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

Student Survey Details

Section D: General Questions

In this final section of the student survey, we asked three questions (the last being in three parts). We queried the students on issues such as where students first learned about academic materials in alternate formats, and how they rated the quality of these materials. Finally, we asked them to list their top three best experiences, and their top three worst experiences, after which they were asked to comment on how service could be improved.

32. How did you first learn about the availability of academic materials in alternate formats at your institution?

Chart 35
Chart 35: First learned of availability of alternate format materials

With a total of 92 responses, the disability service provider offices are by far the most common method for students to learn about the availability of alternate format materials. In fact, the total for all other responses combined (88) is smaller than the service provider office responses. After the response “other”, instructors were the next most common source of learning about the availability of alternate format materials, with 20 responses. External organizations were next with 16 responses, and the “other” category totalled 14. On the lower end of the response scale came librarians and resource centres.

Other Specified

Three respondents gave answers under “other” suggesting that high school teachers were able to inform them about the availability of alternate formats at their post-secondary institution, while two relied on information provided to them by course counsellors.

Additional answers provided under “other” were:

  • Assumed services here, as were at previous school
  • Publishers Websites
  • Summer institute
  • Psychological assessment
  • Desert Base society in Penticton before their closure
  • Social worker

Several comments were provided with this question, with some suggesting other sources of information about the availability of alternate formats at respondents’ institutions, and some students providing insight on the information-gathering process:

  • Disability organization on campus
  • Centre d’aide en francais
  • Atlantic Province Special Education Authority
  • Friend at university with similar disability
  • Alder Centre
  • Detailed information on these issues is difficult. People generally have no idea.
  • I did it on my own at first.

33. How would you rate the quality of alternate format academic materials that you receive?

Chart 36
Chart 36: Quality of alternate format materials

How students rate the quality of the materials that they receive is perhaps one of the most important issues considered in this survey. This question is compared with a similar question found in the service provider (question 10) survey, and analysis of the comparison can be found in the conclusion/recommendations section of this report. The statistical response to this question can be read in different ways, almost like a half-full or half-empty glass.

Of the 123 students who provided a response to this question, 11 (8.9%) said that the quality of alternate format academic materials was poor. Thirty-two students (26%) said it was average, 49 (40%) that it was good, and 31 (25%) reported the quality to be excellent. Dividing these statistics up, it can be said that 35% of the students report the quality to be either poor or average, and 65% that it was either good or excellent. The single largest response, however, came from those who claimed the quality was good, and the smallest response came from those who said it was poor. So while a large number of respondents told us that they often don’t receive their materials on time, when it is produced, the quality is generally good to excellent.

The following comments were provided, indicating that materials presented in various formats could be improved:

  • Books produced on recycled paper do not work well with Kurzweil at all.
  • Not applicable, as Kurzweil is borrowed from a friend from another institution!
  • Sometimes I find that the tape quality could be improved.
  • Some readers are hard to understand, and make up their own words!
  • Students are sometimes not good at reading books to me.
  • Sometimes the computer can’t read writing in boxes.
  • Staff and materials help me do better in my courses.
  • Where the professor has underlined sections in readings, WYNN has problems reading this.

Information from the open-ended comments is invaluable. The comment, for example, that states that books produced on recycled paper does not “Kurzweil”, or scan, well, is the type of response that would not be gleaned from a checklist response. Other issues are also made clear: despite the fact that there exist a variety of options open to students with print disabilities, many problems remain. Text placed in boxes, and text that the instructor has underlined, is difficult for text-to-speech programs to read. Furthermore, throughout the survey, the poor quality of readers has been emphasized. These are issues that go beyond the abilities of the software, yet they are essential components of the quality of academic materials in alternate format.

34.a) Provide up to three examples of the most and least successful services/experiences that you have encountered relating to accessing alternate format materials at your institution.

This question has its counterpart in the service provider survey. It offers students the chance to list the top three best and worst practices and experiences that they have encountered at their institutions.

