Enhancing Accessibility in Post-Secondary Education Institutions
Students with disabilities have the right to access the same information that is available to students without disabilities. In some cases, this may require the use of alternate formats.
Students with print-based disabilities, such as those who are blind, partially sighted or have certain learning disabilities, access text material using alternate formats such as electronic text, Braille, large print, audio tape (e.g. MP3), etc. Commonly, students use text-to-speech software to listen to electronic versions of text material. Electronic text can also be used with refreshable Braille display for Braille users.
The following are some examples of how PSE institutions in Canada deliver accessible formats for students with disabilities:
- Provide students with information on how to access materials from sources such as the CNIB library, or Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D).
- Help facilitate, through either the library or the disability office, the acquisition of e-text directly from the publishers. To do so requires proof of purchase and the ISBN from the textbook. It may also require that certain documents or agreements from the publisher are signed by the student so that copyrights and restrictions are maintained in accordance with the publisher’s e-text guidelines.
- Make scanning stations available for students to convert their own materials. Have software that can then, in turn, read the scanned material aloud.
- Provide clear, simple, step-by-step procedures regarding scanning, converting text/format using the available equipment.
- Have volunteers available to convert text materials to e-text or tape format if necessary.
- Provide an online service where students can upload audio recordings which are then sent back as multi-media transcripts.
- As converting materials can be a time consuming process, it is important to make students aware that they should bring their course outline and proof of purchase of texts to the disability office as soon as possible (for example, a minimum of 6 weeks before the beginning of the term) in order to assess if accessible formats are needed.
- Have an advisor or advisors who are knowledgeable about and deal exclusively with alternate formats as this allows for a central resource for students with print-based disabilities.
- Ensure library staff members are aware of their roles, responsibilities and legal requirements in providing alternate formats. In particular, they should be aware of the Canadian Copyright Act (CCA) Section 32(1) which allows individuals with perceptual disabilities and those acting on their behalf to create and use alternate formats of copyrighted print materials. Refer to your libraries copyright officer for specific details.
- Ensure instructors inform their departments and the bookstore of their text selections in a timely manner.
- Faculty members are obligated to ensure that courses materials are accessible. As they may not have the expertise or resources to do so, make instructors aware of accessible formats and the necessary steps to make documents easily accessible for students. Assist them in making alternate formats if necessary.
- Promote the idea of universal design to faculty and staff. For example, podcasts of lectures are becoming an increasingly popular tool with professors. Transcribing podcasts will not only benefit people with a hearing disability, it will benefit students who want to search the text for information quickly or who may not be able to access sound files on their computer.
- As professors may feel that making accessible materials is burdensome and restrictive, it is important to frame accessibility as a value-add. Disability services – along with any learning and teaching centres that support faculty -- are there to help faculty deliver courses using technology in a way that is effective and that enhances teaching and learning for all students, including those with disabilities.