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



This is a brief sampling of the literature that exists relating to alternative format print material and accessibility to print material in general using a variety of sources and/or the World Wide Web.

The references which are presented here are a representative sample and by no means should be, considered an exhaustive list. They represent subject matter similar to the research completed in the Access to Academic Materials for Print Disabled Post-Secondary Students Project (ATAM) and are intended complement its scope.

The materials used here were gathered from members of the Steering Committee of the project and conducting Web searches on the Collections Canada site and the Education Resource Information Centre database (ERIC). In addition, general Web searches also revealed some other sources.

I would like to thank members of the Steering Committee for their input and I would like to extend special thanks to Heather Cross of MacOdrum Library at Carleton University for her assistance with the literature search and acquisition of documents.

In closing, I have to acknowledge the tremendously enlightening learning experience working on this project has been. I was left with lasting impressions of the experiences of people with print disabilities after my conversations with service providers during the project implementation phase, and at this stage, researching and reviewing materials in the preparation of this literature search. The process has altered my personal perceptions and left me a great deal more knowledgeable.

Laurie S. Alphonse - Project Consultant
Access to Academic Materials for Print Disabled Post-Secondary Students Project
March 2005

  • Holt, W. & Hole, C. (1994). Adult Library Patrons with Disabilities: An Assessment of Information Access Needs (Report No. EDO IR 055 222). Washington D.C.: Office of Educational Research and Improvement (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED374819)

    This study addresses a holistic approach to accessibility for people with print disabilities. The article, a needs assessment conducted to improve accessibility for people with disabilities overall at the Phoenix Public Library, details suggestions for improvement in a number of areas such as training for staff and patrons on adaptive equipment, access to materials in alternate format and structural changes that would accommodate the needs of patrons with disabilities.

    Furthermore the research also attempts to address the individualized nature of support to people with disabilities who need personalized one-on-one assistance in the provision of accommodations.

  • BC College and Institute Library Services. (2004). Accessibility of British Columbiaís Post-Secondary Library Websites, Catalogues and Databases: A Preliminary Report. Vancouver, BC: Blaeser,S., Creedy, M., & Epp, M.

    The content of this report is a culmination of two studies. One surveys library staff to determine their own perceptions about the accessibility of Websites and online database resources currently in use. This study addresses Web accessibility and accessibility of online catalogues and databases in 17 post-secondary institutions. Within the hands-on component of analysis the study discusses accessibility as it relates to visual impairments and uses JAWS software as a tool for specific analysis.

    The hands-on portion of the study had a researcher assessing these resources against an accessibility template developed by BC College and Institute Library Services (CILS) using combined criteria of RNIB and WAI guidelines.

  • Microsoft Corporation. (2004). Accessible Technology: A Guide for Educators.

    This guide provides elementary analysis of how adaptive equipment products and mainstream products may assist students with disabilities. It is not specific to the post-secondary population but nevertheless recognizes the role that these computer products play in achieving opportunities for success. In addition, the existence of a document of this type suggests that adaptive equipment technology is gaining mainstream attention, thus recognizing people with disabilities as a viable market group.

    The document discusses existing Windows and Office Suite options that are specifically intended to enhance accessibility, while also suggesting other software and hardware options that may be suitable for use with students with certain disabilities.

  • Griebel, R. (2000), Partnering Services between Public Libraries and Library Services For the Blind: A Canadian Experience(Report No. EDO IR 058 020). Washington D.C.: Office of Educational Research and Improvement (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED450754)

    This presentation highlights the possibilities that exist to ensure that individuals who are visually impaired may access information in integrated fashion using the resources of the public library in their community.

    This is achieved on a local scale in Alberta where the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and VISUNET Canada partnered to make it possible for people who are visually impaired to access the electronic format services of VISUNET Canada for online catalogues and print resources in alternative format.

  • Treviranus, J. & Coombs, N.(2000): Bridging the Digital Divide in Higher Education (Report No. EDO IR 020 620). Washington D.C.: Office of Educational Research and Improvement (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED452812)

    This presentation highlights the accessibility challenges that exist with technological advances of course design and delivery. In addition to highlighting areas of concern it suggests strategies for dealing with those challenges by profiling initiatives undertaken.

    In particular, it discusses applicable US law, hardware and software issues in accessibility and provides online resources.

