Access to Academic Materials for Post-Secondary Students with Print Disabilities
DISABILITY SERVICE ORGANIZATIONS’ SUBMISSIONS
Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers in Post-Secondary Education (September 2004)
CADSPPE is the Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers in Post-Secondary Education. Our members provide on-campus academic support for college and university students with disabilities at public and private post-secondary institutions in Canada.
Members of CADSPPE provide comprehensive support services for college and university students with a variety of disabilities. A large percentage of these students are print disabled because of problems related to
The students we work with on a daily basis are as motivated to learn and succeed as their non-disabled peers. Yet, for many of these students, the barrier to gaining knowledge is the difficulty in obtaining accessible academic materials and in alternate format in a timely manner.
Our members have developed a piece-meal approach to the provision of accessible materials; they deal with this issue on a daily basis, trying to ensure equal access to learning for these students. It is important to note that access varies across the country, depending on the following:
Staff at post-secondary institutions have been creative in meeting the needs of their students with print disabilities by establishing a variety of services, co-operating with other organizations, and putting some responsibility on the student directly. Examples of the range of service options include:
Disability service providers report varying responses of success to these options. A common thread is that it takes time to establish the specific type of service that fits the institution, students and staff. Many feel that the services are time consuming, complicated, and certainly not satisfactory for their students, no matter which options are used. It takes a tremendous amount of time to conduct a search to see if the book is already available in alternate format. Those who produce their own alternate format materials, report that it requires time, funding, staff, and skill. Often this means students do not receive texts until well into the semester and sometimes they never receive them at all. They need to know timetables prior to the start of the semester and order early as well as get access to faculty and the titles of the textbooks they have chosen for a particular course.
Service providers who use provincial or regional production resources also report that alternate format materials are not always provided in a timely manner. It appears that using an external agency takes as much time as it does for an institution to produce materials themselves. It appears that no matter what the option, obtaining materials in a timely manner seems to be the key pressure point.
Problems are experienced right across the country, in all provinces and territories. Solutions to the problems are often regional. Regional variations in solutions lead to difficulties with consistency of quality produced material, storage, sharing and duplication. Individual schools produce material in-house, provinces and territories engage provincial or territorial production processes, and CNIB produces material nationally. All this leads to a disjointed method of alternate format production, which is inefficient, ineffective, costly and absolutely unnecessary.
Technology enhancements have provided many more options for producing text in alternate format, making it easier to produce materials for some disability service providers and students. Others find the changes in technology challenging which creates new stress and pressure for them. Not all institutions have staff that are skilled in the use of these technologies, the funding to purchase the equipment for production, or the staff to do the production. It seems that the responses to accepting the responsibility for providing/producing alternate format materials vary drastically from institution to institution, within or across provinces.
The alternate format options include electronic text (E-text), digital audio, MP3, DAISY formats, and etc. making the production of analogue books on tape less desirable. There are a wide variety of E-text readers, both software, for installation on a computer, and portable hardware. These new technologies provide greater opportunities and options for students allowing them to use features such as ‘Search and Find’, electronic dictionaries, and text-to-speech software programs in conjunction with their E-text books. However these technologies require greater skills on the part of the student in order to maximize the use of the equipment as well and to access the equipment itself. Training on the use of the new technologies is therefore essential to make maximum use of the available options. Additionally the technology still cannot be physically manipulated by all print disabled students. It is important to note that this technology is only intended to simplify use of the alternate format text, not to produce alternate format texts.
There are problems with the various formats. Word documents tend to lose proper page formatting and numbering, as well as pictures. Hidden attributes, such as frames or layers, are apt to cause problems rather than be of benefit to audio conversion. Correcting these problems requires the intervention of an editor. Screen reading programs now come with access keys to read PDF. However the creator of the PDF file can prohibit access despite the capability of the user. XML can generally be used by Internet browsers like Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator, and offers all the accessibility available in Web browsing including changing font types and size (cascading style sheets). But all Web page designers do not provide this access.
New technologies (both hardware and software) give students the confidence and the ability to take more advanced and complex, academic courses, because they have increased access to reading materials. This means that the demand for accessible materials is increasing, the content more complex, and the range of subject matter more extensive. Prices of the equipment have come down significantly in the past 10 years, making the technology affordable for most students.
