dsc logoAlternate Format Materials Handbook

for Postsecondary Disability Service Providers in New York State

"For the first time I can read what I want, when I want, where I want, by myself."

© 2004-2007 SUNY Disability Services Council
Permission is explicitly given and reproduction of these materials is encouraged for educational purposes.
last updated 2/7/07


Why you need to understand the potential uses and value of electronic text files

Hear from students about using electronic text files. Captions will play when enabled in your Windows Media Player. The video opens in a new window. video link click to start

Read what the various stakeholder groups (users, institutions, publishers, authorized entities) identify as their issues and challenges related to alternate format materials and e-text by clicking here.

One of the first results of the collaboration between publishers and DSS providers is the AAP's Pubisher Look Up Service. This resource helps "college and university Disability Support Services (DSS) professionals find the appropriate contacts at publishing houses from whom to request electronic formats of textbooks, and/or scanning permissions, to facilitate the DSS office's provision of alternate format instructional materials to students with print disabilities."

The new Alternate Media eXchange is now online. Click here for information on the database, a forum for identifying book materials created in alternate formats (e.g., Braille, e-text, DAISY, etc.) for use by students with verified print disabilities. Additionally, the AMX Database provides a resource for managing and producing captioned videos for students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. The newly updated AMX Database provides a redesigned interface that allows each participant campus to utilize the system as their own local database for storing student information, tracking jobs in progress and alternate media requests from other institutions, and collaborating with other institutions on the creation of alternate media formats. The database also includes a current list of publisher contact information.


How Does The Copyright Law Apply? And What About The Chafee Amendment?

General Principles

Policies And Procedures

What "Alternate Formats" are currently commonly used?

Identifying An Appropriate Alternate Format

Security Of All Alternate Format Materials

New York Law – Chapter 219

Copyright Issues Related To Materials Created Or Obtained From Non-Publisher Sources

Other Sources For Alternate Format Materials

Resources for Creating and Accessing Alternate Formats

Applicable OCR Decisions

Frequently Asked Questions

Sample Policies, Procedures, and Forms



This handbook is intended to provide New York State postsecondary institutions with a basic understanding of institutional obligations and available options for provision of print materials in alternative formats. It is not intended to provide legal advice to campuses or providers.

Traditionally institutions have relied on the ability of their disability services (DSS) office alone to react to individual requests for alternate format materials, often hoping that requests won't be made that are expensive or outside the expertise of a small staff. Campus staff and services often consider any obligation they may have to be met by a referral to the DSS office. In fact, however, many DSS providers feel overwhelmed by and unprepared for the additional expectations laid at their door in recent years, particularly those due to the explosion of use of technology and digital resources, including the Internet and distance education. Dissonance abounds - most entered the field because of interest in a service career, not a technology career.

It is imperative that all institutions and DSS providers recognize that the obligation to provide programmatic access to students with disabilities is truly institution-wide and requires commitment and cooperation across the campus – executive staff, DSS providers, faculty, technology staff, web masters and trainers, library staff, admissions staff, residence life staff, and others. And it requires a paradigmatic shift from reaction to pro-action.

The courts have held that a public entity violates its obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act when it simply responds to individual requests for accommodation on an ad-hoc basis. A public entity has an affirmative duty to establish a comprehensive policy in compliance with Title II in advance of any request for auxiliary aids or services [see Tyler v. City of Manhattan, 857 F. Supp. 800 (D. Kan. 1994)]. . . .

The magnitude of the task public entities now face in developing systems for becoming accessible to individuals with disabilities, especially with respect to making printed materials accessible to persons with visual impairments, is comparable to the task previously undertaken in developing a process by which buildings were to be brought up to specific architectural standards for access. Buildings in existence at the time the new architectural standards were promulgated are governed by "program access" standards. However, buildings erected after the enactment of the new architectural standards are strictly held to the new standards on the premise that the builder is on-notice that such standards apply. One who builds in disregard of those standards is ordinarily liable for the subsequent high cost of retrofitting. California State University, Los Angeles, OCR Case Docket No. 09-97-2002 (April 7, 1997)

Campuses need to address and plan for access in all aspects of the college experience, including publications, print or digital (catalogs, handbooks, web pages, etc.), course materials, course platforms, enrollment and other student services, technology resources (in all areas of the institution), library services, residence life programs, and extra- and co-curricular activities.

This handbook focuses on providing access to resources traditionally offered in a print medium, course and non-course materials. The analyses and principles involved, however, are also applicable to other access issues faced by postsecondary institutions.

