Access to Academic Materials for Post-Secondary Students with Print Disabilities
Student Survey Details
Section C: Accessibility to Academic Materials
This section in the student survey asked 16 questions, primarily concerning the availability of required, preferred, and provided alternate formats. There are questions regarding barriers and the delivery of academic materials in alternate formats , also on training, external programs, and knowledge of copyright. The terminology used to describe alternate formats can be confusing to non-users, and even to some users. For that reason, a brief description of some of these now follows, with definitions provided by British Columbia College and Institute Library Services (CILS).
Electronic Text (E-text): (word processing files) used by students (visually impaired, learning disabled) with screen voice readers, such as JAWS, to read print materials using a computer. Electronic text can be further manipulated with software such as screen readers (JAWS), and text-to-speech readers (such as Text Aloud, ReadPlease).
Analogue Audio: Cassette tapes in analogue formats.
Digital Audio: CD MP3 format, with human voice, no navigational features. These files can be read on any MP3 enabled device (hardware and/or software).
Digital Audio: CD MP3 format, with synthesized voice, transcribed from electronic text, with file names, no navigational features. These files can be read on any MP3 enabled device (hardware and/or software).
Digital Audio: CD MP3 format, with human voice, with navigational features and structure (DAISY standard) (Digital Accessible Information Systems). This format includes ability to find specific pages, chapters, sections, and in some cases, index or topical entries. This format is used in special cases (sciences for example), where human voice is required or where navigational features are essential for using the book (such as reference material). This format can be read on any MP3 enabled device (without navigational features), on DAISY specific portable equipment (some navigational features), or, most effectively, using a computer with DAISY software (highest level of navigational features).
Tactile Graphics: Raised or sculptured drawings.
Braille: A tactile system of cells of dots.
15. In which alternative format(s) do you require academic material?
Checking all categories that applied, the respondents required E-text the most (49), with audio-analogue (41), and audio-digital (41) formats a close second. Students required PDF text the next most (39), then large print (32), MP3 (20), DAISY books (20), other (20), PDF image (18) On the lower end of the response scale came the categories none (10) descriptive video (8) Braille (6), and lastly, tactile graphics (6).
The distinction between PDF Image and PDF text may not be universally known, and many students may use an older version of PDF, which is often not accessible to users of screen readers such as JAWS. Those that chose both types of PDF account for 18.38%. Again, it should be noted that audio digital formats do include MP3 and DAISY, but we provided a very specific list of items to students to ensure that they would recognize choices provided as formats they use. It is important, considering this, when looking at these responses to point out that DAISY is a very much used format by students as is audio analogue or tapes of books. DAISY is an emerging format that will be used increasingly. The best use of a DAISY book is through software on a standard PC computer.
There is no stated explanation as to why ten students responded none to this question. It might be that the specific course, program, or year did not necessitate any text-based material at all, such as an oral-based credit. Alternatively, the required alternate format text may already be in the student’s possession. The numbers of Braille users is low, with only six respondents of thirty-six who are blind or visually impaired. But our respondent group includes twice as many students who have a learning disability than who are blind or visually impaired. This explains, in part, the small number of students selecting Braille. As well, low vision readers generally do not use Braille, so the use of Braille is limited to a small group within the blind and low vision respondents
In the ‘other specified’ portion of this question, Kurzweil was mentioned by ten respondents. Other software mentioned included Text Help and Dragon Dictate, both indicated twice, and EyeTech Digital Systems, which was indicated once. Four students mentioned books on tape as a required format, while one mentioned textbooks on CD, and another wrote “CD to analogue print in a PC.”
Other answers provided were note-takers and a cassette recorder, online courses, email and online chat. Several open-ended comments were also written, the majority discussing concerns with various formats. The following are those comments as presented:
16. What academic materials does your institution currently provide to you in alternate format(s)?
Chart 16 shows that E-text is the format most often provided to students with audio-analogue or books on tape the second choice. Several comments were provided discussing students’ experiences with obtaining their course materials in alternate formats.
