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


Disability-Related Support Review:

Submission to the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, from the Steering Committee on Transcription Services (Ontario Ministry of Education) (February 2004)

For many students with a print disability (blind, visually impaired, learning disability and/or physical disability), the ability to read or manipulate print text material is difficult or impossible. For students in post-secondary education where the pace of classroom learning is rapid, the need for reading text material prior to lectures is imperative to success, limited or no access to text material can be barriers to learning, or to a positive and equitable educational experience.

Many students with print disabilities do not ever see a textbook. Many students receive texts immediately prior to the commencement of exams, which forces them to complete all required reading in a limited time. Students find it difficult to follow along with lectures, which place them at a significant disadvantage when compared with their non-disabled cohort.

Overview of Transcription Services at Ontario Publicly-Funded Post-Secondary Institutions

In the Ontario post-secondary system, roles and responsibilities are articulated in the Service Resource Manual, Alternate Format Materials for Post-Secondary Students with Print Disabilities, developed by the Resource Services Library (RSL) of the William Ross Macdonald School (WRMS).

WRMS has co-ordinated the provision of audio, Braille, electronic text, and large print post-secondary textbooks for students who are print-disabled since 1983. This centralized transcription service is available to Ontario post-secondary students.

Services Provided

The service provides transcriptions of the following course-related materials:

  • complete texts
  • articles, course packs or workbooks (limited formats)
  • chapters or parts of chapters of books up to 120 pages (tape only)

The service does not provide:

  • class handouts
  • examinations

It is recommended that orders be submitted as soon as course material is identified, preferably three to four months before material is required. Generally, the material is loaned for one academic year.

Role of the Contact Person

Each college and university has a contact person responsible for registering students and placing textbook orders with the RSL. This staff member usually works in the institution’s Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) or in the main library.

Role of the Student

Students should provide the contact person with course outlines and reading lists containing complete bibliographic information of required texts. This information must be given to the contact person as soon as possible. If books are to be transcribed and the producers require print copies, it is the student’s responsibility to supply the contact person with print copies of the required text.

RSL Process and Procedures

Upon receipt of an order from an institutional contact person, RSL will search the title to determine the availability of the alternate format requested. RSL will order previously recorded or Brailled titles from the appropriate agency.

If the text is not available, RSL will assign the order to a print alternate material producer. RSL will notify the contact person where the text order has been placed and the producer will notify the contact person if a print copy is required for transcription.

When the producer receives a copy of the text, the producer will provide RSL with the details of the production (e.g. timelines, number of pages, etc.)

RSL will then issue a work order to the producer and notify the contact person about the estimated completion date.

When the material has been transcribed, RSL will ship it to the contact person.

The material is returned to RSL by the contact person.

Overview of Activities at the Federal Level

In order to address the lack of published materials available in alternate medium, the National Library of Canada, the federal cultural agency responsible for collecting and preserving Canada’s publishing heritage, and The Canadian National Institute for the Blind funded The Taskforce on Access to Information for Print Disabled Canadians. In October 2000, The National Library of Canada and the CNIB released a joint report entitled: Fulfilling the Promise: Report of the Task Force on Access to Information for Print-Disabled Canadians. The report made a number of far reaching recommendations and advised that a Council on Access to Information for Print Disabled Canadians be established. As a result of this report, the Council was established in 2001.

One of the recommendations of the joint taskforce was a National Clearinghouse for print alternate material.

The Council, in partnership with the National Library of Canada and Library Archives of Canada, will be commencing a pilot project for a clearinghouse of holdings of print alternate materials in September 2004.

The long-term goal of the project is to allow a user to access a text directly from a transcription service producer. In turn, the transcription producer would have access to the text in an electronic format from the clearinghouse where it was deposited by the publisher. The institutions and the government would have no special role in this process.

At this time, there are a number of outstanding issues with respect to the pilot projects, including:

  • determining who will compensate the transcription producers for the transcription services, and;
  • balancing copyright protection for the publisher against the users’ rights to have materials in print alternate mediums.

In addition, the Council is undertaking a research project in co-operation with the National Educational Association of Disabled Students to examine access to academic material for print disabled post-secondary students.