Historically campuses have primarily relied upon Braille, large print, human readers, and audiotapes of course materials to provide access for students with print impairments. For some students and for some materials, these options remain appropriate. Many institutions, however, primarily rely on audio books (whether tape or CD), a format that likely cannot be considered effective access for many students and many publications. The technological revolution has expanded both the options available for our students as well as the potential effectiveness of the alternate formats provided. DSS providers must develop an understanding of the range of formats currently available and their appropriateness to meet the needs of particular functional limitations and must develop campus policies and procedures supporting timely delivery of appropriate materials to appropriate students.

[A] public college is required "to take appropriate steps to ensure that communications with students are as effective as communications with others... In determining what type of auxiliary aid and service is necessary, a public entity shall give primary consideration to the requests of the individual with disabilities" [28 Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) § 35.160].

OCR has repeatedly interpreted the term "communication" in this context to mean the transfer of information, including (but not limited to) the verbal presentation of a lecturer, the printed text of a book, and the resources of the Internet. In construing the conditions under which communication is "as effective as" that provided to nondisabled persons, on several occasions OCR has regarded the three basic components of effectiveness as timeliness of delivery, accuracy of the translation, and provision in a manner and medium appropriate to the significance of the message and the abilities of the individual with the disability. [ Emphasis added]

With regard to the "significance of the message" of a textbook, OCR notes that a course-assigned textbook constitutes a core component of the post-secondary academic curriculum. A course-assigned textbook is customarily the primary reference tool upon which the student is expected to rely. Moreover, the content structure of the course is often closely correlated to the textbook such that it is difficult to actively learn and participate in the classroom if the student is unfamiliar with the assigned textbook material. Finally, through examinations the student is ordinarily held accountable for knowing the information in the assigned portions of the textbook. City College of San Francisco, OCR Case Docket No. 09-97-2145 (January 9, 1998)

The changing needs of students on an individual campus coupled with the expertise and expense necessary to keep pace with those needs and with advacnes in technology strongly suggest that we seek solutions involving collaboration between campuses, within and between sectors, and possibly statewide or nationwide. The California Community College 1998 OCR decision is instructive on the issues we need to consider and provides seed ideas for ways that we might improve access for New York state students through collaborative efforts and sharing of resources.

return to table of contents

How Does The Copyright Law Apply? And What About The Chafee Amendment?

Section 102(a) of the Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C.) provides copyright protection “in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”

The author's/copyright holder's (often the publisher in the case of commercially published works) exclusive rights under copyright include the right to

Creating an audiotape, scanning print text to create digital text, or creating a large print or Braille version of a textbook, article, coursepack, or other material all fall within this list of rights reserved to the copyright holder. Does this mean that you should keep a bag packed when you participate in one of these actions with material not created by the institution?

Until such time as textbooks and other materials are commercially available in all of these formats, there will be an inherent conflict between the institution's obligation to provide access and the rights of the copyright holder. Two primary arguments are made to reconcile these rights/responsibilities:

Section 121 of the law, often referred to as “The Chafee Amendment,” exempts certain “authorized entities” from the rights of copyright owners with respect to reproducing and distributing copies of “previously-published non-dramatic works” in “specialized formats exclusively for use by blind or other persons with disabilities.” Authorized entities are defined as “ a nonprofit organization or a governmental agency that has a primary mission to provide specialized services relating to training, education, or adaptive reading or information access needs of blind or other persons with disabilities.” While many colleges and universities [and a number of OCR decisions including California Community Colleges, OCR Case Docket No. 09-97-6001 (January 22, 1998)] have identified DSS offices as meeting this definition, some others and the American Association of Publishers argue that our offices cannot be so considered.

Section 107 of the law provides an affirmative defense from a claim of copyright infringement for cases that meet the test of “Fair Use” (note that this section does not create an affirmative right to violate copyright, but only a defense if sued). The purposes generally recognized include criticism, comment, news reporting, some teaching, scholarship, and research. The test for applicability includes the following four factors:

Many argue that conversion of print materials to provide access for persons with disabilities should be considered a Fair Use.

What does all of this mean for us? There is no clear black and white answer. Conversion of materials by a DSS Office may or may not be a violation of the copyright holder's rights. If you are converting material in-house, discuss your policies and procedures with your legal counsel.

Do you have to choose between possibly violating Section 504 and the ADA or violating the Copyright Law? No – you can and should develop policies and procedures that meet both obligations. And a simple way to do that is to always require that the student purchase the materials being converted and that you obtain the permission of the publisher/copyright holder. Suggested procedures are outlined below. And don't forget – all copies, irrespective of format – must contain a copyright notice and prohibition against further reproduction.

return to table of contents

General Principles

Excerpted from Guidelines for Producing Instructional and Other Printed Materials in Alternate Media for Persons with Disabilities, April 2000, Chancellor's Office, California Community Colleges http://www.htctu.fhda.edu/publications/guidelines/altmedia/altmedia.htm .

