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

Service Provider Survey

Section C: General Questions

26. Are there any barriers that prevent you from maximizing your services to students with print disabilities?

Chart 67
Chart 67: Barriers

Just a quarter of respondents report that there are no barriers. Almost exactly three-quarters state that there are barriers that prevent them from maximizing their services. This is a large and worrisome number. The second part of this question asked participants to identify the barriers.

If yes, what are they? Check all that apply.

Chart 68
Chart 68: Barriers listed

Clearly, issues of funding and of equipment are the biggest barriers to delivering academic materials to students, with delays cited next. The majority of answers in the comments provided alluded to the fact some instructors choose course reading materials fairly late in the semester planning process, thereby reducing the amount of time disability service providers have to reproduce materials into alternate formats. One Quebec respondent added that sometimes it is the students themselves that do not provide sufficient advance notice for alternate format requests. Another related roadblock cited is that students must wait to obtain funding for alternate format materials, which sometimes does not arrive until classes have already begun. Another concern raised relating to course materials is that course packs sometimes contain what one respondent termed “illegible articles.”

Three respondents cited concerns with having to deal with external agencies for alternate format production. One British Columbia university college respondent wrote that the provincial external agency is unable to keep up with the demand for alternate format materials, while an Ontario service provider pointed to the money and time required to deal with outside agencies as problematic. One respondent noted that RFB&D won’t send electronic format texts to Canada, which limits the easy availability of materials in such formats.

Finally, three respondents pointed to a lack of availability of electronic files from publishers, which affects how quickly texts can be obtained for reproduction into alternate formats.

27. As a service provider or librarian, how would you characterize your level of knowledge regarding the production of alternate format academic materials?

Chart 69
Chart 69: Knowledge of the production of alternate format materials

From question 8 in this survey it was ascertained that some 77% of responding service providers’ institutions produced in-house alternate format materials. From such a rate, it is therefore all the more important that 27% state that their knowledge of the production of alternate format materials needs improvement. It is an area that the service provision professionals must address. One-third of the service providers state that this knowledge is average, 9.5% that it is good, 20% very good, and 9.5% state that their knowledge of the production of alternate format academic materials is excellent. Overall, around 40% report a good, very good, or excellent knowledge, and approximately 60% report a ‘needs improvement-average’ range of knowledge.

One university respondent wrote that the department that deals with alternate format provision has existed at the school since 1990, yet the current staff has only been together for one year. Despite this, they have consulted with similar institutions in North America for advice and assistance. While this respondent feels they are doing a very good job, a comment is provided, “It could always be better.”

Another respondent indicated, “I have a reasonable knowledge of the technologies used and needed. I feel that my legal knowledge is incomplete.” Legal implications were also cited by another service provider, who wrote, “copyright laws are often bothersome.”

28. As a service provider or librarian, how would you characterize your level of knowledge regarding the availability of alternate format academic materials?

Chart 70
Chart 70: Knowledge of availability of alternate format materials

In question 25, it was stated that 80% of service providers who produce in-house alternate format academic materials check availability from other services prior to in-house production. In the above question, we asked about their knowledge regarding the availability of alternate format academic materials. The responses state that 18.5% need improvement in this regard, almost 28% see their knowledge as average, 26% as good, 20% very good, and 7.7% as excellent. The breakdown of the sliding scale is as follows: some 46% report a knowledge in the range of ‘needs improvement–average’, and 54% are in the ‘good-very good-excellent’ bracket.

The one open-ended comment provided for this question notes, “It would be nice to have better access to international material and more French language material (including DAISY from RFB&D). I am working on creating connections with services in Quebec.”

A brief comparison of Questions 27 and 28 is seen in Table 30 below.

Knowledge of ProductionKnowledge of Availability
Needs Improvement27%18.50%
Very good20.60%20%

Table 32. Knowledge compared

29a) Is there a process for the evaluation of production of alternate format materials at your institution?

