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Access to Academic Materials for Post-Secondary Students with Print Disabilities


This following section provides broad and general findings from the two surveys. We will address each survey separately, and then move on to a discussion of some of the issues in more detail, in particular the “dual questions”, from which much information has been gleaned.

The findings from the student survey can be summarized as follows:

Beyond the demographic data of the profile of our respondents, which is addressed in the questionnaire itself, the main points to emerge from the survey are that students do not receive their academic materials in a timely manner, and that they do not always have access to the full text. Also, 42 percent of student respondents report that they receive no financial aid for their alternate format materials. Of those who do receive funding, only 37% report this funding is sufficient.

Forty-six percent of students do not receive the full version of a textbook in alternate format. There is a gap in the provision of alternate format materials in terms of the availability of required and recommended readings in alternate formats. Nineteen percent state that all their required readings are available in alternate format, 50% some, 30% say none. When it comes to the availability of recommended materials in alternate format, 20% say all materials are provided in alternate format, 54% say some, and 25% indicate none are available.

In terms of students receiving their alternate format materials in a timely manner, again there remains a major lacuna, 39% say always, 50% sometimes, 11% never. The main barriers to timely delivery are equipment, staffing, funding, and instructors. Specifically, for instructors, the figures for timely response are 40% always, 43% sometimes, 7% never, 11% NA. Beyond the textbook, other things such as registration packs and newsletters must all be provided in alternate formats to ensure full participation in academic and campus life.

When students were asked about copyright knowledge, 65% indicated they were not aware of their rights, 16% said that they were not aware of responsibilities. Turning to the quality of alternate format academic materials received, 25% say excellent, 40% say good, but 26% say average, and 9% say it is poor.

The use of Kurzweil scanning software is praised, as are extra exam time and exam accommodation in general, and as is receiving materials on time for those who do. Questions regarding the receipt of materials in a format of choice and the availability and quality of adaptive technologies received positive responses. The disability service centre staff are also highly regarded by the students for their support.

When it comes to worst experiences, students indicated that delays in obtaining materials, poor quality of audio tapes, and instructors that are either a barrier to timely delivery of alternate format materials, or are not sympathetic to the needs of students with print disabilities, are the worst experiences and services.

When it comes to students’ ideas on how things can be improved the main themes that emerge are that instructors must respond on time, more facilities for production of texts in different formats on campus should be provided, better quality of photocopying, training of readers is needed, and that more computers, more support staff, more books on tape, and more conversion into alternate formats by publishers would be required. These are but some of the recommendations from the students with print disabilities who participated in our research.

A complete profile of our service provider respondents and their answers to the questions in the survey can be found in the previous section. The findings from the service provider survey can be summarized as follows: firstly, data from both the student survey and the service provider survey indicates that there are several areas where service provision could be improved. For instance more provision of Web resources in accessible formats, more training of staff and more information on the availability of alternate formats.

There was a widely expressed need for an orchestrated and efficient system to allow access to publishers’ files. There is also a need for more communication and education with regard to copyright responsibilities and rights. From the survey data it would appear, also, that it might be beneficial for those service providers whose institutions produce in-house materials to gain a better understanding of funding allocated for the production of alternate format materials and to provide recommendations for additional needed resources. Other areas of improvement are training, where more is needed, and perhaps standardized training procedures should be established. To address various alternate format needs, the full version of texts must be produced when required by students, and that can be through a provincial/regional service organization or on campus. It is also advisable that those working in the service provision industry be given more authority and resources to ensure the timely arrival of alternate format academic materials.

In this regard, the data has spoken to the problem areas in service provision, but many issues are mitigated by the commitment and successes of the service providers. What is perhaps of most interest in terms of a ‘critique’ of service provision is what the students have to say about it. In the following section, we address responses given to those questions that were asked of both students and service providers.

Select analysis of ‘crossover’ (dual) questions

Questions 15 in the student survey and question 16 in the service provider survey presented the same question: In which formats do students require academic materials most? Table 34 displays the relative percentages of the responses. The first column shows the percentages reported by service providers of the types of formats the students request most. The second column shows the responses that the students made when asked the same question. There is a notable difference in many areas. It should be borne in mind, however, that the students might not be basing their ‘required most’ format solely on a request made to the service provider. We should also note that for the purposes of this research we provided a detailed list of format types, but audio digital can include MP3 and DAISY books.