Despite these advances in technology, there is still no process to accurately and easily scan books that contain numbers, equations, and complex layouts; this includes math and science. Some books include not only charts and graphs, but also sidebars, complex fonts, and graphics which continue to pose a challenge for a scanned production.
While some publishers will send the electronic files, the files are often not text documents as they contain the original formatting and digital images. While on the surface the file looks like an accessible format, in fact it requires many hours to strip the formatting and the digital images to get to the basic text. Not all publishers will co-operate in providing this text. Staff at institutions report that they are achieving greater success with obtaining publishers’ files in a stripped-down, text only version, but this is still not a guaranteed option.
Several institutions report that they have established a technology lab where students are able to produce their own alternate format materials using a scanner and optical character recognition software. Institutional staff provide training to students so that they can produce their own electronic texts. For some students, this works; for others, valuable study time is lost producing their books, causing frustration with the added responsibility, not to mention the increased barrier they experience in accessing an education. Another frustration for the field is the change in Canadian access to digital resources from RFB&D. While we still have access to books on tape, RFB&D is not providing access to their digital productions of books to international communities. This means that while the book may actually have been produced by RFB&D in alternate format, Canadians will still need to re-produce the book locally.
Each of the issues identified above poses a barrier, but when all conditions exist at the same time, they are daunting for the post-secondary disability service provider. The impact spreads to the student as well, limiting access and putting the student in a position of academic disadvantage. Hence the need for a comprehensive, Canadian based solution where institutional staff and students can access texts in alternate format and obtain the necessary equipment in a timely manner. We emphazise the importance of this issue for our members, our students, and for society as a whole. Not providing universal access to post secondary academic materials discriminates against a segment of the academically qualified student body, thereby contravening Human Rights Policies.
These access issues presented above highlight several impacts for students with print disabilities. It is imperative for the system as a whole (students with print disabilities, post-secondary service providers, Librarians, organizations that produce alternate format materials, and legislators) to fully assess the impact on lack of access to academic materials in alternate format and identify solutions to resolve this systemic problem. Key impacts include:
The impact of delayed or limited access to academic materials requires action to resolve the discrimination that print disabled students continue to face throughout the country.
CADSPPE wants for its students and its members:
While progress has been made as a result of technology advances, increased access to equipment for students with disabilities through federal and provincial funding, and increased technology skills of disability service providers and students, full accessibility of academic materials is still not a reality. Getting materials in a timely manner is still a critical issue. This barrier is a constant problem whether the materials are produced at a provincial centre, on campus, or by the student. Many of the solutions that institutions have established are merely band-aids to a big problem. Students with print disabilities continue to face discrimination on campus by not having equal access to printed materials as their non-disabled peers.
We trust that by working with our students and with NEADS, CACUSS, CAER, and other similar organizations, progress will continue to be made in ensuring equal access to an education for all Canadians. We want universal access without the need to create accessible formats after the fact. Retrofitting is costly in both human and monetary terms. We challenge those in power to establish legislation that creates universal access to print materials in any format at the time the book is purchased and treats all Canadians equally.
Submitted to National Educational Association of Disabled Students
Dr. Pat Pardo
November 12, 2004
Introductions and Agenda Review
Gladys Loewen welcomed participants to the CADSPPE (Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers in Post-Secondary Education) Focus Group on Alternate Format. She then introduced the following members:
The meeting was designed to focus on how CADSPPE can move forward on the issue of access to alternate format for students with print disabilities, as all colleges and universities struggle with this issue. For the past few years, CADSPPE has offered several workshops and ad hoc committee sessions to this topic. It is time to compile a list of issues and ideas from a national perspective on what the next steps are in order to ensure access to academic material for students with print disabilities. This information will allow the CADSPPE Board to determine and prioritize activities needed to assist higher educational institutions across Canada.
Loewen noted that although the Focus Group is a CADSPPE-organized event, the proceedings will go to the National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS), which will help with their project. The results of the focus group would also be presented at the NEADS conference the following day.
Loewen explained that the format of the meeting would consist of large group discussions, breakout discussions in 3 small groups with one bilingual group, and reports back on key priorities to guide CADSPPE.