Chart 71
Chart 71: Process of evaluation

For this question the responses are 18.7% yes, 64% no and 17% not applicable. Of the 11 N.A. responses, six came from universities, one from a community college, and four from a technical/vocational institution. Slightly under two-thirds of service providers responding report that there is no process to evaluate production of alternate format materials. This is an area that service providers might wish to examine more closely, and perhaps set a process in motion where evaluation standards are designed and implemented.

Three people noted that student feedback is solicited, whether formally through surveys, or informally. One Quebec respondent wrote that no evaluation process exists at their institution, but “we need such a procedure.”

29b) If yes, who is responsible for the evaluation of alternate format production and delivery carried out at your institution?

At one institution, the director of student services undertakes this responsibility. A Nova Scotia community college respondent wrote that the Department of Education oversees production evaluation.

30. Is World Wide Web accessibility for students with print disabilities being addressed at your institution?

Chart 72
Chart 72: Online accessibility

Seventy-three percent of participants state that Web accessibility is being addressed at their institution, while 27% state that it is not. Three respondent service providers stated in question 8, however, that they produce in-house Web resources. The production of these resources and the availability, or addressing the availability, of web accessibility, are separate issues. It would appear to be the case, considering so much course material is now available online, a majority of service providers should be addressing and providing Web accessibility for students with print disabilities and this seems to be a priority based on responses. It should be noted that many students who use the Internet, have assistive technology.

While one Ottawa respondent indicated a Web Accessibility Committee was in place at their institution, the majority of responses given noted that the process isn’t that streamlined in most cases.

At one British Columbia community college, the disability services office works with departments such as computer services or the library to ensure website compliance. A BC university respondent noted computer services works only on the accessibility of the university’s website, and not on individual sites. One Ontario community college service provider said that the marketing department develops websites, but that they aren’t fully accessible, so the disability services office offers technology to ensure students can read the sites.

Two respondents noted that they have raised issues of website accessibility with their institutions, and while they are supportive of the need, action has not been taken to ensure compliance.

If yes, which offices address World Wide Web accessibility?

Chart 73
Chart 73: Offices addressing WWW accessibility

31. Is the following information available to students in alternate formats?

Chart 74
Chart 74: Provision of information in alternate formats

This question is a ‘dual question’, in that it is also asked in the student survey. For that reason it is analyzed in greater detail in the conclusion section of this report. Responses from service providers (and they could check more than one response) are listed in Chart 74. The percentage breakdown of these responses is as follows:

Registration packages14.0
Course outlines 17.4
Guides to campus services15.7
Course calendars 17.4
Timetables 16.9
Other, please specify 7.9

Table 33. Percent of information in alternate formats

Of the ten comments given for this question, five respondents wrote that all materials listed were available in alternate formats upon request, while three noted that some or all of the materials are available online for student access. An Ontario college respondent noted that the availability of course outlines in alternate formats at the institution depends on the individual instructor and department involved, but that in instances where such material is not readily available, the disability services office will reproduce the documents. Finally, one university college respondent from British Columbia noted they are unsure if the materials are available in alternate formats.

32. For students with print disabilities, which services do you feel that your institution provides most successfully (list up to three)? Which services do you provide least successfully (list up to three)?

Most Successful Services

FIRST Most Successful Services

Top 3First BestSecond BestThird Best
1E-textAdaptive technologyExam Accommodation
2Exam AccommodationBraille/E-text/Audio/ExamsScanning
3Audio formatsLarge Print/ScanningMultiple responses

Table 34. Top 3 responses for first, second, and third best experiences/practices

Of the responses given for first choice, the production and/or provision of E-text materials was cited most often by service providers. The ability to provide exam and test accommodation, and the conversion of materials to audio format, were the two next popular choices, each having been listed by six respondents. Five people pointed to their institution’s ability to provide adaptive technology to students as their first choice, with scanning equipment, assistive technology computers, Kurzweil (an assistive technology software program used for scanning) and an assistive technology lab being mentioned as specific examples.

