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


British Columbia College and Institute Library Services (CILS)

By Mary Anne Epp (January 2005)


This paper describes the current services and issues identified by British Columbia College and Institute Library Services (CILS), a centralized service funded by the BC Ministry of Advanced Education and located at Langara College. CILS serves BC’s post-secondary students with print disabilities in the colleges, institutes and agencies in BC and through contract, one university for production services. CILS serves post-secondary students in vocational and academic programs, and offers a wide range of programs to fulfil its mandate. Appendices provide a description of alternate formats and a sample list of courses covered.

Ninety-seven percent of print materials are not transcribed in alternate formats. CILS has therefore developed strategies for bridging the gap for students with print disabilities. These include:

  • Direct services and interlibrary loan services
  • Production of alternate formats
  • Reference and information services
  • Partnerships
  • Research and development
  • Advocacy and public policy development

This report also outlines a list of issues to access that require ongoing attention. These include:

  • Efficient access to publishers’ files
  • Extension of copyright exceptions
  • Lack of production standards
  • International agreements for resource-sharing
  • Inconsistency of copyright information in publications produced by colleges
  • Inaccessibility of on-line courses
  • Inaccessibility of media resources
  • Lack of funding for Braille production
  • Lack of services for private post-secondary Institutions
  • Isolated university disability services
  • Inadequate access to adaptive technology and training
  • Training
  • Inconsistent or non-existent cataloguing of alternate formats
  • Inadequate lead times for production
  • Inconsistent communications by disability providers

Attached to the report is a summary of the criteria for service relating to the CILS mandate. This report identifies student characteristics, role definitions of service providers in the provincial network, priorities for core services and production. Appendices cover the attributes of books, characteristics of subject material, learning style preferences, computer and information skills and competencies.


BC College and Institute Library Services (CILS) is a co-ordinated, centralized service funded by the BC Ministry of Advanced Education to support the delivery of accessible resources to BC’s students with print disabilities in the colleges, institutes, university colleges and agencies. The service has been growing in the number of customers and diversity of products and services for over 20 years. Approximately 450 students are served each year in 18 institutions. One university also contracts with CILS for production services. From time to time, as resources permit, other community and educational agencies contract for production services by CILS. CILS also reciprocates with other agencies across Canada to lend and borrow alternate formats to their clients.

The centralized, co-ordinated and collaborative approach appears to be a “best practice” in Canada. The central service is able to maximize and optimize the investment in specialized human services, research and development into new adaptive technologies, maintenance of a physical production studio, development of network protocols and reciprocal agreements with other agencies, economies of scale, development and maintenance of standards and continuous improvement in efficiencies.

Since only three percent of all print materials in English is ever transcribed into alternate formats for people with disabilities, CILS needed to find a way to maximize access through a variety of methods while being as efficient and cost-effective as possible with limited financial resources. Early on in its evolution as a centralized service, CILS recognized that it was impossible to fill the gap of 97% by itself. Therefore, CILS developed strategies to begin to bridge the gap, concentrating on the specific needs of the post-secondary students that it served. These strategies are described in this summary of best practices.

Print impairments include all types of perceptual disabilities related to the use of print: blindness, visual disabilities, learning disabilities, multiple disabilities, some forms of physical, neurological, and chronic disabilities and illnesses that require the accommodation of material in alternate formats.

Authorities for services, definitions of disability and appropriate accommodations are cited in the Canada Copyright Act (persons with perceptual disabilities), the BC Human Rights Act (“the duty to accommodate”) and the BC Post-secondary Disability Services Guidelines for Disability Definitions, Documentation and Accommodation. The Guidelines were prepared by the Disability Services Working Group on Reporting and Definitions (DSWG). DSWG included representatives of the Ministry of Advanced Education, disability co-ordinators, the Adult Special Education Articulation Group, and members of centralized services, CILS and ISP (Interpreting Services Program).

CILS ensures implementation of the BC Ministry of Education’s goals in the following areas:

  • Equity of access to information: to increase access to alternate formats appropriate to the needs of students with print impairments
  • Institutional effectiveness: to improve the ability of institutions to provide effective support to students with print impairments
  • Program diversity: To provide more effective access to the post-secondary curriculum for students with print impairments

The Need

To ascertain need, CILS communicates regularly with members of the CILS Advisory Committee, representing the Ministry of Advanced Education, the Council of Post-Secondary Library Directors, Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Special Education Articulation Committee, Disability Resource Network, Provincial Resource Centre for the Visually Impaired, Assistive Technology BC, educators, distributed learning experts and students.

People with print disabilities may require learning materials in a variety of alternate formats: audiobooks, large print books, Braille, CD ROMs, tactile graphics, electronic texts, digital audio, tactile graphics, captioned video, or descriptive video. Many of the digital resources are used with adaptive technology such as screen readers, which provide a synthesized voice that narrates the material on a computer screen.

Students with print disabilities need resources equivalent to their peers in the same courses. They need access to:

  • textbooks for their basic course work;
  • learning resources for essays, research reports, oral presentations and skill development information literacy skills, technology and training to access library catalogues, online databases and other sources of information, such as CD-ROM encyclopaedias and multi-media reference tools; and
  • Web resources that are accessible through screen readers.

They need to be able to:

  • identify and locate research materials that are available at their own institutions, online or through interlibrary loan; and
  • participate actively, effectively and fully in online courses.

Increasingly, students need to gain skills to help themselves through training in the new formats, awareness of services and information literacy skills.

The subject matter of courses ranges across the spectrum of all college courses.

