provide e-text for approximately 65% to 75% of requests.

Copp closed with a positive message of awareness and co-operation from Oxford University Press, a major textbook publisher. He offered his email address ( to participants who might want to contact him.