Books for All: Accessing Print via Assistive Technology

Disabled people may have difficulty accessing books and other paper materials as a consequence of, for example, visual impairment, blindness, dyslexia, learning difficulties or physical disability.

Readers with sight loss may require books in Large Print (of various font sizes), Braille or audio, while those with dyslexia or reading difficulties may prefer digital books with the option of text read out with text-to-speech software. People with cerebral palsy, spinal injury or spinal muscular atrophy and who cannot hold books or turn pages can read digital books. Depending on the nature of the disability, different people require books in different accessible formats.

The Scottish Government commissioned CALL Scotland to investigate the availability and need for learning resources in accessible alternative formats for pupils with print disabilities. The Books for All Report found that around 4.5% of pupils in Scotland have difficulty reading or accessing books as a result of visual impairment, dyslexia, physical disability or learning difficulties. A common perception is that readers with visual impairment are the main users of alternative formats, but this research found that for every visually impaired pupil there were 2.5 times more with significant physical impairment; 14.3 times more with specific learning difficulties; and 14.7 more with moderate learning difficulties.

The project found that provision of books in Large Print, Braille and audio, for blind and partially sighted pupils, while not complete, was good, in comparison to availability for the much larger number of pupils with physical disabilities, learning difficulties and dyslexia.

This paper explores, by means of a case study, how one young person with cerebral palsy was provided with textbooks in accessible digital format. We will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of different digital formats in terms of accessibility, procedures for sourcing and adapting digital files to make them accessible, issues of copyright, the impact of the materials on his independence and education and the implications of new eBook formats and Readers.