(See CILS Courses in appendix 3).

Learning materials include (but are not limited to):

  • Textbooks
  • Workbooks
  • Assignments and exams
  • Orientation guides
  • Online courses
  • Online reference and periodical databases
  • Electronic resources
  • Library catalogues
  • Print periodical indexes
  • Journal articles
  • Reference books
  • Vocational materials
  • Web resources
  • Coursepacks
  • Audio-visual resources (audiotapes, slides, videos, films, multimedia, etc)

In order for the resources to be made accessible, they need to be transcribed into an alternate format or produced in a form that is compatible with adaptive or assistive technology, such as screen readers, television monitors that enlarge print, software to enlarge screen print or captioned materials.

Mission and Goals

The CILS mission is to provide the widest range of access to information resources for post-secondary students in alternate formats in the most responsive, effective, efficient and economical manner.

The goal of CILS is to:

  • provide the services in a timely manner;
  • identify the needs and formats in a responsive way;
  • match the information with the appropriate format;
  • investigate and implement new adaptive technology; and
  • stopped extend the access to information for CILS clients.

The intended outcomes of the service are:

  1. More efficient use of resources in the provision of alternate formats
  2. Enhanced expertise in developing alternate formats
  3. Enhanced quality and consistency in provision of alternate formats
  4. Enhanced knowledge about alternate formats for institutional personnel

CILS employees maintain personal contact with the students and service providers in order to ensure that the service is responsive to their information needs. In addition, new energy has been focused on assisting service providers and librarians in the institutions to provide a better, more informed local institutional service. CILS has collaborated more effectively with local institutions through the development of new communication strategies, the renewed Website and awareness workshops.


To provide as many resources and options for BC’s post-secondary students in access to alternate formats, CILS has developed strategies in several areas:

  1. Direct services and interlibrary loan services

    CILS works with interlibrary loan departments within each post-secondary library to develop protocols, communication strategies and delivery logistics within the institutions. The purpose is to apply the circulation and interlibrary loan practices to the lending, delivery and tracking of materials for students. This network is invaluable to ensuring effective delivery and communication systems between the central service and the institutional library.

    Last year, CILS employees developed a more comprehensive checklist for identifying students’ personal skills, access to technology, and preferences for alternate formats. Co-ordinators began to use the checklist, making it easier for the CILS staff to match the student attributes and the available alternate formats.

    There is no substitute for the interview with students to determine the exact needs and share information about the services. This is not always possible due to time constraints. However, anytime CILS needs to produce a new book, the staff continues the process of interviewing students who require digital audio productions. This step has become necessary to provide a higher level of accountability for production on the part of both the student and CILS. During interviews, the staff learned that students are also going through a transition in their use of computers and other adaptive technology. More students are acquiring the capacity to use computer-based products. Sometimes, students update the information provided by co-ordinators on useable formats. The interview also builds commitment by the student to use new products and learn the new software. The staff also learn about the financial impediments to accessing technology because many students don’t qualify for grants.

    Access to online databases and other central repositories is a necessity for determining the location of existing resources. Therefore, the searching of existing agency collections is always a first step in the sourcing process. The National Library of Canada AMICUS online database has been a key resource for decades. It lists all reported alternate formats in Canada. The staff also searches the catalogues of CAER members, the CNIB Catalogue and other national and international sources. Every conceivable source is searched to avoid unnecessary expense and delay in alternate format production. Reciprocally, all CILS productions are reported to the national database at the time of production (CANWIP) and when completed.

  2. Production of alternate formats

    Some institutions expect their own students to produce their own alternate format materials. This activity is sometimes necessary for ephemeral materials or readings, when lead times do not permit a centralized approach to solve the problem. However, we have also heard from students that taking the time away from actual studying has a great affect on academic performance. Further, students are rarely provided with the level of production equipment, training skills or standards that make the end product shareable on a national basis. CILS attempts to bridge the gap by providing timely materials (within the lead time constraints) in a format that is suitable for the student. In addition, CILS works with national and international organizations to develop standards of production that will assist any producer to create a more shareable product.

    For almost 20 years, CILS produced mainly analogue audiotapes. In recent years, the repertoire of production capability was increased to create a variety of products to meet the diverse needs of students. The evolution to digitized products has assisted in this process. Production efficiencies were also instituted to improve delivery times.

    CILS has the capacity to produce the following formats: (See appendix 1 for a complete description and visit the Website for demonstrations at

    • Electronic text (word processing files) used by students (visually impaired, learning disabled) with screen voice readers, such as JAWS, to read print materials using a computer
    • Large print (print and digital)
      • Electronic text (PDF format) for students with low vision who can enlarge their own print products or read them off the computer screen
      • Large print: print enlargement on paper
      • Large print: electronic format
    • Digital audio, CD MP3 format, with human voice, no navigational features
    • Digital audio, CD MP3 format, with synthesized voice, transcribed from electronic text, with file names.
    • Digital audio, CD MP3 format, with human voice, with navigational features (DAISY format) (DAISY stands for Digital Audio Information Systems) This format includes ability to find specific pages, chapters, sections and, in some cases, index entries. This format is used only for materials that require human voice and navigational features.
    • Simple tactile graphics
    • Braille is not produced at CILS due to lack of funding mandate `

    The capacity for developing new digital products was enhanced by the creation of a production team that dispersed the expertise among the employees and removed a major bottleneck in production.

    The addition of a synthesized voice to electronic materials that were suitable for E-text conversion significantly reduced production costs and improved the speed of delivery of the product to the student.