  1. Colleges should establish procedures for responding in a timely manner to requests for materials in alternate media.
  2. Whenever possible, information should be provided in the alternative format preferred by the person making the request (i.e. Braille, audio, tactile graphics, large print, electronic text).  (28 CFR § 35.160(b)(2))
  3. If it would be difficult or expensive to provide the material in the requested medium by the time it is needed, the college may offer to provide it in another medium which would be equally effective given the needs of the person requesting the accommodation.  To determine whether a proposed alternative format would be equally effective, the proposed alternative should be compared to the format originally requested in terms of accuracy, timeliness of delivery, the "shelf-life" or longevity of the material, and the extent to which the medium is appropriate to the significance of the message and the abilities of the individual making the request.  Methods which are adequate for short, simple or less important communications may not be equally effective or appropriate for longer, more complex, or more critical material.  (Example:  It may be appropriate to have articles or handouts that will be used as general background material for a course read onto audio tape for use by a blind student.  However, it would probably be legitimate for a Braille user to expect that the course syllabus, critical reference materials, and texts to be discussed in class would be available in Braille.)
  4. Materials should be provided in a timely manner in the medium requested, or in another equally effective format, unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the program or activity or result in undue financial and administrative burdens on the district.  In such cases, the college must nevertheless provide an alternative accommodation which will permit the individual with a disability to participate in the program or activity to the maximum extent possible.  (28 CFR § 35.164.) . . .
  5. Ensuring that instructional materials and other information resources are accessible to students with disabilities is a shared college responsibility.  All college administrators, faculty and staff who are involved in the development and use of such materials or resources share this obligation.  The Chancellor's Office will make every effort to provide technical support and training for faculty and staff involved in the creation of accessible instructional materials and information resources. 

return to table of contents


Policies And Procedures

Excerpted from Guidelines for Producing Instructional and Other Printed Materials in Alternate Media for Persons with Disabilities, April 2000, Chancellor's Office, California Community Colleges http://www.htctu.fhda.edu/publications/guidelines/altmedia/altmedia.htm.

[I]t is not sufficient for a college to wait and deal on an ad hoc basis with requests for materials in alternate media.  Rather, policies and procedures for dealing with such requests should be developed so that requests can be handled promptly and efficiently when they do arise.  . . .

For those colleges that already have in place policies and procedures for dealing with accommodation requests, those policies should be reviewed . . . appropriately with issues related to provision of materials in alternate media.  Colleges that have not yet developed such policies should do so, consistent with these guidelines, and implement those policies as quickly as possible.

One important aspect of dealing with production of alternate media is adequate advance notice and planning. It may be desirable to have faculty, bookstore managers, [DSS] staff, and organizations of students with disabilities work together to devise a system which will give the needed lead time for obtaining materials in alternate media with the least disruption for all concerned.  Faculty should be strongly encouraged to make textbook selections as far in advance as possible and to avoid changing the selection unless there are compelling reasons.  Bookstores should remind faculty about the need to place orders as early as possible and should process the orders promptly once they are received.  Faculty should also be asked to provide syllabi, handouts, and other materials in E-text whenever possible.  

The policy should specify how far in advance a student needs to make a request for materials in alternate media in order to ensure a high probability that the college will meet the request.  This notice requirement needs to be reasonable and take into account when faculty decide on textbook selections, when students register, and the fact that last minute changes will occur despite the best planning.  Students should be strongly encouraged to plan their course schedules as early as possible and to take advantage of advanced registration.  However, the policy should clearly state that every effort will be made to meet late requests.

The notice required should be based on the type of material being requested.  For example, it would probably only take a few days to produce a short class handout in Braille if the college has its in-house Braille production system operational.  One or two days might even be reasonable if the faculty member makes the handout available in E-text. On the other hand, getting a textbook recorded or produced in Braille from outside sources could take several months.  It may be necessary to arrange to have the material shipped in installments sequenced to follow the syllabus and, even then, students should be asked to make requests as soon as faculty have made their selections.

The policy should identify who should receive requests for alternate media and direct other faculty and staff who may receive requests to forward them to the designated individual. Although it need not be spelled out in the policy itself, colleges should also identify in advance the person or persons at the college who will be responsible for the actual production of alternate media or for obtaining it from outside sources.  Those persons should be familiar with these guidelines, know how to produce or obtain all types of alternate media as quickly as possible, and have readily available the equipment, materials, and/or outside resources they will need.

