Access to Academic Materials for Post-Secondary Students with Print Disabilities
The project work that NEADS has undertaken with its partners since December 2003 has been significant in scope and impact. Based on research, consultations undertaken during the project Access to Academic Materials for Students with Print Disabilities, and submissions from other organizations, we recommend that:
- Post-secondary students with all types of print disabilities should have access to academic materials for their studies in a format or formats of choice.
- Materials provided must be made available in a timely manner to ensure that students who cannot use standard print can pursue college and university education on a level playing field, with equal access to all the tools of learning.
- Publishers should make their books readily available in accessible, useable, complete electronic formats, at a reasonable price.
- Initiatives such as the National Network for Equitable Public Library Service for Canadians with Print Disabilities, which includes the development of a Clearinghouse for making publishers electronic files available to alternate format producers, be supported in order to improve access to information for Canadians.
- In this regard, changes to Canada’s copyright legislation are required so that the needs of those who cannot read regular print are acknowledged and accommodated.
- Students with disabilities are entitled to a complete version of the book and to all information that is available in the printed version including text as well as graphs, charts, tables, etc.
- While there is a need to establish professional standards of quality production of alternate format texts and other learning materials in Canada, this should not create an impediment to timely delivery. For that reason, disability service centres and libraries on college and university campuses should have sufficient resources, staff, and technology to continue to produce materials in a variety of formats and of different types – as required by individual students – in-house.
- In fact, there is also a need for greater resources that allow academic materials to be produced by the organizations that have the capacity and expertise.
- Professionally produced books and other learning materials in all formats should be made more widely available for sharing between schools, libraries, provinces and jurisdictions.
- Professors, teachers and instructors must be willing to support the learning needs of all of their students, including those with print disabilities. Reading lists and academic requirements for each course of study must be established with sufficient lead time to allow materials to be rendered accessible to students in formats of choice at the beginning of each semester.
- Accessibility does not end with required readings. Students with print disabilities must be able to participate in all aspect of campus life and must have access to other types of materials, including course calendars, handbooks and campus newspapers.
- Professors and instructors must become more understanding of and familiar with the requirements of students with print disabilities in their classrooms. Depending upon the school, this may necessitate the delivery of faculty training/workshop sessions involving students and disability service centre staff.
- The Internet is being used by post-secondary institutions and faculties for course work. University and college websites must be fully accessible, in particular for those who use screen-reading software.
- Technology can level the playing field and allow students with disabilities to compete and succeed in a post-secondary environment. Students who require alternate format materials must have access to the best, most appropriate technology – both hardware and software – at an affordable price. The equipment must be made available to students in their homes and also in campus disability service centres, libraries and all computer labs.
- To make full use of technologies, students with print disabilities must be provided with professional training in the use of their equipment.
- Students are often put in a position where they have to produce course materials in alternate formats themselves. This can be time-consuming and exhausting and can take away from much-needed study time. Students with disabilities must have their academic materials provided in a format of their choice from a reliable source.
- Often the biggest barrier to access to post-secondary education for students with disabilities is adequate funding to attend school considering disability related costs. The Canada Student Loans Program and provincial student financial assistance programs must continue to support students with disabilities through the Canada Study Grants program and similar provincial bursary programs in terms of funding for equipment and services costs relating to access to academic materials in formats of choice.
This report concludes by recommending that there continue to be consultations with key stakeholder groups. These groups include: students through the National Educational Association of Disabled Students, the library community and consumers with disabilities through the Council on Access to Information for Print Disabled Canadians (as supported by Library and Archives Canada) and the Canadian Association of Educational Resource Centres for Alternate Formats, and service providers through the Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers in Post-Secondary Education. Efforts should be made by all concerned parties to ensure that publishing houses produce accessible alternate format versions of the textbooks at the source.
Finally, among some of the main conclusions, it is recommended that there should be an office/person in post-secondary institutions whose responsibility will be to act as a liaison between the faculties and departments and the disability service centres to ensure that each students’ alternate format needs are being met. This staff person could also be part of the disability service centre team, depending upon the structure of services within each institution. The office/persons duties would include ensuring the timely access to academic materials.