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Ryerson leads provincial push to share alternate format materials

By Antoinette Mercurio

Alternate format services

The Ryerson Library is working with the Ministries of Education and Training, Colleges and Universities to expand its alternate format service for students with disabilities.

Every student should have equal access to textbooks.

To create a fully accessible learning environment for students with disabilities, the Library provides a free service that transcribes textbooks and course materials into alternate formats. Students registered with the Access Centre can request to have their texts converted into a PDF, word doc, mp3 or braille format and put on CD.

The service has been available since 2005 but for the last year, Ryerson has worked with other universities on a pilot project to build a repository of books members can share. The online repository is shared by six colleges and universities across Ontario. Ryerson is a member of the Post-Secondary Alternate Format Committee, a provincial organization that works towards developing a method for sharing resources of alternate formats. On June 27, Ryerson hosted a conference where pilot members - in partnership with the Ministries of Education and Training, Colleges and Universities - discussed how to expand this repository to include all colleges and universities in Ontario.

As the province continues its effort to become fully accessible by 2025 with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, Ryerson's commitment to providing alternate formats fulfills one of its key standards: information and communications.

"This initiative further enhances Ryerson's reputation for being proactive on inclusion," said Alan Shepard, provost and vice president academic. "The Library's innovative leadership in leveraging technology to improve the experience of our students with disabilities demonstrates our commitment to not only improving our efforts with policies but also in our daily academic interactions."

Computing and Communications Services at Ryerson created a server for the university to host the repository. To date, only committee members and six Canadian textbook publishers can add material but any university and college in Ontario can download files for its students. Expanding the pilot project to all post-secondary institutions allows them to contribute to the repository as well, building it in a faster timeframe for students with disabilities.

Typically textbooks are formatted as PDFs or word documents and from there, upon request, they can be converted into anything from mp3s to braille. Sonya Panangaden, alternate formats technician, and Kelly Dermody, manager of library services for persons with disabilities, handle all formatting requests. Depending on the request, transcriptions can take anywhere from one day to two weeks to complete.

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