May 17, 2024

E-book suppliers and digital platforms can now provide better accessibility support for disabled students

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Students who have trouble reading will benefit from a new project that aims to highlight how e-book publishers and digital platform providers can improve their accessibility advice to users.

Digital content should be more accessible than hard copy print, allowing all students – and particularly disabled students – to be more productive and independent. But universities and colleges find it difficult to guarantee that disabled students will find books on their reading lists that are compatible with assistive technologies.

The ASPIRE (accessibility statements promoting improved reading experience) project used an open, crowdsourced approach to turn a negative problem into a positive collaboration across 49 higher education institutions and a wide range of academic suppliers.

Leading this project was Jisc’s subject specialist in accessibility and inclusion, Alistair McNaught, who said:

“Many e-book suppliers have good accessibility, but poor information about it. An afternoon’s work would massively improve this situation and, more importantly, allow library and disability staff at colleges and universities to prioritise student needs, identifying who will need additional support (and who won’t) according to the reading lists they have.

With the ASPIRE project, we wanted to build awareness in the industry and encourage competence and the passion to make a difference to the lives of disabled students.”

The ASPIRE audit follows an award-winning e-book accessibility audit that took place more than two years ago, also led by Alistair. The 2016 audit received the National Acquisition Group’s Award for Excellence and was shortlisted for the Accessible Books Consortium 2017 International Excellence Award.

The ASPIRE audit allowed more colleges and universities to participate, was less onerous to complete and provided positive, actionable information for suppliers. The focus shifted from the accessibility functionality to the accessibility information.

Using criteria and processes agreed with universities and suppliers, Jisc facilitated librarians in auditing suppliers’ accessibility statements. As a result, many library and disability support services are now in a far better position to triage support for their disabled students.

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