One of the main concerns for students with disability at the start of the school year is ensuring that they are provided with accessible learning materials for their coursework.
The solution is often that the student goes to the Disability Support Services team and requests for accessible versions of the textbooks they are prescribed. Ensuring that you have accessible textbooks prepared in advance would go a long way in reducing the challenges faced by these students. The problem of accessible textbooks, although easily solvable, is still surprisingly common for students with disabilities.
The break before the new academic year would be a great time for Universities to start work on ensuring that their textbooks are accessible. This would go a long way in saving time and effort for both, the faculty, and the student body once the year begins.
Our E-text team at 247 Accessible Documents works closely with the Disability Support Service team at universities and assists you to ensure that all the educational documents, textbooks and learning materials are accessible. In addition, we also write the Image Description, work STEM content and support MathML.
Common Problems with Textbook Accessibility
Textbooks by definition, are books with standard content about a subject that are used to convey and explain valuable information regarding the subject with students. However, inaccessible textbooks completely fail in this effort by not being able to be usable for students with disabilities. According to a WHO Report about 15% of the world’s population lives with a disability and inaccessible textbooks are a barrier to their education. So here are some common problems with Textbook Accessibility and how you could go about solving them:
STEM content, especially textbooks can be particularly tricky to solve. Text is usually readable via a screen reader; however, problems arise with regards to diagrams, graphs and equations, which are particularly common in STEM content.
The National Center for Accessible Media (USA) has published a list of guidelines on how to make different elements of STEM content accessible. This includes different graphical elements, such as scatter plots & bar graphs, and underlines how to make your STEM textbooks accessible.
Today most textbooks are freely available online, however, in the case of some courses that have only physical textbooks, this would present a slightly different challenge. The main objective here would be to convert the Textbook to e-Text, and this is typically done through scanning the book.
Scanned documents present their own challenges in terms of accessibility. When a scanned document is saved as a PDF, Assistive Technology would be unable to read the text as it registers as an image. The solution to this would be to use an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) Software that would convert this image to text. This would usually not work perfectly, so we would recommend proofreading the document yourself once converted.
Compliance with Guidelines
While it is absolutely necessary to ensure that your textbooks are compliant with Section 508 and WCAG guidelines, this is not always enough to ensure accessibility. Documents may pass Accessibility checkers; however, it is likely that they would still contain certain elements that are not accessible to people with disabilities.
One of the most important steps to ensuring accessibility is to not stop at the minimum requirements according to guidelines. This can be done best through quality control measures, where a native Assistive Technology user would go through a file to ensure that all its elements are completely accessible.
As educators it is your responsibility to ensure that you are doing your best to help your students learn and making your textbooks accessible is an essential step in that direction.