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


A common sentiment is found in many of the submissions sent in by Canadian post-secondary service provider organizations that are involved with alternate format production and provision. That is, students are becoming more vocal regarding their need for alternate format materials, while at the same time technology advances are making the production and provision of such materials easier. As is indicated in the paper submitted from Assistive Technology BC, “The switch from analogue to digital technology provides various choices to students with print disabilities for reading materials. As well, the development of software programs targeted for specific disability groups or tasks opens up new methods of reading and writing.”

Yet at the same time, several factors are also frequently cited as roadblocks toward the effective, timely provision of alternate format materials to print disabled students. The lack of an effective mechanism for centralized sharing of alternate format materials often means in-house production of such products at post-secondary campuses is the most effective option. In-house production, though, is often limited by a lack of easily accessible funding devoted to alternate format production. Issues related to copyright legislation, how the legislation is applied by publishers, and an absence of universally-accepted minimum standards for alternate format production, are just some of the other factors that stand in the way of an effective system.

Just as many of the organizations that submitted papers to the NEADS project are in agreement about the factors affecting alternate format production and provision in Canada, so too do these organizations seem to agree on certain recommended courses of action designed to improve the system in Canada.

Changes to Legislation

Changes to Canada’s copyright legislation, so that current laws are more inclusive toward the needs of print disabled Canadians, were widely cited in the submissions as a necessity. The legislation needs to be clearly written and widely understood by production facilities and service providers, while being rid of barriers to timely production and distribution of alternate format materials. The Canadian Association of Educational Resource Centres for Alternate Formats (CAER) paper suggests, “there should be a generic statement in the legislation to exempt all formats useable by people with perceptual disabilities.”

Some of the organizations contributing papers also explored the idea that legislation should be introduced requiring publishers to provide standardized, accessible E-text files of all textbooks they produce. This would allow those who produce alternate format materials timely access to text files that can be easily converted into various alternate formats, for student use. This step, it was mentioned, would ensure alternate format materials produced would be of better quality than is currently the case, and would also ensure that students are able to receive the materials they need closer to the start of classes. Similarly, the Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers in Post-Secondary Education (CADSPPE) paper suggests that electronic text files provided by publishers should be posted to a national clearinghouse for easy, universal access.

Universal Standards

Another recommendation put forward by more than one organization in their submission paper was the need for a universally agreed upon, and used, set of standards for each alternate format produced. Because the production of such materials is done by several organizations, and in-house on many campuses, the quality of one document produced by one organization is often not the same as another produced elsewhere. Universal minimum standards regarding alternate format production would ensure all students receive clear, accessible materials they can make use of.

Appropriate Funding

Funding for alternate format materials is also a key issue. Throughout the submissions from organizations it is expressed that campuses, which are often called upon to produce alternate format materials for students, usually lack the needed funding for staff, production costs and equipment. At the same time, students can be denied government funding available to cover alternate format costs. This not only means that those students denied funding must find a way to cover any costs of having alternate format materials produced, but also must somehow obtain necessary adaptive technology required to effectively use their alternate format materials. An appropriate fund, or funds, should be set aside by governments to ensure these costs can be covered as required across the country in an equitable way that best serves students with print disabilities.

Braille Needs

Braille demands must also continue to be addressed for those post-secondary students who require such materials. As the movement toward digital and more technologically-advanced alternate formats continues, governments and service providers must not forget that certain students will continue to be most comfortable and to prefer obtaining their academic materials in Braille. Post-secondary services – both on campus and through external agencies - need to be funded adequately to ensure Braille documents are available to students who require the medium. Many groups tell us that funding must be made available to cover the costs of Braille production. As well, appropriate Braille-reading technology must be funded and made available to all students who require it. Technology enhances the ability of students to use Braille. It also enhances production of materials in this format.

National Sharing Database

Many of the submissions put forth the idea that a national alternate format database and distribution system—or systems—should be organized and utilized by those involved in production and those involved in the provision of alternate format materials. Given that a number of alternate format academic materials are produced by formal organizations, such as the CNIB, and a number are informally produced on post-secondary campuses, such systems would allow all involved in the alternate format system in Canada to know where, and in which formats, materials are available for student use.

These ideas, and several other important insights and recommendations, are explored more in depth in the following appendix containing the full text of all submissions received. Just as the results and analysis of the survey research conducted for this NEADS project are vital pieces of information, so too are the submitted papers presented here worthy of review and consideration. Indeed the findings of our research often complements the recommendations from the stakeholder groups and alternate format producers.

The following organizations provided the submissions included in this document:

  • Assistive Technology BC
  • Disability Service Providers in Post-Secondary Education in Alberta
  • Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers in Post-Secondary Education (CADSPPE)
  • Ontario Ministry of Education, Steering Committee on Transcription Services
  • W. Ross MacDonald School
  • College Committee on Disability Issues (Ontario)
  • Canadian Association of Educational Resource Centres for Alternate Formats (CAER)
  • British Columbia College and Institute Library Services (CILS)

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