NEADS Conference 2004 - Right On!


Susan Doerksen

Susan Doerksen


Susan Doerksen is the Coordinator for Post-Secondary Alternative Format Textbooks with Special Material Services for the Government of Manitoba. She orders and organizes all production of alternate format textbooks for the province of Manitoba at the post-secondary level. She has a B.Sc. from McGill University. Also, she has received her Library Technician Diploma and is an optician.




The Journey of Alternate Format Textbooks in Manitoba: How Cooperation Works!

This will be an interactive discussion that will focus on the role of the Disability Services Office at the University of Manitoba in regard to alternate format textbooks. The University of Manitoba and Special Materials Services have created a working relationship based on cooperation and shared work between the two offices. Susan Doerksen from Special Material Services will speak about the feedback that her program has received and where the services in the province are moving, in terms of staffing and formats available. Delegates are invited to give their comments on the alternate format process in their own provinces.


Susan Doerksen, Coordinator for Post-Secondary Alternative Format Textbooks, Special Materials Services (SMS), Government of Manitoba, explained that SMS not only provides e-text (Word, ASCII, RTF, HTML, PDF), audio (analog, MP3, WAV), large-print, and Braille and e-Braille resources, it also lends equipment. Production resources include two recording studios, two tactile specialists, several narrators, five part-time editors, and a large-print facility. SMS also keep a “special formats” library from which it loans titles across Canada.

The journey from the search for a text to production first involves determining the availability of the title. SMS searches various databases—for example, those at the National Library of Canada database, at the Association of Education Resource Centres, and online at If the text is found, it can often be borrowed through interlibrary loan. However, problems are encountered with cross-border loans, because books sometimes are lost.

Frequently, the option of actually producing the book must be considered. SMS consults with the DS office about producing the text for the student.

Production involves these steps:

  • Obtain a print copy of the text.
  • Order the publisher’s disk, which can take up to a month and which sometimes leads to problems with file-type incompatibility and missing information.
  • Notify the National Library of Canada to facilitate file sharing.
  • Produce the alternative format, which often requires editing even if having the publisher’s disk makes scanning unnecessary.
  • Deliver to the student, sometimes in instalments.

SMS receives feedback from students, teachers, and government agencies. It also stays in touch with students.

Changes in file formats are an issue. Something new is always on the horizon. New formats are allowing greater accessibility and ease of production and use. U.S. publishers are being encouraged to produce in an XML-type format that can be more easily adapted to Braille, e-text, and so on. Talks are ongoing in Canada with regard to building a depository of publishers’ disks. SMS has created an FTP (file transfer protocol) site and a web OPAC (online public access catalogue) for sharing files. Finally, new software and playback or storage devices with more features and greater capacity—such as Apple’s iPod—are becoming cheaper and more available.

Doerksen recommended checking out the Illinois project at The SMS website can be found at, and the online catalogue at

Doerksen provided copies of her presentation in both Braille and large print.