Brainstorm Vision Statement
To envision learning communities in Higher Education that value the concept of equal access to print materials and work to ensure equal access to print information in campus learning environments.
Loewen invited the group to brainstorm and refine this Vision Statement to frame the day’s discussions. The following discussions and iterations ensued:
A new version of the Vision Statement resulted:
To envision learning communities in Higher Education that value the concept of equal and timely access to information and ensure equal and timely access to information in learning environments.
A further refinement of the Vision Statement resulted:
To have learning communities in Higher Education that value the concept of equal and timely access to information in the academic environment.
Participants discussed the need to strengthen the message of “valuing” the access.
The resulting statement was as follows:
To have Higher Education value the concept of equal and timely access to information in the academic environment.
The resulting Vision Statement was unanimously approved:
To ensure equal and timely access to academic information in post-secondary educational environments
The group agreed to revisit this statement following the day’s discussions.
Identify signs of success in the provision of alternate format materials in campus learning environments
Notes from Breakout Group chaired by Vince Tomassetti.
(Note: participants of this group were post-secondary disability service providers and represented 4 provinces).
“I will know that we have been successful in achieving our vision of offering alternate format materials in all campus environments when…”
Participants pointed to timeliness of receiving materials as a key sign of success. In discussing what would be a reasonable timeframe, they noted that it depends on the format and course content. Some formats take longer to convert. For example, documents for courses such as math or computer science that have unusual symbols would take longer to convert than an English novel.
A delegate commented that some professors create their course as they teach. Others responded that professors must be sensitized to students’ needs. They have a responsibility to provide materials in a reasonable manner. The universal design (UD) method is a good approach that professors should be urged to adopt.
Moreover, the internal structure of universities needs to be better organized and student-centred. Two weeks is a reasonable timeframe for receiving alternate formats, but the university should begin co-ordinating 6 months in advance of the course beginning. Ideally, various alternate formats should be available for disabled students at the same time that regular materials are available for non-disabled students. That would be equity. Also, disabled students should have the same access to last-minute course changes.
A participant noted that another sign of success is students taking responsibility: they come to the centre ahead of time with a plan.
The group then discussed whose responsibility it is to produce the alternate formats. Participants said that students should have a choice—it depends on the individual, the nature of the disability, and whether it’s seen to increase independence and vocational skills for life. However, delegates agreed that technology should primarily remain a learning tool for students, not a production tool. Students are there to learn, not to work, and the time they spend producing materials could be better spent studying. Furthermore, it must be kept in mind that disabled students are already disadvantaged due to their disability. They face a host of systemic barriers and already have much more difficulty negotiating the environment than non-disabled students. Their critical study time should not be compromised.
The delegates also discussed the quality of the alternate formats produced. Student-produced materials are likely to be inferior to professionally produced materials. However, students must balance timely access with a less perfect product. As well, they must balance the time it takes to learn from a superior copy versus the time it takes to learn from an imperfect copy that might contain errors or incomplete information.
A participant noted that she has been receiving far fewer requests from students to write a letter asking for an extension for assignments and exams due to not having the materials to study. This is another sign of success.
Better co-ordination among different channels—publishers, bookstores, professors, etc.—is important. A “friendlier” Copyright Act would also help to support alternate formats, especially large print. More multimedia materials should have both open and closed captioning, particularly closed captioning for hearing impaired students. A related issue is real-time interpretation for all campus activities, including audio-visual multimedia such as live concerts and plays, perhaps provided in multimedia rooms. Websites and documents should also be totally accessible, for example through WebCT and PDF files.
Group Reports to Plenary; Summary of All 3 Groups:
Signs of Success:
Summary of Key Points:
Notes from Breakout Group chaired by Vince Tomassetti
The following barriers came quickly to mind:
The group then discussed the quality of alternate format as a significant barrier. Tomassetti suggested a rating system—for example, to be accepted, a document must have at least a 75% accuracy rate. Another participant said the major issue is access to maps and graphs, such as tactile graphics. Another delegate added that although audiotape is no longer used very much, many readers are volunteers and the quality of the audio books produced is often low.
Technology presents another barrier. Sometimes there is no access to the needed technology, or the service provider or student is untrained in the use the technology. A student’s disability may also prevent him or her from accessing the technology.