    New technology evaluation included the synthesized voice products, efficiency tools and new software programs for producing digital products.

    In addition, staff requested publishers’ files for new productions. The success rate was approximately 60%. The availability of publishers’ files reduces the amount of digital scanning, an inaccurate and labour-intensive process. Even with publishers files’ there is often considerable deconstruction necessary to provide the accessible final product.

    A prototype publication in many different formats was produced for Langara College to transcribe the basic orientation guide, Student Connections into alternate formats. These included accessible Web versions, large print (print), large print (PDF), CD Audio, DAISY (digital audio), video (with sign language), E-text and others.

  3. Reference and information services

    There is growing evidence that students are not always asking for the resources they require. Self-advocacy is very difficult for students with print disabilities. They need to be encouraged overtly to discuss their issues. The “hidden demand” means that a great deal more effort needs to be put into outreach strategies, communicating about existing services, developing products that meet the students’ needs, planning services in a strategic manner, and strengthening partnerships and awareness at the institutional level to invite student participation in the services.

    The focus in the past year has been to strengthen the reference and information services to clients, to service providers and to institutional support agencies. The purpose is not only to provide direct CILS services to students, but also to assist institutions to improve their ability to provide effective support to students with print disabilities.

    Reference and information services include:

    1. Answering questions on accessible resources:
      • providing subject searches for alternate formats
      • identifying and locating resources in accessible formats
      • providing advice on accessibility for online learning.
    2. Explaining CILS services to clients and prospective clients
      • defining CILS mandate and services
      • introducing new alternate format products
    3. Training
      • raising awareness through workshops, listservs and other communication vehicles
      • training students and employees in the use of adaptive technology,
      • enhancing information on the Website
      • providing demonstrations of alternate formats on the Website
      • presenting workshops on alternate formats, accessible library resources and information literacy
    4. Online Resources
      • providing an accessible online Web catalogue of CILS holdings
      • updating links to accessible resources at other agencies and sources
      • listing standards of production and service provision
      • advising on adaptive technology specifications and purchases
      • producing guidelines on how to make online courses accessible
      • citing information on copyright issues related to people with perceptual disabilities
    5. Needs Assessment
      • maintaining listservs to determine needs and provide information
      • undertaking research on emerging needs
    6. Information Literacy
      • assessing needs for information literacy
      • developing tools and resources for information literacy

    CILS, Assistive Technology BC and the Provincial Resource Centre for the Visually Impaired have collaborated on regional workshops in Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna and Prince George to introduce emerging alternate formats to disability co-ordinators and other service providers. One session was called, E-texts: The Myth, the Promise and the Reality.

    CILS developed a new workshop called “Beyond the Textbook: Information Literacy for Students with Print Disabilities”, piloted it in Kelowna and presented it again in Vancouver. Several more regional workshops will be presented in the Spring. The pilot was funded in part by the Canadian Association of University and College Libraries (CACUL). The aim of these workshops is to bring together service providers from disability centres, the college/university libraries, public libraries and other areas of the post-secondary service partnership.

    A fundamental tool, the CILS catalogue was made accessible through software upgrades and application of Web accessibility principles.

    A survey was developed to determine the perception of library personnel in the BC post-secondary system on the level of access to library catalogues, online reference databases, media resources, and online courses. The study showed that there is definitely room for more awareness training for both librarians and disability service co-ordinators.

    CILS commissioned a complementary study of actual accessibility issues by employing a blind consultant to review the BC post-secondary library catalogues and online databases. The study was supported in part by a grant from the Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers in Post-Secondary Education (CADSPPE). The study showed that while many resources are either partially or fully accessible, there is definitely room for improvement. The study provides a set of recommendations and guidelines for future development of online library resources. More work is also needed in the area of accessible media resources.

    CILS has participated significantly in the NEADS study on accessible resources for students with print disabilities at post-secondary institutions in Canada. This research is a joint study of the National Educational Association for Disabled students, Library and Archives Canada and the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada.

    CILS has created an enhanced Website with information on alternate formats, demonstrations of alternate formats, links to information sources, accessibility guidelines, standards, advice on online courses, and many more topics.

    The Librarian has also participated in several online forums and courses, including topics on universal design (UID) and online accessibility (EASI). The director’s presentation at the AMTEC conference in Montréal resulted in important connections with the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada and the Adaptech Project at Dawson College, a research project on adaptive technology for post-secondary students in Canada.

  4. Partnerships

    Partnerships with institutional service providers and other agencies have facilitated cost savings in production, enhanced access to resources for CILS clients and reduced turnaround times.

    The importance of the partnerships between CILS and the BC institutional service providers cannot be over-emphasized. We call this the “internal network”. For CILS to be successful, every component of the service chain from needs identification to delivery needs to work in harmony: instructors, curriculum, identified resources, disability co-ordinators, librarians, interlibrary loan technicians, media technicians, couriers, bookstores, print shops, producers, equipment loan agencies and of course, the primary client, students.

    The clarification of roles is an important aspect of the continuing dialogue with institutions. CILS relies on disability co-ordinators to determine the eligibility for services, and to assess the accommodation needs of students for alternate formats. To prioritise services, a discussion document on CILS Criteria for Service was produced and distributed to all disability service co-ordinators for comment. The document outlines the factors that affected decision-making and strategies for services, particularly for production of alternate formats. (See appendix 1)

    Membership in the CAER consortium (Canadian Association of Educational Resource Centres for Alternate formats) continues to have benefits for lending and borrowing of existing resources, sharing of ideas on production, copyright, national public policy on accessibility issues, advocacy on copyright reform, development of standards for production and cataloguing of alternate formats.