One student noted that the length of time it takes to obtain their books on tape (six weeks) “makes me quite mad.” Another student noted that they receive alternate format materials only after fighting for it “to the point I almost started legal proceedings.” One respondent, while not noting the format in which they receive academic materials, noted they “would prefer digital material,” while another wrote that, “DAISY books would be nice.”
Some students spoke quite positively about their experiences in this area and felt their needs were being met. While one noted that all reading materials are scanned for them into Kurzweil, another wrote, “I receive educational cassettes to help me read my books.” One respondent suggested that their institution “is excellent in its provision of materials in all formats,” and one college student indicated their school “takes the extra step” in ensuring suitable adaptive technology is found for their use.
17. What are your preferred alternate formats, in order of importance?
Breakdown of statistics (N = 109)
This was a critical question and elicited the following responses: other = 28.44%, E-text = 19.26%, none = 11%, audio analogue = 8.25%, audio digital = 8.25%, large print = 8.25%, DAISY books = 5.5%, PDF text = 3.66%, Braille = 2.75%, MP3 = 2.75%, PDF image = 1.83%.
Among students who chose “other” as their answer to question 17 and provided insight into what “other” was, Kurzweil proved the most popular first choice, with nine indicating such. Books on tape/audio books followed, with six students offering it as their first choice. It is important to point out that Kurzweil is an assistive technology product, typically used for scanning and reading documents, and not an alternate format.
While some formats are more used and/or preferred than others “one size does not fit all.” Clearly students with print disabilities must have a range of formats available to them based on personal preference and accessibility. And the choices of formats preferred may be determined for many students by what is available to them at their schools.
Other first choices given were:
Breakdown of statistics (N = 85)
Other = 29.41%, Large Print = 10.58%, Audio Digital = 9.41%, DAISY Books = 7.05%, PDF Text = 5.88%, PDF Image = 4.7%, Braille = 2.35%, Descriptive Video = 2.35%, MP3 = 2.35%
Of the “other” second choices provided in the comments section, Kurzweil software was again the most popular choice, having been identified by four students. Books-on-tape was again second, being indicated by two respondents. The remaining answers, each provided once, were:
Breakdown of statistics (N = 52)
Other = 36.53%, MP3 = 13.46%, Braille = 11.53%, audio analogue = 9.61%, DAISY books, = 7.69%, large print = 7.69%, E-text = 3.84%, PDF image = 3.84%, PDF text = 3.84%, audio digital = 1.92%. Just two third choices for “other” were identified; these were TextHelp and Zoomtext software programs.
Other specified: Books-on-tape or CD showed up most often under ‘other specified’, listed four times. Kurzweil was mentioned under this category as well by three respondents. Video and ‘wireless communication video’ were each mentioned once, as were tutor and editor, reader, text-speech, software, and extra exam time.
18. Which materials do you require in alternate formats?
When asked this question students offered a range of responses. Textbooks was most often cited, with exams the second choice and supplementary reading third. Under “other”, course notes, PowerPoint, tests, texts on computer, and organization/outlines of texts were each mentioned once.
In addition, the following open-ended comments were provided:
Twenty-two students answered ‘none’ to this question. Again, an inference may be that no texts were required. The low numbers for online databases, library catalogues and Web resources may be indicative of the need for information literacy training and library support. Also, this points to the need for improvements in internal communications between libraries and disability centres, to increase awareness of what’s available in accessible formats and where this information can be accessed. It could also be that students still do a lot of their research using traditional print materials in libraries.
19. Does your institution provide you with a complete alternate version of the book (or other material), including charts, graphs, sidebars etc.?
While in question 33, 40% of student respondents stated that the quality of alternate format academic materials is good, and around 25% said it is excellent, 46% of respondents to question 19 said that they do not receive the entire book in alternate format. This may be because there is not a requirement in every case for the entire book to be produced in a format of choice. We would posit that if students with print disabilities are not provided with the same information in alternate formats as those who use regular print this can affect academic performance and success.