Several delegates voiced frustration that these same issues have been lingering for so many years. For example, improvements such as online journals introduce additional barriers when they are not in accessible and sharable formats. However, other participants acknowledged that it is much easier now to obtain e-text from some major publishers; some even offer a choice between PDF and Microsoft Word format. One participant noted that of the students who have received e-text from a publisher, no complaints have been received so far as to inadequate quality or missing pages.
Returning to the topic of converting books that have graphs and tables into e-text, a delegate suggested a PDF Converter sold by the company ScanSoft. It converts PDF files into Word documents that look just like the original, including columns, tables, and graphics. Other participants mentioned other products, including a virtual printer from Abbey, products from Abbey Systems, and assistive technology products from Kurzweil that help with scanning and reading, Another barrier is the lack of trained people able to use these products and produce these materials, especially in the science and math fields.
The group then discussed who has the responsibility to provide the materials. There are human rights policies and legislation in place, but no enforcement. Filing a complaint to a publisher can take several years. As well, although it’s clear that colleges and universities have responsibility, it is not clear which entity is responsible within these institutions. Is it the bookstore, library, disability services office, or external agencies such as publishers?
Some say it’s the originator of the information who is responsible, i.e. the publisher. Others say that if a post-secondary institution chooses certain textbooks as part of its curriculum, it has a responsibility for making these books accessible. A delegate pointed out that a university is responsible for materials it owns, not those it doesn’t own, since copyright laws have jurisdiction over what a university can provide.
A significant and unfortunate barrier under Section 32 of the Copyright Act affects persons with perceptual disabilities. This section states that it is an infringement of copyright to make a large print book. This raises the question that the Copyright Act conflicts with human rights legislation. The Act also disallows reproducing cinematographic work.
A participant pointed out that there needs to be a way to catalogue and share information already converted and available in alternate formats, such as through the library systems. Sometimes only portions of books are available, and these should be catalogued as well. Moreover, equal access also means equal quality. The quality of e-files from publishers should match the quality of the original printed books. Yet how important the quality is also depends on the importance of the book in the course and the importance of the course to the student.
Finally, the group noted that publishers’ files are not always accessible. As well, many books are available but inaccessible because they are in the Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D) format, available to US citizens in different formats than those available in Canada.
Group Reports to Plenary; Summary of All 3 Groups
Barriers to achieving success include:
Summary of Key Points
Notes from Breakout Group chaired by Vince Tomassetti:
Vince Tomassetti invited the group to look at the previously identified barriers and determine the tasks required to overcome them, keeping in mind that change is inevitable and new technologies will always be appearing.
A delegate noted that CADSPPE really has no jurisdiction but perhaps can study existing systems and identify models of best practices to share with other post-secondary institutions, publishers, the federal government, provincial education ministries, etc. Perhaps standards for the production of materials can be identified.
Another delegate said that it is a matter of advocacy and sensitizing faculty to access and alternate formats issues. For example, to address faculty’s lack of knowledge, the models could be posed as “tips” for professors or information on how to create accessible websites and other information.
The next participant suggested providing additional training for professors on how to create WebCT etc. from scratch, without requiring them to redo existing work. CADSPPE should push existing standards and practices for creating accessible university websites and other information.
A delegate stressed the importance of co-ordination between NEADS and CADSPPE, and the merits of using existing channels.
Another participant suggested modelling UD after certain standards. Canada has a Council of Ministers of Education (CMEC); CADSPPE should try to get on the Council’s agenda. If the Ministers see as high priority the issue of equal access to web and electronic information for students with disabilities, they can influence policy within their own jurisdictions. Another channel might be the body of academic vice-presidents from universities across Ontario. A committee of Ontario disability service providers may request to do a presentation. There may be similar bodies in other provinces/territories. Beyond talking among this group, a participant recommended that CADSPPE tap into these decision-making processes and positions of power as a way to build clout.
A delegate said, “We should not start to disenfranchise.” CADSPPE should do both bottom-up and top-down work. Information does not flow up automatically.
Tomassetti agreed that it is a good strategy to lobby at higher levels, since adopting and agreeing on a standard must be a decision from these levels. The participant who suggested this strategy added that if the Ministers see the CADSPPE group as experts, they might ask it to create a standard that they will implement. This is what the group wants. The Ministers have the authority to make these decisions.