First Most Successful Services/Experiences

Top 3First BestSecond BestThird Best
1KurzweilMaterials in format of choiceExam Accommodation
2Materials on TimeAdaptive TechnologyExtra Time for Assignments
3Extra Time for AssignmentsBooks on TapeDisability Services Staff

Table 20. Top three responses for first, second, and third best experiences/practices

Of the answers provided as respondents’ first choice for most successful service or experience, specific alternate formats were often cited, as were adaptive technologies. Kurzweil, which is a method of reading, not a format, was the most common first choice, but books on tape or CD, DAISY books, large print, JAWS, Zoomtext, CCTV, EyeTech and PDF technologies were also all mentioned.

Receiving alternate format course materials in a timely fashion was mentioned by six respondents, as was the helpfulness of the disability service centres on campus. In some cases, the prompt provision of materials and the helpful nature of disability services were intertwined in student comments. Regarding timeliness, for instance, one student wrote, “All of my tapes are ordered and ready to use by the first day of school. The staff is on the ball.” Another student, who spoke of their disability service centre, wrote, “They do an excellent job at getting alternate formats (i.e.; E-text) for me quite timely.”

The ability to take extra time in writing tests and exams was listed as a first choice by five respondents, while four students mentioned the ability to locate a good tutor when needed.

Three students mentioned specific interactions with instructors as their choice for most successful experience. One student wrote, “(With) one instructor I don’t have to even ask for anything, it is always available.” Another mentioned that their instructor “emailed course outlines in electronic format to me,” while a third student cited email from instructors as a positive experience.

The following are other responses given as first choice for most successful experience:

  • In an art history class, the professor provided both colour and black and white copies of the art works for me to study.
  • Provision of someone to scan for me
  • I only use them for exams
  • Bursary for persons with disabilities
  • Staff is great at shipping materials.
  • Empathy with my condition
  • Academic support
  • Co-operation
  • Always people to talk to
  • Orientation week (helpful for my understanding)
  • Library support and resources
  • Exams in LP
  • Writing exams in a separate room
  • Staff
  • Meeting and working with a counsellor
  • Note-takers
  • High-speed scanner that does both pages at the same time
  • Learning resource centre
  • People in department very helpful
  • Reassessed through school for reasonable price
  • Good training level of staff members
  • They helped me purchase a laptop
  • Access to a counsellor
  • Staff very approachable
  • Reader
  • Text-book and course material
  • The manner in which facilitators meet my needs
  • Moral support
  • Exams, and a separate room
  • Receiving helpful information
  • Being able to take out a 4-track player for 3 to 4 weeks
  • Counselling services
  • Helpful library staff
  • Scanning of texts (course pack)

Second Most Successful Services/Experiences

A large number of respondents providing second choices selected either the availability of course materials in their format of choice, or the availability of adaptive technology needed to read texts. Books or exams in audio format were mentioned four times and Kurzweil was mentioned three times, while several other technologies (audio-visual lab, Inspiration, Zoomtext, TextHelp, MP3 players, tape recorders) were all mentioned once.

Extra time for exams and/or assignments was also offered several times as a second choice, with seven respondents indicating such. This was followed by the helpfulness of instructors and/or faculty in general, and the helpfulness and knowledge of disability services staff, both of which were offered by five students as their second choice. Four students wrote about test/exam accommodations (quiet room, having materials scanned, the use of a computer for exams), while three respondents indicated the provision of assignments and/or exams in alternate formats as their second choice. Finally, two students mentioned tutors as their second most positive experience.

The following are other answers provided as number two choices:

  • Some software very up to date
  • Photocopying from the disability services
  • Allowing students to tape lectures
  • Note-takers
  • Learning strategies
  • The fact that I was made aware of various options
  • Excellent quality of materials
  • Receiving a bursary for equipment
  • Getting help with my computer
  • Training on use of software
  • Transcription services
  • Provision of specialized computer equipment in campus library
  • School library
  • Flexible scheduling

Third Most Successful Services/Experiences

A variety of responses were provided as third-most successful experiences. Exam accommodations were most often cited, with eight respondents mentioning they receive quiet rooms, equipment needed to write exams, exams in alternate formats, and readers or scribes as needed. Similarly, the provision of extra exam time was another common response, with five students indicating this as their third choice. Six students mentioned the supportive and approachable nature of their disability services staff as their third choice. Online courses and large print materials were both mentioned twice.

