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Accessible Curriculum Materials for Students with ASN
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What is Books for All

Books for All is about learning materials in accessible, alternative formats, for people who have difficulty reading ordinary printed books.

In the summer of 2006 we were asked by the Scottish Government to investigate the need for learning resources materials in accessible formats. This followed a symposium on the topic that we had organised in March 2006. In our research we found that provision of books in Braille, Large Print and audio for pupils with visual impairment, while not satisfactory, was actually far better than provision of accessible books for other groups of pupils such as the physically disabled or pupils with dyslexia. Local authorities and national charities such as RNIB have in place transcription services to create and distribute Braille, Large Print and audio books for pupils with visual impairment, but services for other print-disabled groups did not exist. Furthermore, the copyright exemption which enabled accessible copies to be made for the visually impaired or physically disabled did not extend to other disabilities such as dyslexia, hearing impairment or learning difficulties.

We therefore titled our Report 'Books for All' because we wanted to emphasise the need to provide accessible books for all pupils who have difficulty accessing standard printed materials, not only those with visual impairment. The full Books for All Report is available from the Scottish Government web site in HTML and PDF or from the Report page on this website.

Most people think of Braille and Large Print when they think of alternative formats but in fact there are many more types of accessible textbooks, workbooks, worksheets, assessment and examination papers and other learning resources.

Similarly, it is commonly assumed that the pupils who need alternative formats are blind and partially sighted. In fact, there are many other groups of disabled pupils who can benefit from learning resources in alternative formats. For example:

  • Students who have a physical difficulty with holding books or turning pages can benefit from audio books or materials in a digital format on the computer.
  • Students with specific learning difficulties, dyslexia, or reading difficulties can read material if it is printed in a larger or different font, or on coloured paper, or displayed on computer. Many pupils with reading difficulties can also access information by listening to audio books, or by having the text read out by a computer.
  • Students with learning difficulties may benefit from simplified language, books printed in a simpler font or layout, or from books with symbols, or from audio books.
  • Students with hearing impairment may need simplified language, audio books or multimedia resources with signed video.
And it's not just pupils with disabilities who find books in alternative formats useful: 
  • Non English-speaking students might benefit from simplified text, audio books, or digital books.
  • ALL students are likely to find a use for audio, digital and eBook versions of learning materials.
Teachers who have written their own materials can and should make their resources available in alternative formats and/or simplified versions as required, and these materials can be given to any and all pupils, including those who are disabled or have difficulties arising from other causes, e.g. learners with English as a second language. To make this task manageable, teachers should use ICT to create digital resources as a matter of course. 

However, with published books, it's important to understand the legal copyright issues regarding making and sharing accessible copies of published books. In a nutshell:
  • Schools and other agencies ('Approved Bodies') can convert published paper books and materials into accessible print, audio and digital formats for pupils with print disabilities, under licence from the Copyright Licensing Agency. There are terms and conditions that you must adhere to when you make or distribute accessible copies under the CLA licence. These accessible copies can only be used by pupils with a print disability: students with English as a second language, for example, cannot be given these books.
  • Some books are already sold commercially in alternative formats - for example eBooks and audio books, or the symbolised ORT books shown below - and these can be bought and provided to any pupil, not only those who are print disabled. So the school library might purchase audio or eBooks for any pupil to borrow; likewise all pupils could borrow an eBook from their local public library (if the library has an eBook lending service).


Here are a few examples of alternative formats:

Printed alternative formats

  • Adapted print (e.g. on coloured paper, in a different font, different spacing etc);
  • Large print (in a range of sizes from say 14 to 18 to 36);
  • Simplified text;
  • Symbolised print (see below);
  • Braille.
Image 1. Adapted Oxford Reading Tree reading book and workbook adapted with symbols.