Required Most Require Prefer
% of Service Prov % of Student % of Student
Large Print12119
PDF Image562
PDF Text0134
Audio Analogue14149
Audio Digital9149
DAISY Books076
Tactile Graphic020
Descriptive Vid030

Table 36. Required & preferred alternate formats compared

However, there remains a very large discrepancy in percentages reported for two particular formats: E-text and Braille. Service providers report that E-text is requested most by 42% of those who responded. In the student question this percentage is much lower, at 16%. Likewise, there is a large discrepancy in the same crosstab scenario for those requesting Braille most. Service providers state that Braille requests make up 16% of those who request alternate formats; yet the students only report this figure in the area of 2%. It should be noted that a large percentage of our respondents are students with learning disabilities who do not require Braille texts. Students report that they “require” these formats most, but apparently they are not requested of the service providers in the same magnitude. However, for the other formats listed in this ‘dual’ question, the percentages are similar in terms of what are reported as required by both the students and the service providers.

Question 17 in the student survey might shed some light on this issue. In this question the students were asked to list their top three preferred alternate formats, we will examine the first choice. When set against the percentages above, the major differences between the two surveys are again witnessed primarily in E-text and Braille. The category “other”, contains a large number of responses such as Kurzweil, which is speech recognition software used to read books.

Another important message that emerges from this survey is that there are differences in knowledge regarding copyright issues and the area of academic accommodations. The same questions were asked in the student and service provider surveys (see Appendix), and it is interesting to examine the manner in which both groups respond to questions in this area.

Service Providers Students
Aware of Copyright Rights68.1%36.5%
Aware of Copyright Responsibility68.7%84.7%

Table 37. Copyright knowledge compared

The data in this table indicate that service providers are very consistent in the knowledge of rights and responsibilities. However, just about one-third of all service providers were unaware of their rights or responsibilities relating to the exceptions for persons with perceptual disabilities under the Canadian Copyright Act. This is a disturbing figure, one that calls out for a thorough re-analysis of current copyright legislation, and a re-appraisal of how barriers to both the student and service providers may be alleviated.

Question 26 in the service provider survey asked about barriers to effective and efficient delivery of aids and services. Question 22 in the student survey also asked about barriers.

BarriersService Provider %Student %

Table 38. Barriers compared

Those areas of overlap in the question are illuminating with regard to the similarities in the statistics for both funding and equipment. The only major difference is between the relative percentages of respondents who reported that ‘Staffing’ was a barrier. Thirteen percent of the service providers reported this as a barrier, whereas 23% of students did so. It is perhaps an appropriate comment that the students deal more frequently with staff and instructors and would therefore experience any delays or barriers more immediately than might the service providers.

One of the major issues to emerge from the surveys is that of the quality of alternate format materials. Service providers were asked (Question 10) to rate the quality of the production of ‘in-house’ alternate format academic materials. Students were asked to rate the quality of alternate format academic materials that they receive (Question 33). Thus the questions were not identical. However, 51 of the 67 service provider respondents produce in-house alternate formats, so the responses are germane.

Quality RatingStudent %Service Provider %

Table 39. Quality ratings of alternate format materials compared

From these statistics it is apparent that the students were more likely to choose ‘poor’ than were the service providers. Thirteen percent more service providers chose ‘average’ than students, but the percentages are similar when it comes to the category ‘good’. Finally, 25% of students thought that the quality of their received academic materials in alternate formats were of an ‘excellent’ quality, while 14% of the service providers state this to be the case.

In Question 31, the service providers were asked to choose from a list of other types of information available to students in alternate formats. The students were asked the same question (question 29).

InformationStudent ResponseService Provider Response
Registration packages27 (15%)25 (14%)
Course outlines38 (21%)31 (17%)
Guides to campus services27 (15%)28 (16%)
Course calendars33 (18%)31 (17%)
Timetables29 (16%)30 (16%)
Newsletters/Newspapers17 (9%)19 (10%)
Other10 (5%)14 (8%)

Table 40. Available information in alternate format

This table simply reveals that the service providers and students have very similar response rates to this question. Moreover, it would appear to be a good indication of the awareness amongst the student population of the different types of information that are, or can be made available, in alternate format.

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