Feature Writer Alena Roberts – Struggling to Find Accessible Textbooks is Becoming a Thing of the Past
I remember making the transition to audio books from print books my senior year in high school. I was grateful to have my books in a format that was accessible to me, but reading textbooks on tape was extremely inefficient. I was hoping that by the time I finished college there would be a better solution, but sadly even in 2004 I was stuck fighting with my books on tape, trying to read my book without having to read all of it. Now that I’m entering graduate school, I’m happy to report that books on tape are a thing of the past, and so is the struggle to get books in an accessible format.
I found out what my textbooks would be for my summer session a few weeks ago. I started by searching for them on BookShare. BookShare has thousands of books in electronic format, and many of them are textbooks or non-fiction. Since they’re DAISY books I can either download them onto my computer or a device which can read that format. I was happy to find that two of my textbooks were available, and they’re now on my iPhone, ready for me to read them.
Since BookShare didn’t have all of my books, I then went to Learning Ally. Sadly, they didn’t have the book I needed in the right edition, but hope was not lost. I recently learned about a website called www.coursesmart.com. It is a database of electronic textbooks, and all you need to do to make them accessible is notify the company that you need the accessible reader and they then turn it on for your account. CourseSmart allows you to rent books for a fraction of what it would cost to buy them. They even have the books tagged to help make navigation easier, and if a book isn’t tagged, you can request that tags be added.
There are numerous reasons why electronic textbook availability is so beneficial to those of us with print disabilities. For one, many of them can be read on a Braille display, so if Braille is the preferred medium, then hundreds of dollars don’t have to be spent to print the book in Braille. Digital books also have navigation tags that allow us to jump to parts of the books, whether it be by page, heading, or even paragraph. No longer do we have to hit fast forward or rewind and hope that the person recording the book remembered to put a beep for every page–nor do we have to hunt for a specific page number. Finally, having our books available on devices such as the iPhone means we aren’t carrying heavy equipment with us everywhere we go. It’s quite an ideal situation and things surely have come a long way.