Image 1. Adapted Oxford Reading Tree reading book and workbook adapted with symbols, from Help Me Read

Audio formats

  • Cassette;
  • CD;
  • MP3;
  • Daisy Talking Book;

Audio cassette tapes have been used for years as an alternative and to complement written materials but the iPod and other MP3 players now offer a convenient and practical opportunity for pupils to listen to a whole variety of materials. Audio books on CD can be obtained from libraries and shops; audio books can be bought and downloaded from internet suppliers such as iTunes (20,000 titles) or Audible.co.uk (11,000 titles); computer software can generate audio MP3 files using synthetic voices; and staff, pupils and parents can record their own material on computer using free software such as Audacity.

The Daisy Talking Book format is being promoted by RNIB and the Daisy Consortium: in our view Daisy books are excellent for many pupils with visual difficulties, but we think that ordinary MP3 files are more suitable for most print-disabled pupils. MP3 players are much cheaper than Daisy players, more acceptable (more cool) and the majority of pupils can access iPods perfectly well.

Digital or electronic text and multimedia formats

Digital learning resources can be made available in a whole range of different formats. The most common formats are probably Adobe PDF and Microsoft Word (DOC) and now eBook formats like Kindle and EPUB. Others are RTF, HTML, Kurzweil (KES), Daisy, Microsoft Reader (liT), PowerPoint, Clicker (CLK), Textease (TE) etc.

Different formats have advantages and disadvantages for different pupils. There is no one digital format that suits everyone - just as there is no one printed format that suits everyone - that's why we have standard print, large print, adapted print, Braille, print with symbols etc.

A few of the more common examples of digital formats are given below.

Most print-disabled pupils can access documents in Microsoft Word format. A book can be opened, resized, and colours, font, font size, character, line and paragraph spacing altered. The text can be spoken by text reader software such as WordTalk. Pupils with physical impairments can 'turn the page' by pressing the Page Up/Down key on the keyboard or by pressing switches, and can navigate around the file using the Document Map (provided the file has been 'structured' properly with headings and chapters).

Image 2. Reading book scanned and read using Microsoft Word Reading Layout

Image 2. Reading book scanned and read using Microsoft Word Reading Layout

Many learning resources such as worksheets, assessments and examinations need to be interactive - the pupil must be able to type in answers. The CALL/SQA digital examination papers, created in PDF, are a good example. These papers can be used by most candidates with reading, handwriting and spelling difficulties, and by pupils with mild visual or physical impairments. See Adapted Digital Exams website.

Image 3. SQA Digital Question Paper in PDF

Image 3. SQA Digital Question Paper in PDF

Clicker is a very popular British programs which can be used to create accessible digital books and complementary interactive activities. Books in Clicker format are available from Crick Software (e.g. the Oxford Reading Tree example below) as are hundreds of free downloadable Clicker resources. Pupils with all sorts of additional support needs can access Clicker books and Clicker is one of the few programs that is accessible using switches and scanning.

Image 4. Clicker 5 Oxford Reading Tree digital talking book and writing activity

Image 4. Clicker 5 Oxford Reading Tree digital talking book and writing activity

Pupils with more severe physical, visual or learning difficulties, or a combination or all three, are more likely to need materials with pictures, symbols and audio. The example below is a children's reading book (Dirty Bertie) which has been scanned and converted into Powerpoint. The pupil can 'turn the page' and listen to a recording of the book by pressing a switch.

Image 5. 'Dirty Bertie' in switch-accessible digital format

Image 5. 'Dirty Bertie' in switch-accessible digital format

Daisy Books

Available on computer as well as on Daisy audio players (see above). In our opinion, Daisy computer books, like the Daisy audio books, are great for pupils with severe visual impairment, but we are not convinced that they are the panacea for everybody. To open a Daisy book on a computer you need specialist Daisy reader software; the books are not interactive so you cannot create worksheets or assessments; and as yet there are very few resources available in Daisy format (in comparison to say, DOC, PDF or commercial eBooks). We believe that different formats are required for different needs and that Daisy is one of several accessible digital formats.

Image 6. DAISY books read with EasyReader

Image 6. DAISY books read with EasyReader