    Partnerships with local service agencies such as Assistive Technology BC (AT-BC), and the Provincial Resource Centre for the Visually Impaired (K-12) are critical to identification of need, access to equipment resources, anticipation of issues and sharing of expertise.

    More recently, CILS entered into a partnership with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind for students to access the Online Digital Library. This partnership extends the access to CNIB resources in digital formats to students with visual impairments and learning disabilities. The large resource collection includes taped books, DAISY books, electronic texts, descriptive video and other alternate formats.

    A key component to resource sharing is the role of Library and Archives Canada, the federal service that has provided database support for resource sharing of alternate format materials for many decades. The reporting of alternate format resources to the national database of alternate formats is key to the reciprocal borrowing and lending system of producing agencies of format materials. CILS has participated in and benefited from this initiative from its inception.

    In the past several years, CILS has also provided leadership in developing standards for cataloguing of alternate formats. CILS authored a standards document for cataloguing tactile graphics, funded by the Canadian Braille Authority. Members of the Canadian Association of Educational Resource Centres and Library and Archives Canada reviewed the recommendations. A working standard has been adopted for implementation across Canada.

    The director participated in a steering committee and contributed to a national project on access to academic materials for print disabled post-secondary students. The project is sponsored jointly by the National Educational Association of Disabled Students, Library and Archives Canada and the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada. The study will augment the studies already done by CILS in the identification of need for access to information.

    As a member of the Adaptech Project, the director also has assisted with the surveys on access to technology and training for post-secondary students across Canada. The studies completed by this research group have been invaluable in providing CILS staff with information on adaptive technology and trends in their usage.

    CILS was invited to join a national pilot project on a clearinghouse for publishers’ files. The project is led by the Library and Archives Canada in co-operation with Access Copyright. If successful, the pilot will pave the way for a streamlined process for requesting and receiving publishers’ electronic files for production, thereby reducing time and cost of alternate format production for Canadian books.

    CILS, in partnership with other Canadian groups, made considerable effort to encourage the sharing of digital resources, particularly DAISY books (digital audio), by the major supplier Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic in New Jersey. For over 20 years, CILS has borrowed analogue taped books and electronic texts from RFB&D on a fee basis. However, the new DAISY books are not available for loan by Canadians, restricting access to a valuable resource. This needs to change.

    As a member of the DAISY consortium, the CILS team has developed capacity for production of DAISY books. CILS joined the Millennium Project led by CNIB to produce an introductory body of DAISY books in Canada. Through the consortium, CILS has received training and has contributed research and development to the evolution of the DAISY software on an international scale.

    The Electronic Curriculum Collection and the Industrial Training Collection (previously held by the Centre for Curriculum Transfer and Technology) was downloaded for future transcription. CILS was granted copyright permission to use the collections for the transcription of government-owned documents for use by students with print disabilities.

    CILS staff has contributed significantly and benefited in kind from associations such as the Canadian Braille Authority that has assisted with research grants to produce standards for alternate format production and cataloguing.

  5. Research and development

    New technology evaluation is an ongoing need to achieve production efficiencies, offer better products to students, and continue the evaluation of accessible products.

    Initiatives in infrastructure improvements have enhanced turnaround times and capacity to produce more books simultaneously. Unit costs of most formats have also decreased significantly.

    New digital audio playback equipment was tested. CILS also purchased new efficiency tools for producing digital audio with synthesized voices. A server was purchased along with updated production equipment to improve efficiencies for production of electronic texts, DAISY books and digital audiobooks. Large Print production efficiencies were also investigated and those that were immediately available, such as a binding machine, were implemented. New tools for scanning and conversion of PDF files to text were purchased.

    Employees have attended conferences such as the CSUN Conference on Adaptive Technology in Los Angeles. This is the largest international conference on adaptive technology in North America. The team members discovered new adaptive technologies, developed new networks of sharing and strengthened established relationships with lending agencies, (such as Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic), Industry Canada, and continuing education program providers specializing in accessibility issues (such as EASI: Equal Access to Software and Information).

  6. Advocacy and public policy development

    The director has also prepared briefs on outstanding copyright exceptions in the Copyright Act for submission to the Council of Ministers of Education, the BC Ministry of Advanced Education, the BC Library Association, Canadian Library Association, Association for Media and Technology in Education in Canada, Canadian Association of Educational Resources Centres for Alternate Formats (CAER), and the National Library Council on Access to Information for Print Disabled Canadians, and others. She also provided briefing notes and issues for the inclusion of alternate formats in the 2003/2004 Access Copyright model license, negotiated nationally by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.

    The director also participated in a joint effort to extend the “zero rating” provision in the Copyright Act regulations for audiocassettes to blank CDs and other recording media that are used to create alternate formats. The effort was successful, resulting in savings approximately 40% of the cost of the medium.

    CILS presented information on accessibility issues in writing and at hearings of the National Library Council on Access to Information for Print Disabled Canadians.

    The director collaborated with the CADSPPE (Canadian Association of Disability Service providers in Post-Secondary Education) (a section of Canadian Association of College and University Student Services (CACUSS)) to present a workshop on services to post-secondary students with disabilities and to demonstrate the new digital audio products in a poster session.