  • Wimberley, L., Reed, N. & Morris, M. (2004) Post-secondary students with Learning Disabilities: Barriers to Accessing Education-Based Information Technology. Information Technology and Disabilities, 10, 1. Retrieved February 14, 2005 from

    The discussion in this study identifies barriers for students with learning disabilities accessing information online. The study asked students with learning disabilities to perform tasks online and provided each participant with equal amounts of training and training information online. Difficulties experienced by many in accessing the information and completing the requested tasks are highlighted.

  • Government of Canada Industry Canada (2003) A Manager's Guide To Multiple Formats.

    This is a resource guide and toolkit aimed at assisting managers in the government and private sector on the authoring and production of materials in alternative formats.

    The guide is an introduction to the concept of alternative format for those individuals not exposed to the concept previously. It discusses all forms of alternative format in the broadest spectrum, including plain language and sign writing.

  • Slem, C., & Kane S. (2001). Utility of Course Web Resources for Students with Learning Disabilities (Report No. EDO EC 308 931). Washington D.C.: Office of Educational Research and Improvement (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED464430)

    The paper discusses the use of World Wide Web resources to assist students with learning disabilities in successful course completion. The paper details how students who were able to access course materials found additional strategies for dealing with their differing learning styles.

  • Burgstahler S., Duclos R., & Turcotte, M. (2000). Preliminary Findings: Faculty, Teaching Assistants and Studentsí Perceptions Regarding Accommodating Students with Disabilities in Post-secondary Environments (Report No. EDO HE 034 275). Washington D.C.: Office of Educational Research and Improvement (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED456718)

    This study is an overview of attitudes towards accommodations within a US post-secondary environment. Similarities can be drawn from this example for many of the concerns about access to equipment, structural changes and overall prevailing attitudes about disability and accommodations to the Canadian environment.

    The study was conducted using qualitative focus groups and the resulting data provides a rich picture of accommodation attitudes from all three perspectives: students, faculty, and teaching assistants.

  • French, D. (2002) E-Accessibility: United States and International (Report No. EDO IR 021 736). Washington D.C.: Office of Educational Research and Improvement (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED477008)

    This article details the difficulties of remaining current with the changing technologies that govern the World Wide Web and the challenges that result in trying to provide educational accommodations in a standardized fashion.

  • Thompson, T. (2004) Survey on Access Technology in Higher Education.

    This study addresses the adaptive equipment delivery perspective from the point of view of technologists supporting students with disabilities. In its description of services and delivery models it provides only an administrative and a structural delivery perspective. However, it does provide building blocks for expansion and the continued growth of this relatively new field.

  • Fichten, C. S. (2003). Accessible Computer Technologies for Students With Disabilities in Canadian Higher Education. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology. 29,2 25-33.

    This article discusses differences of access to adaptive equipment technologies between colleges and universities, by language and institution type.

    The research addresses issues such as access to adaptive equipment, different aspects of service delivery and the attitudes and perceptions to services that emerged from the research. Regional and cultural differences are expressed about access to and the use of adaptive equipment in the post-secondary sphere.

  • Burgstahler, S. (2002). Distance Learning: The Library's Role In Ensuring Access To Everyone. Library Hi Tech, 20, 4, 420-432.

    This article speaks to the role of libraries in the delivery of distance education courses and in turn the role of libraries in ensuring materials are delivered in accessible formats. Furthermore, it is recognized that, generally, the capacity of libraries to provide service is expanding beyond physical buildings, hours of operation and even physical books. Therefore, accessibility of libraries must move beyond physical structural parameters in the provision of services in accessible formats.

    Specifically, discussion centres around the partnerships libraries may undertake to ensure courses in distance education are provided using universal design principles to ensure electronic accessibility and compatibility with adaptive software and hardware. In addition, the article encourages active partnerships between instructors, students with disabilities and library staff all aimed at assisting students with disabilities to reach their full potential.

  • Griebel, R. (2003). If Helen Keller Lived South of the 49th: Canadian Library Services for People with Disabilities. Feliciter, 3,155-57.

    Griebel discusses how the differing legal and cultural perspectives of Canada and the US have impacted services to people with disabilities within library sciences. In the article she contrasts the differences in the legal approach when dealing with the assurance of equity and draws from the different perspectives a need for an overall international approach.

