NEADS Conference 2004 - Right On!


Carolyn Wiebe

Carolyn Weibe


Carolyn Wiebe is the Accessibility Advisor for Disability Services at the University of Manitoba. She organizes the alternate textbook ordering for students with visual or learning disabilities. She has a B.A. from the University of Winnipeg and is working towards her Masters in Guidance and Counseling with a focus on Disability Studies.




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.


Carolyn Wiebe, Accessibility Advisor, Disability Services, University of Manitoba, explained how the Disability Services (DS) office at the University of Manitoba and the office of Special Materials Services [SMS (part of Manitoba Citizenship and Youth, Government of Manitoba)], have created a positive and effective working relationship based on co-operation and shared work. The DS office outsources all production of alternative-format materials. Thus, her presentation formed part of a joint effort with Susan Doerksen.

First, the student registers with the DS office. A DS advisor downloads the student’s list of required books. If no texts are listed for a course, the advisor contacts professors or their departments to obtain the lists. Next, the DS office sends the text list to SMS by email. SMS searches databases in the United States and Canada to determine the availability of texts and then provides the resulting information to the DS office. The DS office in turn informs the student.

Several concerns have been raised about the system:

  • Many of the books ordered are older or American editions.
  • Significant delays are experienced in waiting for instructors to select their texts.
  • Sometimes, instructors change editions or texts after an order has already been placed.
  • The response time from the DS office can be too long.

These concerns require that instructors improve their text selection process. On the other hand, students are unhappy with response times from the DS office, but do not always tell the office when problems occur. Two related question are these:

  • Why can only students with visual disabilities have texts produced for them in Manitoba?
  • What about students with other disabilities?

On the positive side, SMS and the DS office have an effective co-operative and collaborative working relationship, checking the status of orders and reminding each other when something fails to arrive or texts are not sent. Once the text information is known, the process is very quick. Another positive aspect is that students have one “go-to person” if they encounter problems.