Here are other answers given:

  • One professor noticed that I had not included page eight of my paper and emailed me to send it to her.
  • Note-taker
  • Scanning speed
  • Tutors
  • Learning JAWS program
  • Couldn’t do exams if they didn’t give me a computer
  • Audio digital
  • Cowriter software program
  • Legibility of E-texts
  • All lecture overheads are on Internet
  • Loan of computer
  • Librarian
  • Bursary
  • Receiving copies of reading material in PDF (coursepacks)
  • Being contacted as soon as readings (in alternate formats) are available
  • Family and friends
  • If problems, get another text
  • Counsellor

FIRST Least Successful Services/Experiences

Top 3First WorstSecond WorstThird Worst
1Delays in getting materialsQuality of alternate formatsExam accommodations
2InstructorsAvailability of alternate formatsLack of understanding
3Quality of alternate formatsExamsInstructors/Timeliness

Table 21. Least successful services/experiences

A large number spoke about timeliness issues as their first choice for least successful service or experience. Nine respondents wrote they experience delays in obtaining their course materials in alternate formats, particularly at the start of a year or semester. In addition, one student mentioned paperwork delays, which can also lead to delays in the delivery of alternate format materials. On the issue of the time it takes to obtain alternate formats, one student wrote, “Send the tapes faster. A course lasts 12-14 weeks, and it can take six weeks to get a recorded cassette,” while another student indicated that, during the 2003-2004 school year, “I didn’t get my books until November.”

Another common choice for least successful experience was concerns over instructors who either appear ignorant of the needs of students with print disabilities, or are uncooperative toward student needs. Six students made comments raising such concerns, with one respondent writing that there should be “more communication between faculty and the staff at disability services.”

The inconsistent quality of various alternate format materials was a concern raised by four respondents, as were concerns about the time commitment students must invest in scanning their own course materials into a suitable alternate format.

Quality concerns regarding notes completed by note-takers were mentioned three times, and three respondents also indicated a shortage of available books on tape. The difficulty in getting publishers to provide an E-text version of a book was a point raised by two respondents.

Other responses provided were as follows:

  • Over-reliance on Zoomtext
  • Training on software re: voice recognition
  • Access to staff members and equipment subject to scheduling and appointments (voicemail, email)
  • Library access
  • WYNN is useless
  • Lack of plan for obtaining materials
  • No computers for visually impaired that are evident
  • Kurzweil not recognizing scanned text occasionally
  • Some publishers don’t provide a second copy of the text so it can be scanned.
  • Accessing research information
  • Federal government denies funding for some of the software I need.
  • Sometimes people just don’t understand.
  • Not enough time to do finals
  • Staff breaks
  • Adjusting program to meet my needs
  • My printing credits get used up in providing printouts for myself.
  • More French services needed.
  • Inter-campus complexities
  • Length of time it took to get Dragon to recognize my voice
  • Labels are confusing.
  • When LP is not ready in time
  • Not being able to have ‘programs’ (Kurzweil, Texthelp) to use at home
  • Lack of a room to write exams in
  • Scanning through Kurzweil, not enough staff to help
  • Lack of a quiet room
  • Universal access for class notes
  • I fall between the cracks, not being legally blind.
  • Bad instructors

SECOND Least Successful Services/Experiences

Quality issues were again commonly cited, as four student respondents pointed to inconsistent quality of alternate format materials as their second choice for least successful service or experience, and three people wrote about quality issues with the equipment required to use such materials.

A shortage of materials available in specific alternate formats (books on tape and large print texts) was mentioned three times, as was the issue of late arrival of materials converted to alternate formats for student use. Finally, two people spoke of exam concerns, with one writing “loud testing during exam,” and another simply mentioning exams/test problems in general. Two people wrote that not all courses are properly adapted for persons with disabilities.

Here are other choices offered by respondents:

  • Even under the best conditions I can’t read my handwriting.
  • Reader stole my textbook!!
  • Trying to take own notes
  • Publishers
  • No spell-check on computer
  • Teacher preparation
  • No way to access math
  • No secretary on duty most of the time
  • Staff not providing information on where to return materials when finished with them
  • Meeting counsellors
  • Educating instructors in ignorance of disabilities
  • Non-accessibility
  • Sometimes tutors are too tired, and they cancel on me.

