Students with reading disabilities or who are blind often require 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 Resources 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 Resources is happy to serve as a resource to faculty in this endeavor.
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. Julia Morog, in Campus Technology Services, offers workshops on how to do this. Here are some tips on how to get started on your own.
Microsoft Office Documents
Most students using text-to-speech software will be able to access Microsoft Office documents without difficulty. Some students who are blind may need specially formatted documents to ensure they may be read properly by a screen reader. Microsoft provides some simple tips for ensuring your Word and PowerPoint documents are accessible. They also offer accessible templates of Office Documents.
- 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. This tutorial demonstrates how to create searchable PDFs (.DOCX) through OCR in Adobe Acrobat. Faculty and departments may request Adobe Acrobat free of charge upon request through the Hardware/Software Request System. Instructional Technologies and Design Services will assist faculty in learning how to use Adobe Acrobat as well.
- Make sure your image quality is high. If the document was scanned with low resolution or the original was a poor quality photocopy, the student's software may be unable to read it.
- Ensure the text is clean with no marginalia, underlining, or highlighting, all of which can interfere with the student's software.
- If you have a high quality hard copy that is clean, a new searchable PDF can be created with a scanner. Department staff can often assist with this process.
- If you need to obtain a new, clean, original copy, 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.
- Put the electronic copy in Blackboard so all students may access it. If you are unable to do this, speak with your students about the best way to share large files with them. (They are usually too large for email.)
How to do it wrong
Here are some common mistakes when creating e-text.
- Don't scan an old photocopy 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.
- 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.
- 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 Have Other Benefits Too
- It’s easier for all students to read cleaner copies and search for key words in searchable PDFs.
- 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 are using 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 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."