19b) If not, please explain whether you experience a problem in reading the materials that are not equal to the print copy.
Many respondents included comments with this question, the majority alluding to poor or inconsistent quality of materials.
Several of the comments have been included below:
These comments are revealing. Many of the issues described are related to the lack of professional readers, qualified people who understand the terminology in academic materials they are reading, lack of standards, lack of knowledge of standards, lack of audio technical support, poor production facilities, and in some cases, the use of volunteers to provide support.
20.a) Are your required class/assignment materials provided in alternate formats?
Of the 126 students who responded to this question, only 24 (19.05%) indicated that they receive required class/assignment materials in alternate formats. Exactly half the respondents receive ‘some’ in alternate formats, but almost one-third receive none of their required class/assignment materials in alternate format.
Table 18 compares required and recommended materials available in alternate format.
20.b) Are your recommended class/assignment materials accessible in alternate formats?
The responses to this question are almost identical to those of the previous one. It was reported (Question 18) that 82 students required supplementary readings in alternate format. This reinforces the fact that there is an urgent need to redress the problem and provide all readings and assignments in alternate formats.
21. Do you receive the academic materials and services in alternate formats that you require in a timely manner?
Receiving material on time is an essential part of any student’s education. Specifically, when it comes to half-credit courses (which are increasing in Canadian educational institutions); it is important that materials necessary for course work be received in a timely manner. Students responded that 38.84% of the time they receive their academic materials and services on time. Half of the respondents, however, do not, and 10% never receive their materials on time.
One student provided this comment: “Because alternate formats like E-text aren't always available, we often have to scan the text books page by page, which is very time consuming".
22. If not, what are the barriers preventing the timely delivery of alternate format academic materials? Check all that apply.
The percentages in this chart represent the number of students indicating each response. A variety of responses were again offered for this question, suggesting everything from the amount of time needed before government funding is provided, to course instructors who are unwilling or unable to help students locate academic materials in alternate formats, to issues with equipment.
The following comments were provided:
23. Do your instructors respond to your alternate format accommodations needs in a timely manner?
In Question 22, 22% of students reported that the instructor was one of the barriers to receiving materials on time. In this more direct question, just under 40% always receive a timely response from their instructor. 43% say that this occurs only sometimes, and just over 7% say they never receive response requests within a reasonable timeframe.
Of the six comments provided, four suggested that this depends entirely on the instructor, with some offering a degree of assistance, and others either seemingly unaware of certain disability types and accommodation requirements, or unable to offer proper help because of limitations on their own course preparation time.
Here are the comments provided:
24. From where do you receive your academic materials in alternate formats?
The students would most likely report on the office or service that provides academic materials directly to them, whether produced on-campus or off-campus. Ninety-eight students remarked that their academic materials were received from the Disability Service Centre. It may well be possible that in many cases these materials came through an external agency (such as CNIB, RFB&D and provincial resource centres) first, and then to the student through the on-campus centre. The students would most likely report on the office or service that provides academic materials directly to them, produced on campus or off campus. But this is very important to note, as clearly the Disability Service Centre is the central resource for students requiring document in alternate formats, with the library a second choice.
A variety of responses were provided under “other”. Three people indicated they receive alternate format materials from their instructors, while two students suggested other on-campus organizations are responsible for distributing such materials – the career centre in one case, the assistive technology department in another. Two other respondents suggested their alternate format materials come from their provincial governments’ department of education.
Here are the other answers given:
Several open-ended comments were also provided for this question. They are presented here:
25. What programs and services, if any, do you use outside of your post-secondary institution to access academic materials in alternate formats?
Clearly, “family support” is critical for students with disabilities. This category was selected most often by respondents. “Own production” is a clear second, suggesting many students have to scan and produce books and articles themselves, perhaps assisted by the disabilities service office.
Of the responses provided for “other”, friends were the most common source of alternate formats, with five students indicating they borrow a friend’s alternate format materials.