Overcoming Obstacles (Outstanding Issues)

While many strategies have been implemented to expand access to information, CILS continues to work on the removal of obstacles to increase access for post-secondary students and to improve efficiencies in the services to clients. Some of these areas for further development are summarized below:

  1. Efficient access to publishers files

    While a pilot project for a Canadian publishers’ clearinghouse has been initiated, there has been no implementation to date. CILS is participating in this pilot. This is a good step forward in improving efficiencies. However, it needs to be recognized that the vast majority of books used by post-secondary students are non-Canadian. International agreements are required to extend the expediting of publishers files from the U.S.

  2. Extension of copyright exceptions

    While Canada’s copyright law permits a number of exceptions for people with perceptual disabilities, two areas remain as obstacles. These are large print and sign language of motion pictures. CILS has contributed briefs on these topics to associations, federal agencies and government. We need a generic statement in the copyright legislation to exempt all formats useable by people with perceptual disabilities.

  3. Lack of production standards

    While CILS follows national and international standards for production, there are many producers who do not. These producers have generously sent products to CILS to use, but in most cases, the output has been unusable. CILS has assisted in developing minimum standards with national associations and groups. This process needs to be encouraged.

    Efficiencies in two areas would make information much more accessible in a more timely manner. These include the production of large print (print versions) and tactile graphics. Technology for custom production of large print is needed. There are few experts in Canada in the production of tactile graphics. This expertise needs to be learned and expanded. CILS has been investigating options for large print production. Training in tactile graphics is needed.

  4. International agreements for resource sharing

    For many years, CILS has borrowed analogue audiotapes and electronic texts from RFB&D in New Jersey, a major supplier of post-secondary textbooks. CILS has paid the fee for students for the membership, the interlibrary loan fees and annual renewals. Although RFB&D and CILS are both members of the DAISY consortium, RFB&D does not lend its DAISY books to Canadian clients. The reciprocal borrowing and resource sharing is essential to the efficiency and cost savings of both countries. Copyright laws in both countries permit interlibrary loan of resources. CILS has been collaborating with CAER, Library and Archives Canada, the DAISY consortium and other groups to open up the resource sharing to both counties.

  5. Inconsistency of copyright information in publications produced by colleges

    Some publications sent to CILS to produce are publications created by the institution itself. These are often problematic, in that the copyright status is either unclear or incorrect. These books are returned to the requesting institution, because CILS can only produce books that have explicit and correct copyright statements. A template has been developed that can assist institutions as a “best practice” in documenting institutional publications more effectively.

  6. Inaccessibility of online courses

    The problem is the lack of knowledge of online course developers about the need for producing online courses in an accessible format and connecting to library resources that are accessible.

    CILS has developed guidelines for creation of accessible Websites and online courses. “Forethought” is always better than “afterthought”. This is an important beginning for supporting the BC campus and institution-based online learning initiatives. CILS has also advised developers and instructors on how to make their on-line courses accessible.

  7. Inaccessibility of media resources

    While some progress has been made to bridge the gap in print resources, the access to media resources (both digital, analogue and pictorial) requires considerably more attention. CILS has continued to monitor the research and development of GBMH and other production groups to identify the issues and recommend implementation of these standards. CILS has encouraged libraries to use accessible media resources as sources of information as an alternative to print material. For example, commercial audiotapes of a radio presentation may be a good source of information for an essay.

  8. Lack of funding for Braille production

    Braille-using students are not strong self-advocates for this medium. However, they often experience academic and financial difficulties because this medium is not available to them. The K-12 system encourages Braille literacy as an essential component to literacy. Studies show that there is a high correlation between employment and Braille users. While technology has provided some relief when students can afford it to produce their own Braille printouts of literary works, subject areas in the technical and scientific areas require manual transcription. CILS has written many briefs to the Ministry over 20 years to request that Braille be funded and has established a task group to gather evidentiary data.

  9. Lack of services for private post-secondary institutions

    With the growth and proliferation of private post-secondary institutions, CILS has been getting requests from private colleges requesting services. Some of the callers feel they are entitled to the service because they are accredited. Accreditation should include the provision of accessible alternate formats. A strategy needs to be developed to address this potential gap in services. The province needs to encourage high quality programs and services and ensure services are applied on a consistent, system-wide basis so that learners’ interests are safeguarded.

  10. Isolated university disability services

    One BC university contracts with CILS for production services. However, most universities do not have access to the full range of services provided by CILS. The University of British Columbia has a reciprocal arrangement for borrowing and lending with CILS under the CAER partnership. Some universities have expressed an interest in being served by CILS.

    The lack of a centralized service for universities means that the individual institutions need to develop their own production facilities and procedures. This is wasteful in many ways:

    • there is not a uniform standard for production. The lack of standards often makes the alternate formats unsuitable for sharing or listing.
    • there is no economy of scale for an effective production unit.
    • there is no uniformity of service across the system that the students can rely on. The resources created at the local university level are not shareable or shared; they are usually not listed in a national database.
    • there are few standard interlibrary loan protocols or arrangements between institutions for sharing the resources.
    • the over-burdened and under-trained university staff does not have the up-to-date information on new digital formats or the expertise on how to produce them.
  11. Inadequate access to technology and training

    Many students could use more accessible resources on their own if they were able to obtain equipment and get the training they need to use the equipment effectively. CILS has led the way at Langara College in identifying the adaptive technology needed in the library to access information, to research and write the specifications and propose strategies. CILS staff has also developed training strategies to assist students to learn the technology. This initiative needs to be developed further to create awareness and “buy-in” from local library personnel in providing information access services through adaptive technology.