Services for blind students were also considered as strong points, with two respondents listing their institutions’ capacity for producing Braille as successful services, and two respondents simply mentioning the ability of their institution to provide alternate format materials for blind students.

Online technology was cited twice, with one respondent pointing to their institution’s availability of materials on the Internet, and another service provider listing the ability to produce online texts as a most successful service. The ability of the institution to provide software training to students was also mentioned twice.

Finally, six service providers simply mentioned their institutions’ ability to provide alternate formats as their greatest success, while the following responses were each offered once, verbatim:

  • Enlarged materials
  • Texts and course packs
  • Links to provincial resources for ordering texts
  • Direct course requirements
  • Partnerships and government programs

SECOND Most Successful Services

Of the services listed as second most successful, the availability of adaptive technology on campuses was the most popular choice. The choice was cited by 11 respondents, with four simply mentioning adaptive technology in general, and others mentioning specific equipment, such as Kurzweil, enlargement software, screen readers, online databases, and an assistive technology computer lab.

The provision of materials in Braille, E-text availability, audio format provision and exam/test accommodations were all second-most popular number two picks, each being mentioned three times. The ability of the institution to scan materials into alternate formats, and the provision of enlarged print texts and/or tests, were each listed twice.

Finally, the following services were each listed once, and are presented verbatim:

  • Translating lecture notes in AF
  • Accessing funding
  • Training in adaptive technology
  • Classroom supports
  • Willingness to assist students producing own material
  • Respond to students’ preferences for format
  • Online resources
  • Having a person delegated responsibility for looking after these students
  • Hiring readers
  • Tutorials

THIRD Most Successful Services

The ability of an institution to accommodate for exam needs was a popular third choice, being listed by six respondents. The availability of scanning services was second, with two service providers indicating such.

The following choices were each presented once as third-most successful service:

  • Audiotapes (computerized voice limited in French, better in English)
  • E-text
  • Kurzweil
  • Producing handouts
  • Open door policy for students
  • Disability counselling
  • Technical knowledge of alternate formats
  • Course materials in alternate formats
  • Supplementary readings through online E-text database
  • Keeping up to date with equipment for production
  • Timely production of alternate format materials
  • Enlargement software such as Zoomtext
  • Course accessibility
  • Computer/spell check software

Least Successful Services

FIRST Least Successful Services

Top 3First WorstSecond WorstThird Worst
1BrailleAlternate format time delaysMultiple responses
2Audio Digital/AnalogueAccess to equipmentMultiple responses
3Publishers/Adaptive tech. shortages/InstructorsAudio formatsMultiple responses

Table 35. Top 3 Worst experiences/services

The ability to provide needed academic materials in Braille was most often noted as the least successful service of an institution, being listed by six respondents. Production and provision problems were next, with five mentioning digital audio or audio analogue as problematic, and one specifically writing, “audiotaping quality is not great.”

Access to publishers and their texts for alternate format provision, the provision of alternate formats for students with learning disabilities, a shortage of adaptive technology equipment for loan, and the inability to access course instructors quickly and easily were all cited twice by respondents.

The following answers were all given once, and are presented verbatim:

  • Obtaining print copies for transcription
  • Production of alternate formats
  • Training in adaptive technologies
  • Pre-application
  • Scanning text
  • Alternate format texts
  • Materials on E-text
  • It is the teachers who have to prepare the course documents to accommodate these students
  • Online forms
  • PDF in image format
  • Fast alternative production of class handouts
  • Transcription
  • Access to alternate formats in math/engineering topics
  • Equipment trials
  • Persuading students to identify alternate format needs in a timely fashion
  • Administrative information
  • Classroom accommodations

SECOND Least Successful Services

While not all respondents offered second choices for least successful service, concerns surrounding the ability for alternate format requests to be fulfilled in time for the start of a semester were most commonly offered, with three mentioning slow turnaround times for requests. Inadequate access to equipment and concerns surrounding audio formats were next, each being mentioned twice.