Response to Ministry Questions

1a) What works well?

  • Co-ordinated approach is unique in Canada: Every institution has a contact person who works with the RSL to ensure that students have access to print alternate material.
  • There is a manual and best practices document that outlines how the system works. These documents are regularly updated to reflect changes in the system.
  • Contact persons have a listserv that allows them to share information easily.
  • Steering committee provides guidance at the system level and a direct link to the ministry, e.g. the committee organizes professional development sessions for the contact persons.
  • Students are guaranteed a certain level of quality for materials transcribed by suppliers.
  • As the system is funded by provincial government directly, institutions also provide dedicated support, e.g. salaries of contact persons.
  • Institutions are able to take advantage of the Inter-Library Loan system, which saved approximately $800,000 in 2003-04.
  • As EDU co-ordinates service for both elementary/secondary and post-secondary, there are opportunities to undertake transition planning.

1b) What doesn’t work well?
The RFP process to tender the production of alternate format materials is cumbersome. Make the contract term two rather than one year.
More transition planning from secondary to post-secondary studies is needed: the systems are different and students are not always aware of how the post-secondary system works at the beginning of their post-secondary studies; for example, students with financial need must apply to the BSWD in order to receive funding to buy reader equipment upgrades necessary to access the material in print alternate format. Request the ministry’s Steering Committee on Transcription Services to work with RSL to identify areas in which transition planning could be implemented and make recommendations to the ministry review timelines of funding sources to facilitate student access to adaptive equipment in a more timely fashion.
Despite the manual, a best practices document and the listserv, there are inconsistencies in the way institutions administer service. This is because service is affected by individual institutions administrative practices. For example, an institution that has a late deadline, a deadline that it does not enforce, or no deadline for faculty to submit reading lists for courses, may mean that an order to RSL for a text may not be received until after the course has begun. Request the ministry’s Steering Committee on Transcription Services to identify systemic issues and make recommendations to the ministry.
Students who do not qualify for BSWD often cannot access the equipment needed to read the texts in print alternate material. While the institution will provide this equipment, the student cannot take it home and often must share it with other students. This causes issues during crunch times, such as exam period and when a student is rushing to catch-up after there has been a long delay to receive the material. These issues are further complicated if the student’s disability limits the amount of time he/she can spend on campus, for example, if the student is dependent on Wheel Trans. Review BSWD to ensure students are not disadvantaged due to ineligibility for equipment funding.
The current system requires that institutions produce some in-house documents, such as course packs, exams and course outlines. Institutions that provide good service often see an increase in the number of students requiring this accommodation without a corresponding increase in funding. Request the Steering Committee, in consultation with IDIA and CCDI, and college and university library associations to develop a strategy for storing, cataloguing and sharing of material produced in-house.
In some instances, institutions are scanning and editing texts internally in order to provide materials in a timely fashion. The steering committee investigate the cost efficiency of a centralized versus a decentralized service.
Students often cannot get the material in the format of their choice.

2) What is the impact of the report from the Ontario Human Rights Commission?

If the report’s finding that publishers are responsible for providing all publications in print alternate material was the number one issue, turn around time would be addressed in many cases. However, the report does not make clear the publishers’ responsibilities; that is, it does not fully define what type of alternate format should be provided.

The Steering Committee recommends that the ministry work with the OHRC on the guidelines that are to be developed to accompany the report. The Steering Committee offers its expertise to the ministry on this issue.

3) What other supports could the ministry put in place to further assist institutions?

The Steering Committee recommends that:

In its report back to colleges and universities on its disability-related support review, the ministry highlight to the college presidents and university executive heads the need to raise with their Senates key issues that affect students with print disabilities, such as:
- the need to review and enforce course outline and reading list deadlines;
- the need for faculty who write their own textbooks to discuss with their publishers the availability of their textbooks in electronic formats.

The ministry work with the federal government, other provinces and territories, and publishers to develop a long-term and viable process to ensure that students with print disabilities have access to quality materials in a timely manner.

Also see the report, “The Opportunity to Succeed: Achieving Barrier-free Education for Students with Disabilities,” from the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Several service providers, including the CNIB (who submitted this information for our consideration) contributed to this report:

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