Other answers provided were:
Open-ended comments provided indicated the following:
26. Do you receive any training or information in the use of alternate format materials and technologies to access them?
Over half of the students indicated that they receive training of some sort. Of the comments provided, four suggested training was either inadequate or not offered at all. But the majority of comments offered did indicate that a satisfactory level of training is available to students who require it.
Five students wrote that they received training on a specific program or programs, with three indicating Kurzweil training, and Zoomtext and TextHelp both being mentioned once. One student said they received “training on using computer programs.”
Four students indicated they receive training on anything they don’t know how to use, or any new technologies they receive. Finally, one student mentioned they “already had the training.”
Table 19 shows the student responses to training received by province.
27. What technologies do you use to access academic materials that are in alternate formats?
The largest number of responses, 66, was indicated for optical character recognition (OCR) software; 55 chose two-track and four-track tape recorder, while 53 students used text-to-speech software (WYNN, ReadPlease, TextHelp, TextAloud). For Digital audio player (DAISY, CD/MP3 Player) the number of respondents is 39, 21 for screen magnification software (Zoomtext, Magic), and 20 for the category other. 16 use screen-reading software (Jaws, WindowEyes), nine Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV), eight Braille software, and use eight Braille equipment (OpenBook, Kurzweil) to access academic materials that are in alternate formats.
Dragon Naturally Speaking was the most commonly provided response under the category “other”, being offered by four students. In addition, Dragon Dictate was indicated once.
The following answers were each provided once under the “other” category:
28. Are your alternate format needs different for non-classroom/laboratory activities (such as registration, exams etc.)?
Beyond the textbook, the issue of access to other types of academic materials is important. In this question, we asked if students also needed alternate formats for timetables, exams and registration. Fifty-five students indicated that their needs were different for non-class or laboratory needs. Six of the eight open-ended comments provided with this question suggested that students’ needs are different for exams and tests. One student indicated they always type their exams, and extra time, a separate room and a test proctor were all mentioned as necessary accommodations.
In addition, one student wrote that “I use Windows to modify my desktop,” and another wrote, “Need to have someone to assist.”
29. Is the following information available to you in alternate formats that you can use at your institution?
This question builds upon the responses from the previous question, in which 44% of students report their needs for alternate formats extend beyond the textbook into areas such as timetables, exams etc. In this question we offered a list of materials that are not directly related to classroom work but are important to the participation of students in campus life and academics. The students responded by checking all that applied. The results, as shown above, indicate that there is a remarkably similar division between all the different categories. This indicates that students need full access to everything that is published on campus, whether it is timetables, campus guides, registration forms, course outlines, or any other form of printed material.
Under “other”, one respondent wrote that health and wellness information is available in a workable alternate format on campus. Several open-ended comments were also provided. A large number (7 out of 16 of respondents) indicated students were unsure if such materials were available in alternate formats, and/or that they hadn’t looked into it. In addition, three students provided comments suggesting that such materials are not available to them.
In addition, the following points were raised by students:
30. Are you aware of your rights to accessing alternate formats relating to the exceptions for persons with perceptual disabilities under the Canadian Copyright Act?
The following two questions deal with knowledge of copyright issues pertaining to formats other than print. This issue featured heavily in many of the comments. There are several similar questions regarding copyright that have been asked in the service provider survey also. Analysis of this area will be undertaken in a crosstabulation section after both surveys. Of note, here, is that some 36% of students state that they are aware of their copyright rights, but the remainder, almost two-thirds, are not. Just three comments were provided for this question, suggesting unfamiliarity with rights under the Canadian Copyright Act:
31. Are you aware of your responsibilities when using copyrighted material in alternate formats (such as honouring the copyright of the work, not copying the work for others, and purchasing a copy of the print book)?
Interestingly while only 37% said they know their rights under the Canadian Copyright Act, in the previous question, 84% said they know their responsibilities.
The following comments were provided:
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