THIRD Least Successful Services/Experiences

While a variety of different answers were provided as third choices, one theme that did arise was concern surrounding exam accommodations. Four students wrote of such issues, with one indicating instructors sometimes don’t have exams ready on time, and three mentioning inadequate or inconveniently located computer technology in exam rooms.

Two students indicated a lack of understanding among the public about disability issues was their third choice for least successful experience. Several other good answers were provided, as follows:

  • Having to notify instructors about text problems, instead of the college keeping them informed
  • Not being recommended for teaching because of disability, and not GPA
  • Lack of computer technology
  • Inaccessibility of library books (unless I scan them)
  • Front desk not staffed well
  • Most pages are not transcribed, especially with DAISY
  • Time required to get materials
  • Much essential information not available in alternative format
  • Equipment not working

An important element of this survey was the open-ended comments solicited from the participants. In this final section, we asked respondents to provide their opinion on how the services could be improved.

How Could These Services Be Improved?

Many good suggestions were offered by student respondents, as to how services might be improved in question 34:

  • Better quality photocopying for coursepacks
  • More funds
  • Bigger facilities
  • Exam rooms should be equipped with computer tables.
  • All texts on tape
  • I would like to try out the computer before I use it on exam day. I am sure the computer could be ‘locked’ so I could not hide class notes and cheat!
  • More funding and staff.
  • More information on all programs and services available
  • Digital formats, better progressive equipment
  • Have you guys (NEADS) come to campus and speak to students and instructors
  • If we had two of Carol (tech admin) and two of Alice (counsellor/administrator)
  • More books in audio format from publisher
  • Planning, surveys
  • More staff, book lists early
  • Have a library of alternate format materials
  • A permanent DSS member who can’t leave the desk
  • Better computer programs
  • Provide disc versions of the text
  • More funds, nation-wide database
  • Have access to training for materials
  • Better outlines of tests in advance
  • It would be nice to have the same services in French.
  • School/CNIB provide more information about the locations of alternate formats
  • Change the underlying text for Kurzweil.
  • Better access to quality print material for scanning, not course packs that have been already scanned ten times
  • Putting Zoomtext on campus computers
  • Publishers should be more accommodating.
  • Note-takers that are interested in helping visually impaired students
  • Qualifications for readers
  • More regular computer (size) for testing
  • Planning, organizing, testing, surveys, research, interaction
  • More copies
  • More support staff for disability advisor
  • More funds for technology
  • More walk-in centres, equipped labs
  • Funds, update technology
  • More large print and books on tape for the library
  • Making sure that the disc given out actually works
  • Having workstations for disabled students
  • Less funding restrictions by federal government
  • More knowledgeable staff, and more staffing availability
  • Educating instructors
  • Professors and people generating materials for the visually impaired need to know what formats are Zoomtext compatible and make files accordingly.
  • Eliminating excessive offices and clarifying which office is responsible for which issue
  • Rental of more equipment to speed things up
  • More funding for disability services, more grants for students
  • Take more time to find space for exams.
  • Professors should familiarize themselves with the needs of the handicapped students.
  • Easier access to services
  • Co-ordination with professors and departments and our needs, 3-4 months in advance for alternate formats
  • Tutors should not cancel; professors should have exams ready on time.
  • By improving co-ordination among the staff from the agencies involved in providing the services
  • More information essential to students should be made available in alternative formats - it should be widely recognized that not all students can read print.
  • Use titles along with module numbers.
  • Better recording of textbooks, more quiet rooms for exams
  • Books on tape need to be done on time.
  • Put class materials online.
  • Put longer pauses between questions on exams. Also, don’t have exams downtown but in usual place, as a change adds anxiety.
  • Clear up the rules for those who are “almost disabled.”
  • They are already great, no improvements needed!!

These comments point out a variety of issues of importance to students in the delivery of services. Key issues identified include funding, on-site access (physical, computers and adaptive software), better access to appropriate alternate formats, and co-ordination/communication with faculty, tutors, and service centre staff.

The following student comment highlights the need for better delivery mechanisms and better support from publishers: "There should be a more (efficient) centralized way of getting books in alternative formats. Pre-arrangements should be made with publishers such that E-texts are readily available to students with disabilities once books are published".

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