Preparing alternative formats for students

This month, in advance of the new academic year, I spent a lot of time thinking about how we as a library service can best prepare for students with print disabilities. Alternative format provision is time consuming and it is best to prepare the materials in advance where possible. Knowing in advance also allows more latitude for waiting for a copy from RNIB BookShare, or from the publisher. Knowing what individual students find accessible also means we know if a certain ebook will work for them. As I and some colleagues found out this year, ebook accessibility varies hugely depending on the platform.

For students we are aware of, it is possible to do all this as part of the reading list preparation. However for new students, or existing students who don’t disclose a disability – how can we help them? How do we know what we don’t know?

I consulted with colleagues at other universities via the lis-accessibility list and found that  some common themes emerged:

  • The majority of students who use library disability services are referred by student support/disability services, with some students self-referring;
  • Many student support/disability services create tailored plans for each student, with library services as a component;
  • Many libraries offer bespoke tours and interviews with students to show services and scope needs;
  • Some libraries contact students who have declared a disability to the university but have not been in contact with the library;
  • Joined-up working with other teams and departments e.g. student support/disability services, TEL, academic departments is seen as essential.

Reasonable adjustments begin the moment we’re aware of a student having a disability, so as soon as we are aware, we can help – but knowing in advance makes it much more straightforward to meet reading needs.

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