  • Spindler T. (2002). The Accessibility of Web Pages for Midsized College and University Libraries. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 42, 2,149-54.

    The article details a quantitative study of 190 midsize college library Websites in the United States. The study tested for Website accessibility using Bobby v.3.2. The program is designed to test for accessibility using the guidelines of the Website Accessibility Initiative (WAI).

    The study found that there was need for significant improvement in Website accessibility at many of the colleges within the study and suggests areas for further research.

  • Harrison, L. (2002). Access To Online Learning: The Role Of The Courseware Authoring Tool Developer. Library Hi Tech, 20, 4, 433-40.

    This piece of writing suggests strategies for including accessibility components in Web-based server course management systems. It promotes the development of courseware that is compatible with existing adaptive equipment software and highlights examples of current compatibility errors as examples. The article goes further, pointing out that improvements to the accessibility of courseware would, in general, improve overall flexibility of those programs within a wider variety of browser platforms, thus, increasing overall access, not only access to students with disabilities using these products.

  • Genius S. K. (2004).Website Usability Testing: A Critical Tools for Libraries. Feliciter, 4,161-64

    This generalized view of evaluation of library Websites encourages a user-friendly approach to whether or not Websites are effective, efficient and satisfactory. The article does not specifically discuss issues of print accessibility but still provides a base point for discussion.

  • Byerley S., & Chambers M. (2003). Accessibility of Web-based Library Databases: The Vendors' Perspective. Library Hi Tech, 21, 3 347-57.

    This article details the findings of a qualitative study that had library database vendors rating their own products for accessibility on the basis of compliance with section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act regulations.

    The sample size and scope of the survey were limited, with only 11 companies participating. The research scope was limited by rating scales of 0 to 5, and a majority of closed-ended questions in those other parts of the survey not requesting ratings. The writers point out that the study tells more about what still needs to be accomplished than an absolute measurement of the accessibility of these database tools.

  • Schmetzke A. (2002). Accessibility of Web-based Information Resources for People with Disabilities. Library Hi Tech, Volume 20, Number 2, 135-36.

    In this two-page editorial the writer attempts to provide an overview of the challenges surrounding ensuring accessibility within electronic formats and the challenges faced with an ever-changing technology frontier. The author recognizes disability as a social construct and considers libraries a critical part of ensuring equality and inclusion for those with print disabilities.

  • Chu, H. (2003) Electronic Books: Viewpoints from Users and Potential Users. Library Hi Tech, 21, 3, 340-346.

    The piece highlights a short survey given to a small sampling of individuals to determine their feelings about and usage of E-books. The study found that most do not consider E-books a viable replacement for the paper hardcopy books of today, despite the large investment and fanfare that heralded the beginning of the E-book revolution at the turn of the new millennium. Economics, the article states, is a large factor in the reasons why the E-book revolution was a revolution that never really was at all. Despite the economic factors the article's author believes that the success or failure of E-books depends on the products themselves. To try and determine reasons why people use or do not use E-books, as the case may be, a small study was conducted.

    The study found that many cited unavailability of titles and difficulty browsing as reasons for why they did not choose to use an E-book format. However, for those who used E-book format titles successfully they opted to use that format repeatedly as long as the title was available in the electronic format.

  • Lewis, V., & Klauber, J. (2002). [Image] [Image] [Image] [Link] [Link] [Link]: Inaccessible Web Design from the Perspective of a Blind Librarian. Library Hi Tech 20, 2, 137-40.

    The material in this article is taken from the personal experiences of one of the authors. She provides through examples she herself has experienced, a critical eye for improvement in the field of Web design. It is clear from the article that development of Web accessibility guidelines, is moot if Websites are still being designed without implementation of those guidelines. In addition, it is also clear that there needs to be increased education around accessibility, even with the proclamation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and development of the Web Accessibility Initiative guidelines. The examples in this article clearly dictate a disconnect of policy and practice. However, the author is optimistic that although the system requires improvement, improvements are ongoing.

  • Horwath, J. (2002) Evaluating Opportunities for Expanded Information Access: A Study of the Accessibility of Four Online Databases. Library Hi Tech, 20, 2,199-206.