The following responses were each given once:

  • Training for students unfamiliar with adaptive technology
  • Not having all resources fully accessible
  • Note taking
  • E-text
  • Web access
  • Compatibility of some online services
  • Obtaining accessible formats
  • Correct versions of textbooks, hard to keep up with
  • Keeping pace with digital developments
  • Classroom materials
  • General college information

THIRD Least Successful Services

The following third least successful services responses were each offered once:

  • Standardization of procedures for readers onto audiotape
  • Web accessibility
  • Sign language
  • Institutional information being made available in alternate formats
  • Place for test writing
  • Scanning
  • Poor collaboration with other Alberta institutions
  • MP3 (no equipment)
  • Finding affordable software for students

The final part of this last question asked the service providers how these services to students with print disabilities could be improved. It is from this type of feedback, from the professionals working in the field, that we can make recommendations and draw conclusions. It has been shown repeatedly throughout the survey research that Canada’s service providers do an exceptionally good job and that they are greatly appreciated by the students they support. The answers they have provided to the questions in the survey have contributed to the composition of a profile of the many post-secondary institutions in the country in terms of the issues related to alternate format service to students with print disabilities. From this last question we sought their advice and opinions on how to improve the services that they offer. Many comments from service providers, on a range of issues, mirror comments provided by the students to this question.

How Could These Services Be Improved?

  • With the provision of more training for staff, more convenient accessibility overall to alternative format materials, dedication of well trained staff (e.g., formats, publishers, copyright law) to the purpose of obtaining/ordering/making available alternative format text.
  • Easier access for students to obtain alternative format material directly from the bookstore – like any other student.
  • Science and math print alternatives are often available from RFB&D but students often do not want to register with them.
  • Establishment of an institutional equipment bank, more money for Braille.
  • More resources.
  • More knowledge on how to produce.
  • Better technology.
  • Publishers more approachable.
  • Access to an efficient searching technique to find existing alternate formats.
  • We cannot force volunteer readers – but if more material were available, we wouldn’t have to depend on them as much.
  • Funding for technology and for trained staff.
  • We don’t have enough authority at the services to force professors in providing us with their reading list. There is no real recourse to penalize professors who do not help us. Students must complain to disability services then that may go to the human rights office. In the end, it isn’t fair to the student who is already at a disadvantage.
  • Improved awareness from IT services.
  • A more efficient centralized service for alternate format materials.
  • Educating professors and others about the needs of the students with print disabilities.
  • A longer lead time for securing materials.
  • Often instructors are not even hired to teach a course until late summer and then the texts are not available with enough lead time.
  • Easier access to electronic text materials from publishers.
  • Internal production of small works (five pages max.).
  • Need manuscripts in advance for Braille transcription, but last minute changes make this hard.
  • CILS investing in DAISY, which is very helpful. More workstations for students needed.
  • Publisher involvement in production of alternate formats; Collaboration with local and/or provincial service providers to pool resources and enhance production processes (risk of losing timely response).
  • More rapid contact channels with the students.
  • More staff and funding would enable us to provide the same services for students with learning disabilities as for students with visual impairments.
  • If W. Ross MacDonald School provided a scanning service.
  • Publishers should be pressured to provide E-text versions.
  • More resources, human and financial.
  • If students got their alternate format orders in earlier, and if professors got their reading lists in earlier.
  • More training for staff with adaptive technology; more staff, money, equipment.
  • More professional equipment; access to efficient searching technique to find existing alternative format; access to faster lending or copying of existing alternate formats; access to faster production of alternate format with random access wherever appropriate.
  • Publisher providing alternate formats for all purchases.
  • More financial resources; more money for CILS.
  • More funding for production of materials.
  • Books available at sale.
  • More funding for production of materials, for students with all disabilities; we currently provide for students with visual impairment.
  • Software, and training on its usage.
  • As a private institution, we do not receive public funds; makes it hard to purchase certain materials, like Braille.
  • Speeding up the provision of alternate format texts; paying graduate students to proctor/scribe exams.
  • Promoting universal instruction design; promoting awareness among faculty and staff that the duty to accommodate extends beyond disability services office.

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