  12. Training

    CILS has initiated strategies for improving training in the new alternate formats, accessible library catalogues and online reference databases. These programs need to be extended throughout the province and on the Website.

  13. Inconsistent or non-existent cataloguing of alternate formats

    Many producers do not catalogue or report their productions of alternate formats to AMICUS, the national database. This addition needs to be promoted. However, for the cataloguing to be useful, all products need to follow at least minimum standards of production and cataloguing. Further, the cataloguing and national reporting of tactile graphics will greatly enhance the access to an important medium for blind students and will greatly reduce the need for expensive duplication of effort. Currently, CILS complies with all national standards for cataloguing alternate formats. CILS will begin cataloguing tactile graphics using the new national standard developed through a grant by the Canadian Braille Authority and implemented through a partnership between Library and Archives Canada and the Canadian Association of Educational Resource Centres (CAER).

  14. Inadequate lead times for productions

    The practice of late registration and identification of required readings late in the process of registration causes considerable delay in providing alternate formats to students in a timely manner. Students are often required to make do with less useable materials or formats. Part of the responsibility rests with the student for early identification and part of it rests with the system.

  15. Inadequate communications by disability service providers and students.

    CILS makes every effort to maintain timely communications with students and disability service providers to confirm appropriate resources, validate student equipment access and negotiate the best format within a reasonable time frame. Often students do not return the telephone calls or the service providers are not available during a crucial period, especially during the summer vacation period.

Appendix 1: Alternate formats

Electronic Text (E-text): (word processing files) used by students (visually impaired, learning disabled) with screen voice readers, such as JAWS, to read print materials using a computer. Electronic text can be further manipulated with software such as screen readers (JAWS), text to speech readers (such as Text Aloud, ReadPlease). CILS produces electronic text in ASCII, HTML, PDF, RTF and DOC formats.

Large Print: CILS produces a variety of large print formats:

  • Electronic text (PDF) format for students with low vision who can enlarge their own print products or read them off the computer screen. Produced by Adobe Systems, Portable Document Format (PDF) allows documents to appear on the computer just as they would in print.
  • Large print: print enlargement on paper
  • Large print: electronic format (E-text)

Analogue Audio: Cassette tapes in analogue formats. This format is still available for loan, but is no longer produced by CILS.

Digital Audio: CD MP3 format, with human voice, no navigational features. These files can be read on any MP3 enabled device (hardware and/or software).

Digital Audio: CD MP3 format, with synthesized voice, transcribed from electronic text, with file names, no navigational features. These files can be read on any MP3 enabled device (hardware and/or software).

Digital Audio: CD MP3 format, with human voice, with navigational features and structure (DAISY standard) (Digital Accessible Information Systems). This format includes ability to find specific pages, chapters, section, and in some cases, index or topical entries. This format is used in special cases (sciences for example), where human voice is required or where navigational features are essential for using the book (such as reference material). This format can be read on any MP3 enabled device (without navigational features), on DAISY specific portable equipment (some navigational features), or, most effectively, using a computer with software (highest level of navigational features).

Tactile Graphics: Raised or sculptured drawings. CILS produces simple tactile graphics. CILS will also borrow tactile graphics when they are available.

Braille: A tactile system of cells of dots. CILS does not produce Braille at this time but will locate and borrow Braille when it is available.

Appendix 2: Criteria for Services

  1. Introduction

    The CILS mission is to provide the widest range of access to information resources for post-secondary students in alternate formats in the most responsive, effective, efficient and economical manner.

    The purpose of CILS is to provide alternate formats of learning resources to students with print disabilities in the public post-secondary system in BC. The goal of CILS is to provide the services in a timely manner, to identify the needs and formats in a responsive manner, to match the information with the appropriate format, to investigate and implement new technology and extend the access to information for its clients so that the clients have equitable access to information for educational success.

    This paper acknowledges the reality of funding and time constraints. While every effort is made to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities requiring alternate formats, it is not always possible to supply the student’s preferred format, or indeed, in some cases, to supply any alternate format under certain circumstances where adequate notice is not given by the student or institution. Priorities therefore have been established to deal with as many requests as possible in the most efficient and effective manner given a certain range of conditions.

    The analysis is based on 20 years of experience with students, collaboration with institutional service providers, the CILS Advisory Committee, and partners in the adaptive technology/alternate format sector.

  2. Student Characteristics

    In order to differentiate a core service from the more labour-intensive, time consuming and expensive production function, the priorities for service need to be differentiated.

    CILS serves a population of approximately 450 students a year in BC, and under reciprocal arrangements with educational partners across Canada, another 150 students in other educational institutions. In BC, the population served has the following characteristics: students with learning disabilities (2/3), students with visual impairments (1/3), and students with physical disabilities who cannot use conventional print (5%). This ratio of students is similar to that in other provinces.

    Students with print disabilities require the same course materials that their peers require: textbooks, coursepacks, access to library resources, online reference and periodical databases, vocational materials and audio-visual resources. In order to make these materials useable, students need them transcribed into a format they can use: Braille, large print, tactile graphics, audio, electronic formats, and adapted audio-visual resources.

  3. Authorities

    Authorities for services arise from the mandate of the Ministry of Advanced Education in its funding letter to Langara College and the review of services by the Ministry. The activities and outputs are listed in five broad categories:

    • Processing Requests
    • Loan of Alternate Formats
    • Research and Co-ordination
    • Production of Alternate Formats
    • Information Provision

    Definitions are cited in the Canada Copyright Act (persons with perceptual disabilities), the BC Human Rights Act (“the duty to accommodate”) and the BC Post-Secondary Disability Services Guidelines for Disability Definitions, Documentation and Accommodation prepared by the Disability Services Working Group of the Ministry.

