Grant Paves Way For Disability Access To Textbooks
Texas A&M University is one of seven institutions named in a $1 million grant to develop a federated repository of accessible instructional materials for college students and faculty with disabilities through a collaboration with the Texas A&M Department of Disability Services and the Texas A&M University Libraries.
Since fall 2014, Disability Services has addressed the rising demand of a nearly 300 percent increase in requests for accessible textbooks by students who cannot access traditional print materials, including students with visual, learning and physical disabilities.
Remediating inaccessible materials requires a combination of human and automated intervention, which can cost more than $10,000 for 1,350 hours of production, training and support of a team of student employees working with the department.
The grant, awarded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, recognizes similar work being done by institutions across the country. Through a two-year project lead by librarian John Unsworth with the University of Virginia, participating universities will develop a federated repository of accessible materials and scalable workflows for remediation to reduce costs, prevent the duplication of work and increase the timeliness of fulfilling accessibility requests by students.
“We invest a lot of time, effort and resources into ensuring access to all course materials for students with disabilities,” said Justin Romack, program coordinator with Texas A&M’s Disability Services and the department’s representative for the grant. “It’s impossible to know if the work has already been done elsewhere, which would drastically reduce the energy we put into making these materials accessible. A system like this is imperative.”
Of the 2,400 students with disabilities working with the department, 360 are eligible to use accessible- and alternative-format resources to have their course materials read aloud using assistive technology, such as screen reading and text-to-speech applications.
John Carter, a sophomore construction science student with dyslexia, says he recognizes the time and effort that goes into preparing these materials for his use.
“Using the materials prepared by Disability Services has not only allowed me to excel academically, it has allowed me to go beyond what was once virtually impossible,” said Carter. “Since I gained access to my textbooks in an audible form, I am able to illustrate a cognitive canvas during my time in lecture instead of worrying about falling behind.”
Disability Services will work with university library staff to submit remediated materials and the associated metadata to a federated repository where other institutions can request and obtain them for students with qualifying disabilities. The partnership will reinforce the commitment to the accessibility of academic materials at Texas A&M University held by both departments.
With the distribution of funds, Disability Services will likely add an additional student employee to its Assistive Technology Services program area to assist with additional remediation work. The department and program are routinely engaged by other institutions and professionals to share input on best practice for remediation, storage and delivery of accessible materials for students with disabilities.
“It is an honor to participate and share our expertise in this exciting project,” said Romack. “We are very proud of our ability to meet increasing demands at Texas A&M and look forward to contributing to best practices nationwide.”