    This study evaluated four Web-based proprietary databases for accessibility to people who were blind and visually impaired. The study tested the databases for easy navigation and compatibility with adaptive equipment software.

    The databases included in this study are EBSCOhost, Master File Elite, Electric Library Plus, Encyclopaedia Britannica Online and the Oxford English Dictionary Online. The study examined whether links were appropriately placed so that they could be read by screen readers, whether the site used frames and combo boxes and whether there was enough text instruction to provide direction in navigation.

  • Oravec, J. (2002) Virtual Accessibility: Empowering Students to Advocate for Accessibility and Support Universal Design. Library Hi Tech, 20

    Oravec argues that students must be active participants in the universal design and organizational structural design components of the tools they use daily to reach their academic potential. In this article, the social constructs of disability are challenged using technology. Technology, according to the author can be used as a tool to engage people with disabilities with expanding aspects of the world around them. This article suggests strategies for educators to involve students in the process of looking critically at the world and problem-solving.

  • Coonin, B. (2002). Establishing Accessibility for E-Journals: A Suggested Approach. Library Hi Tech, 20 2, 207-20.

    This article advocates for more education of E-journal publishers about accessibility and the need for its implementation at the development phase and not as an added extra feature. Furthermore, the article details the study of E-journal accessibility. Generally, the study found that while many E-journals had built within them accessibility components all had flaws of varying degrees that makes them inaccessible. Furthermore, the article points out that there needs to be clarification of responsibility for accessibility and publishers need to work with adaptive equipment and software developers to design a system that's universally designed to work in all situations.

  • Riley , C. A.( 2002). Libraries, Aggregator Databases, Screen Readers and Clients with Disabilities Library Hi Tech, 20, 2,179-87.

    This article echoes the sentiments of the preceding article. It highlights the inaccessibility of online databases and promotes the concept of co-operation in the development and design stage between publishers, Web developer counterparts and developers of adaptive equipment and/or software. Adaptive software and hardware components are rated with respect to how they navigate three commonly used databases.

  • Bowman, V. ( 2002). Reading Between the Lines: An Evaluation of WindowEyes Screen Reader as a Reference Tool for Teaching and Learning. Library Hi Tech, 20 2,162-68.

    This is an evaluation of the WindowEyes package in itís use to teach blind and visually impaired students to do research using online databases, in much the same way as their peers who are non-disabled. The author finds that teaching the same skills are possible, with the assistance from library staff.

    The article goes on to suggest that screen readers are an essential part of accessibility for library patrons with disabilities. Furthermore, the author provides tips for consideration when purchasing screen readers.

  • Amtmann, D., Johnson, K., & Cook, D. (2002). Making Web-based Tables Accessible For Users of Screen Readers. Library Hi Tech, 20, 2, 221-31.

    This paper highlights the problems experienced by people with print disabilities in navigating Web-based tables with screen reader software. In addition to providing specific examples it also recommends additional training for webmasters about accessibility. Furthermore, it provides concrete examples of how accessibility can be implemented to make it easier for people with print disabilities to surf the Web.

  • National Library of Canada. (2000) Fulfilling the Promise: Report of the Task Force on Access to Information for Print-Disabled Canadians.

    The report is a comprehensive review of the issues facing individuals with print disabilities in their access of print material in its traditional form in Canada. It discusses of the current standards and directions for the future. The report recommends a number of measures to ensure access to print materials by people with disabilities, and promotes access to print materials in alternative formats through systemic changes and the promotion of partnerships.

  • Irwin, M., & Gerke, J.D. Web Based Information and Prospective Students with Disabilities: A study of Liberal Arts Colleges. Educause Quarterly, 4, 2004. 51-59 Retrieved on April 1, 2005 from

    This study involved Website accessibility testing at 51 liberal arts colleges in United States. Homepages for were tested for accessibility and it was determined most would need revisions. Furthermore, the study discusses the impact of the requirement for those revisions, pointing out that the requirement would represent significant barriers for prospective students with print disabilities. The study recommends that colleges use a six step plan for ensuring accessibility. Common problems are highlighted in Website design and the need for further public education surrounding accessible Web-site design is stressed.

    A variety of methods were used to determine accessibility. The Websites were tested using Bobby Web accessibility software and aspects of the Websites were tested for use and compatibility with adaptive equipment software such as Zoom Text and JAWS.

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