  4. Role Definition

    It is important to differentiate and understand the complementary roles of disability co-ordinators at the institutions, and the roles of the CILS employees acting in collaboration with local libraries to provide the information services in alternate formats.

    Disability co-ordinators have the expertise and resources to prepare and validate the disability documentation of the student and to assess the learning accommodation needs of the student. They also identify the financial needs and assist with the procurement of appropriate accommodations and adaptive technology for the student and referral to appropriate agencies and services for financial and educational support. The disability co-ordinators determine eligibility of students for service and the need for alternate formats from a learning assessment perspective. The documentation is provided to CILS to comply with copyright laws and contractual relationships with partner agencies.

    The role of CILS employees is to identify the information needs, locate the resources, circulate the resources, perform interlibrary loan functions, purchase copies when available from other agencies, loan equipment, answer reference and information questions, support the use of adaptive technology and alternate formats and collaborate with the institutional library to provide information to the students.

  5. CILS Process

    The first action of service is to receive the requests, validate the titles, identify the student needs, determine what resources are available in alternate formats and where they are located. When the alternate formats are not available, CILS considers the production of alternate formats for the information resources the students need, provided there are funds and sufficient time to do it. Alternatively, employees offer other options when the first choice of material cannot be provided in time. In addition, CILS employees assist service providers (co-ordinators and library staff) to learn about access to alternate formats and adaptive technology. In a continuous quality assurance program, the employees also interview students to ensure that the formats meet their needs.

    CILS employees receive the requests from the validated student and process each request in the order in which it comes in. This order is necessary because students are not always able to register in advance in their institutions due to different standards of registration in each institution. Further, the identification of the material that needs to be transcribed is subject to the creation and issuance of course outlines and course materials by the instructor, which may or may not be forthcoming when it is needed by CILS.

  6. Priorities for Core Services

    The core service to students is provided on a first-come, first-served basis, to those students identified as eligible by the disability co-ordinators in the institutions.

    The core service includes:

    • Identification of titles
    • Identification of formats required
    • Identification of student technical abilities and financial support systems
    • Location searches
    • Interlibrary loan
    • Purchase of copies from agencies
    • Equipment and software loans
    • Circulation of existing resources
    • Reference and information services
    • Consultation on adaptive technology
    • Referral services
    • Assistance with the use of technology
    • Referral services
    • Equipment loans for those who do not qualify for other agency services
  7. Priorities for Production

    The production service has constraints that affect what kind of production is possible and when it is realistic to proceed with production. The objective of production is to fill the gap in information requirements by selecting the most effective format that can be produced in the most economical and efficient way to meet the students’ needs, given the constraints of the situation. If production is not possible within the available timelines, institutions sometimes find local solutions to access such as providing personal readers, aides and in-house productions.

    CILS has the expertise, equipment and resources to produce the following formats: large print (paper and digital formats) electronic files (pdf and text), simple tactile graphics and digital audio in either MP3 or DAISY formats. Braille is not now produced by CILS, but could be produced if it was funded as a sustainable function. An interim solution is to produce an electronic text that the student can translate into Braille pages on personal equipment.

    Factors that need to be considered in the production choices and scheduling are:

    • Availability of existing alternate formats
    • Timeliness of request
    • Format requested
    • Course outline and sequence of the study process
    • Availability of printed book
    • Availability of electronic publishers’ files
    • Publishing, graphic presentation and quality of the print version of the book
    • Attributes of the book: straight text, or does it contain illustrative material, mathematical symbols, musical notation, or computer notations
    • Student access to equipment
    • Ability of student to use equipment
    • Availability of narrators and support staff
    • Work volume at the time of the request
    • Student preferences in format
    • Student’s financial support
    • CILS’ financial constraints
    • Student learning preference and style
    • Student computer and information literacy competencies
  8. Process of Production

    When a book is identified for production, employees immediately request publishers’ files in order to speed up the production schedule. These files are generally provided free of charge, but can take from three days to three months to receive. If the publishers’ files are not received within a month, or if the book is urgent, the book may be dismantled and scanned in order to start the process. Scanning takes more time, requires considerable editing and is not the preferred method of production. The new pilot project establishing a publishers’ clearinghouse will greatly improve the situation.

    If an audio version has been requested, and if the book is straight text only and has a publishers’ digital file, the files are transcribed with a synthesized voice to create a CD in MP3 format. This digital product is not the most desirable format because it lacks navigational features, but it is the quickest, cheapest, useable format for the student to get started as quickly as possible. Many students find it acceptable for the situation. This product is also the most economical to produce.

    When a technical book is requested in audio format, a human narrator is required. Generally, CILS then deploys the DAISY production format because the book needs to be navigable for efficient use by the students. The level of navigation can vary considerably, depending on the nature of the book structure, and the timeliness of the production. Technical language, mathematical and scientific symbols, foreign languages, or computer programming require special conventions of description that conform to the standards set out by the internationally recognized taped book standards.

  9. Summary and Conclusion

    CILS has differentiated the criteria for core information services from those criteria necessary to determine production of new alternate formats. The different but complementary roles and responsibilities of the disability co-ordinators and CILS employees need to be understood and communicated. The criteria for eligibility for CILS services and the appropriate learning assessments are identified by the disability co-ordinators. CILS employees are responsible for the determination of appropriate strategies for identifying, locating and producing information resources.