A participant noted that individual colleges and universities could co-ordinate their efforts and use their collective purchasing power to approach vendors to adopt standards. Tomassetti added that many government agencies would only buy from vendors that offer accessible products. These are different ways of enforcing standards.
Finally, the group expressed a strong interest in creating a website to share resources.
Identify strategies for achieving the goals previously identified, and identify who should be responsible.
Notes from Breakout Group chaired by Vince Tomassetti
A delegate reiterated that CADSPPE cannot impose responsibility on others, such as publishers or policy makers.
Another delegate said that he had collaborated with Neil Faba two years ago on a CADSPPE position paper on alternate format. It focused on broader materials than text. He suggested taking the issue back to a smaller working group and adopting it as a CADSPPE mission. It can then be promoted to groups such as the academic vice-presidents, the National Library Council, federal government ministries, etc.
A participant noted that bodies of responsibility vary from province to province. Some are more centralized than others. Tomassetti suggested that institutions as a whole are responsible, even if departments vary. Some provide very good disability services and many students go there for that reason. A delegate commented that they might end up with more students than they can handle.
Discussing further the idea of creating a smaller working group, the participants said that clear levels of communication and clear direction are needed, with a handful of people with strong interest and expertise in the issues. Such a group would need to define the strategy, take it forward to the Board, and then write the appropriate letters to get on the agenda of outside bodies.
The group also discussed who should be responsible when there are different partners producing alternate formats. Usually the publisher produces the original content material in house but hires outside for people and/or technology to create alternate formats. Due to economy of scale, it is common for publishers to outsource this work so that they do not need to hire permanent staff with specialized skills. This also allows more people to enter the market as producers of alternate format materials.
Another issue is that there should be legislation to pressure publishers to produce standards. However, there are several different existing standards. The issue of standardizing on specific formats must be resolved.
A participant said that a lot would change with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which stipulates that provincial standards committees will establish standards and that provincial authorities will enforce compliance. Publishers and institutions that do not comply can be fined.
The group also discussed copyright issues. The Copyright Act allows for conversion of print to alternate formats, but large print has been excluded.
A participant suggested lobbying bookstore managers as well as publishers. Another delegate said that CADSPPE should dedicate time and funding to hiring a professional lobbyist to lobby different bodies, as disability service providers themselves do not have time and resources to effectively do lobbying.
Group Reports to Plenary; Summary of All 3 Groups
Strategies to achieve success include:
Key Summary Statements:
Group Reports to Plennary: Summary of All 3 Groups
Key Summary Statements:
Who is responsible?
Recommendations and Next Steps
Key Recommendations for CADSPPE
The group discussed outstanding several issues. First, there are pros and cons to legal responsibility regarding standards. Each model has different issues, and each province has different disability acts. Perhaps just the platform should be legislated, not the output product. Also, legal requirements sometimes do not make sense, but in the end they may be required if voluntary compliance does not occur.
Second, funding is a major issue when discussing alternate formats. Funding for institutional as well as provincial and national resources is required to ensure access to the right academic materials at the right time for the right price.
Third, disability service offices across Canada have different delivery models. Despite the different models of service delivery, it is clear that institutional access to an accessible publisher’s file would assist all post-secondary disability service providers in ensuring full and equal access.
One suggestion is to have a national clearinghouse of standard publishers’ files so that all post-secondary institutions have easy access to the publisher’s file for all textbooks. The federal government is hoping to launch a pilot to test this model. The key is to have the alternate format with the accuracy and quality of the original. Publishers should be required to produce a format that meets the needs of all users.
A topic of this importance requires national and provincial action at many levels. If the enthusiasm captured in this group of 22 people can be maintained, CADSPPE will succeed in moving closer to providing academic materials to post-secondary students with print disabilities at the time in the right place in the right format at the right price.
In closing, Loewen noted that a great deal of commonality came from this meeting of representatives from five provinces and included disability service providers, librarians, and guests all who have an interest and a responsibility in working with the provision of materials in alternate formats. She thanked everyone for participating and assisting CADSPPE in moving forward in the struggle to ensure equal access for students with print disabilities.
Participants of the Focus Group
CADSPPE Board of Directors wishes to thank the following:
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