Alternatives to Print

Many students with disabilities encounter barriers with traditional printed materials. Textbooks, class handouts  and other materials may not be usable in their original form and thus need to be provided in alternate formats as an academic accommodation. Students seeking alternate format materials must present documentation that clearly supports the need for the request.

The same format is not right for everyone and some formats require the use of specialized hardware or software in order to access the materials.

Students with disabilities that impact access to printed material have a right to alternate formats of the materials that are not accessible. This includes not only textbooks, but also content and documents that are loaded into Blackboard or made available within class sessions.  Students must make timely requests and understand that it may take time to convert material for their accessibility needs; however, in general, after receiving specific requests made by qualified students, DSS will try to find the most usable format in the shortest amount of time.

Steps taken by DSS to provide alternate format materials often include: 

  1. Contacting the publisher of a textbook, or author of a course document to obtain an electronic version that is compatible with assistive technology.
  2. Converting materials in-house.  
    As described at the bottom of this page, DSS can also train students in how to convert material independently which can be especially helpful for class handouts and other supplemental materials.

Formats that are commonly requested include:

  • Word or accessible PDF files (often available from the publisher with proof of purchase and DSS confirmation of verification of documented disability)
  • Sound recordings (created with either human voice or synthetic speech)
  • DAISY files (include structural elements to allow for improved navigation)
  • Large print (can be up to two feet wide, in color)
  • Braille (Braille-ready files for a refreshable display or hard copy) and Tactile Graphics

Learning Ally (formerly RFB&D)

  Learning Ally, formerly known as The Recordings for the Blind & Dyslexic (RFB&D) provides audio recordings for individuals with documented disabilities through a member-based lending system. DSS no longer has an institutional membership, so therefore recommends that students who benefit from the materials join as individuals. The materials are audio plus, which means that there are structural tags to allow users to navigate the human voice recording. Special players or software are required.

Students are encouraged to search the online catalog for books. Without an account, books can't be ordered, but pertinent ordering information can be obtained and passed along to DSS Staff.

Qualified students can sign up for their own free accounts!


Electronic Text

Electronic text can take many forms. Word documents, text files, image files, sound files, webpages, all are electronic formats. As such, they can be accessed with adaptive software. It is possible to magnify diagrams and small print, search documents and embed notes, have material printed out in large format, converted to Braille, or have words read out loud.

Partial Listing of Online Sources for eText



Classic Bookshelf

The Internet Public Library

Helpful Humanities Resources

Online Books Page

PennState's Online Book Page

Project Guttenberg


The University of Virginia's Electronic Text Collection


Creating Electronic Text

At DSS, when materials are not available in an accessible format, we may use an in-house production system. Students who are using digital materials that have been created in-house are required to sign an agreement form indicating they understand their rights and responsibilities as related to copyright law.

One of the formats produced in-house is e-text but DSS also encourages students to learn to make their own e-text.

The process often involves the following steps:

1) Textbooks are debound and scanned. Each page is now an image. These images can be viewed on screen and magnified or printed in large format, but not read out loud or edited. The original book is rebound with coil.

2) Image files can be loaded into an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) program that recognizes the characters and turns pictures of words into text that can be edited, reformatted, translated, or read out loud.

3) Text or Word files can be searched with ease, read by a text-to-speech program, converted to Braille, reformatted in large bold font, or read to file creating a digital sound file.