    CILS provides core services on a first-come, first served basis. Collaboration and effective communication between the stakeholders is essential for a successful and timely resolution of the access to information sources.

    CILS applies a well-established set of criteria to the production of new alternate formats. The production decisions are based on the students’ needs, the alternate formats requested, the attributes of the book or printed material, timeliness, the students’ computer and information literacy skills and access to equipment and funding available at the time. The cost of production is assessed relative to the need.

Appendix 2a: Attributes of Books (Presentation of Material)

The presentation attributes of books have an impact on what kinds of transcription are needed to access the book. The subject content may also be a factor in the level or kind of transcription. The technical production methods used to produce the book may also be a factor. Transcription may be requested for textbooks, for on-line learning courses, for coursepacks, for periodical articles found through online reference searches, for audio-visual material, for vocational workbooks or other learning resources.

Here are a few examples of physical attributes of books that affect production techniques:

  • Presence of charts, graphs, pictures and other illustrations and their use in the book
  • Colours
  • Columns
  • Table information
  • Marginalia
  • Sidebars
  • Different fonts
  • Organization of information: e.g. is it straight text or a reference book, are footnotes and bibliographies at end of chapters or at end of books. Where is it best to put them?
  • Pagination (e.g. pp. 1-56, or A1, B3, etc.)
  • Presence and style of appendices
  • Workbook format for questions and answers
  • Mathematical and scientific notation
  • Music notation
  • Foreign language diacritics
  • Foreign language alphabets or iconography
  • Technical vocabulary

Appendix 2b: Subjects of Books (Content)

Here are some examples of the way in which the subject matter might affect the textual transcription and production decisions:

ABE Communications: may be largely straight text with some illustrations. In many cases, the text has already been produced in large print for easier reading ability.

Accounting: lots of tables, graphics, charts, spreadsheets, jargon.

Aircraft Maintenance: lots of diagrams. In most cases, the client will have a learning disability that allows him/her to see the diagrams so it doesn’t require narration. However, the labels and notes around diagrams may need to be transcribed.

Biology: illustrations and terminology present a challenge.

Computer Manuals: often have screen prints that are difficult to transcribe or programming languages that have their own symbols.

History: some texts have sidebars and stories within the text page that need to be pulled out and located in a different sequence so that they make sense to the person listening or using the E-text version.

Mathematics: transcription of mathematical notation is not automated for E-text, audio or Braille formats.

Medical Terminology: terminology is not always transcribed easily with screen readers, voice synthesizers or audio transcription.

Music: musical notation has its own jargon and transcription requirements and requires specialized knowledge and skills to transcribe.

Office Assistant: typing books may have marginalia in handwriting or subscripts that show deliberate errors.

On-line Learning Products: most of these are not designed with accessibility in mind. If they were, it would be easy for students to use them with adaptive technology or for CILS to reformat them for use by students.

Reference books: usually dictionary in style, require navigation structures to provide appropriate access. Most reference books do not lend themselves to easy access in straight analogue narration. They require some kind of navigation support, the best of which is a structured approach such as DAISY.

Workbooks: many may have testing material where the questions are in one place and the answers somewhere else. This may also be the case with questions and answers within other textbooks.

Appendix 2c: Learning Style Preferences

Student Profile

Students from the K-12 system in BC have had access to a variety of formats including large print, taped books, electronic texts and tactile graphics and Braille for visually impaired students. Students with visual impairments have had services provided through local vision teachers and the Provincial Resource Centre for the Visually Impaired and SET BC for equipment.

Students with learning disabilities may have had some services provided through local school districts, parents and community agencies. Some have also had services through their school districts on a cost-recovery basis from the Provincial Resource Centre for the Visually Impaired.

Adult students may not have been exposed to any alternate formats in their educational history. This is particularly true of students enrolled in courses in Adult Basic Education or English as a Second Language, or students who come from other countries where these services have not been available.

Students with learning disabilities are often streamed into vocational courses and may not have been exposed to alternate formats in their previous education or have had limited access through their school districts to alternate formats.

Learning Styles

The student preference for learning formats is based on a number of factors including: their experience of what they have used before, or have training to access, or have the financial support to purchase equipment, or their level of awareness of the availability of alternate formats.

Some students are visual learners. Others are auditory learners. Those who have Braille training are often tactile learners. Many have a combination of these styles of learning. If a transcription of material is needed, the transcriber needs to understand the students’ requirements and styles. For example, a blind person may need to have the illustrations in a book described either aurally or transcribed in tactile form. However, a person with a learning disability may require that only the words in a book be transcribed because they can not only see the diagrams but also often understand them even better than they would with words because they learn “in pictures”. Students who are used to taped material have often learned listening skills to accommodate their inability to access text. Students who have used adaptive technology and screen readers for a long time have enhanced skills of understanding synthesized speech whereas students who have not been exposed to synthesized speech or who have low vocabulary skills may find synthesized speech inaccessible.

Appendix 2d: Computer and Information Skills and Competencies

Competencies that determine the format that a student can use:

  • Able to use word processing software.
  • Able to save and retrieve files.
  • Able to manually use equipment such as tape recorders, DAISY playback equipment, computers, etc.
  • Able to search and find material in a document.
  • Able to navigate information in a book through the use of the table of contents, indexes.
  • Able to use synthesized voice.
  • Able to learn through listening.
  • Able to sort, navigate, evaluate and use information from reference sources and the Internet.
  • Able to search library catalogues and online reference databases

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