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Accessible Readings - Faculty


Students with reading disabilities, blindness, and some with low vision need high quality electronic files, or e-text, of their course readings so they may have equal access to the curriculum. They may use software to receive that equal access, but only if the e-text is prepared correctly.

Disability Services is responsible for ensuring students have equal access to their required textbooks. All other course materials are the responsibility of faculty and their departments. Disability Services is happy to serve as a resource to faculty in this endeavor. Please contact Jeremy Zhe-Heimerman with any questions.

How to provide e-text for your students

The best way to provide e-text to your students is to offer them the readings as searchable PDFs, accessible websites, or accessible Word documents. Here are some tips on how to get started.

1)      If you have an existing PDF, check to see if it is searchable by attempting to select the text on the page. Drag the cursor over text. If it highlights, then your document is searchable. If, instead, the cursor draws a box or tints the entire page, you will need to convert your PDF. Instructional Technologies and Design Services can show you how to create searchable PDFs through OCR in Adobe Acrobat.

2)      Google the reading and/or search the library databases. Librarians can assist with this. If requesting a document through Interlibrary Loan, be sure to note that you require a "clean and searchable" copy. Don’t waste time creating a new, possibly flawed, copy if a perfect one is already out there.

3)      If your copy is clean (no marginalia, underlining, highlighting, etc.), a new searchable PDF can be created with a scanner. Just be sure the scan is clean and complete—no underlining, marginalia, shadows between pages obscuring the text or text cut off where page was larger than scanner. If you have an existing clean image-based PDF, you can easily make that searchable as well. Instructional Technologies and Design Services can show you how to create searchable PDFs through OCR in Adobe Acrobat.

4)      If your original is of such poor quality that you cannot create a clean scan, borrow a cleaner copy from the library or a colleague before scanning.

5)      Put the electronic copy in Blackboard or on reserve in library so all students may access it. If you are unable to do this, speak with the student about the best way to share large files with him or her. (They are usually too large for e-mail.)

How to do it wrong

Here are some common mistakes when creating e-text.

1)      Don't scan an old Xerox that has been through multiple generations. The student's software won't be able to translate the text when the image quality is so poor. Instead, start with an original clean copy from a book or journal if an existing electronic copy is unavailable.

2)      Don't scan a hard copy without making it searchable. The student's software will only "see" a file of images and won't be able to read the text aloud to the student. See above about creating searchable PDFs.

3)      Don't scan a hard copy with shadows, underlining, highlighting, and/or marginalia. This will confuse the student's software, as such marks will obscure some letters, change others, and add still more. Make sure you scan a clean copy. See above for tips on how to find one if you don't have one already.

Accessible Readings and Handouts Have Other Benefits Too

  • It’s easier for all students to read cleaner copies.
  • Electronic copies save paper and trips to duplicating
  • Electronic copies are easier for students to access and impossible for them to lose.
  • As this technology becomes more widespread, more students will use it—even those without disabilities. One Cortland student without a disability who uses text-to-speech software says, "Like most students, I have trouble concentrating on long (sometimes boring) reading assignments.  Fatigue, a noisy environment and a heavy workload often add to my inability to focus for extended periods of time.  I have found that using the text-to-speech capabilities which now come standard on most computers to read a passage out loud while following along not only significantly increases the length of time I can attend to a reading, it also increases my comprehension of the material."