Policies should include methods of informing students, faculty, staff, and the general public about the availability of materials in alternate media and the process to be used to make requests.  Publications and documents should contain a brief notice indicating that the material is available in alternate media and who should be contacted to obtain it. 

Colleges should also consider preparing some basic materials in alternate media even without a specific request.  This is most appropriate for materials that would be of interest to a broad audience, particularly where such materials are available on demand to nondisabled individuals.  For example, the college catalog and schedule of courses should be available in electronic text suitable for use with screen reading software.  It would also be desirable to have these materials formatted and proofed for producing hardcopy Braille.  Then, if a request for Braille is made, it can be produced relatively quickly.  However, if no one needs the catalog or course schedule in Braille, the college will avoid the full expense of producing it and will not need to deal with storing bulky unneeded materials.

Note – When writing policy related to advance time notice requirements, recognize that the lead time necessary is dependent on the request and on your system, don't create time requirements just for purpose of creating them. Consider writing the notice requirement as “reasonable time” coupled with a statement that the time required to meet a particular request is dependent on time of semester, the format requested, and availability of material.

return to table of contents


What “Alternate Formats” are currently commonly used?


Braille and tactile graphics

Large print

Electronic text

Provided in a variety of formats depending on the structure and complexity of the material, student preference, and hardware or software

return to table of contents


Identifying An Appropriate Alternate Format

Excerpted from Guidelines for Producing Instructional and Other Printed Materials in Alternate Media for Persons with Disabilities, April 2000, Chancellor's Office, California Community Colleges http://www.htctu.fhda.edu/publications/guidelines/altmedia/altmedia.htm.

Section 35.160 of the regulations implementing Title II of the ADA specifically states:  "When determining what type of auxiliary aid and service is necessary, a public entity shall give primary consideration to the requests of the individual with disabilities." (28 CFR § 35.160(b)(2).)  Thus, whenever possible, information should be provided in the alternative format preferred by the person making the request (i.e. Braille, audio tape, large print, electronic text).

However, if it would be unduly difficult or expensive to provide the material in the requested medium by the time it is needed, the college may offer to provide it in another medium which would be equally effective given the needs of the person requesting the accommodation.  To determine whether a proposed alternative format would be equally effective, the proposed alternative should be compared to the format originally requested in terms of accuracy, timeliness of delivery, the "shelf-life" or longevity of the material, and the extent to which the medium is appropriate to the significance of the message and the abilities of the individual making the request.  Methods which are adequate for short, simple or less important communications may not be equally effective or appropriate for longer, more complex, or more critical material.

In deciding whether a given format would be appropriate for the needs of a particular individual, factors to consider include the person's learning style (tactile, auditory, visual, or multimodal), the person's proficiency in working with the format (e.g. knowledge of Braille), and, for electronic text, the extent to which necessary hardware and software is readily available.  E-text should be provided in a format that will work with commonly available access technology, but colleges should be prepared to provide access to the necessary equipment and software and training for students who may not be familiar with its use.   

Based on the foregoing, it is recommended that colleges use the following steps as a general guide to analyzing and responding to requests for materials in alternate media.  However, it must be emphasized that this is not a comprehensive or definitive discussion of how to handle every conceivable situation that may arise.  Ultimately, it will be necessary to apply the legal principles discussed above to the particular facts of each case to decide what form of accommodation is most appropriate.

  1. First, whenever possible, give preference to the student's choice of media.
  2. If the student wants material in audio format, the request should generally be granted because chances are this will be the easiest and least expensive approach.  Such requests could be satisfied by ordering recorded books which are already available, arranging to have the book recorded by an outside organization such as RFB&D, or having material read aloud and, where appropriate, recording it on cassette tape or some other storage medium.  The college could also use E-text read with a speech synthesizer, but this may not work for material containing unusual words or symbols or complex formatting.
  3. Colleges should usually grant requests for Braille or large print, so long as:
    1. the student has the training and tactile or visual acuity to efficiently use the requested material; and
    2. the material is already available or it is short and simple enough to be produced on campus or through a contract supplier in a timely manner.
  4. If the student wants material in Braille or large print that cannot be provided in a timely manner or would be very costly, then it would be appropriate to try to identify an equally effective substitute through collaboration between the student and the college staff person.
  5. If E-text is already available or can be easily obtained, it may be a good alternative to large print or hardcopy Braille.  Producing the hardcopy Braille or large print will take time and could be costly, especially for voluminous material.  However, in order to ensure that E-text will provide an equally effective alternative, the following must be taken into account:
    1. A partially sighted student will need a computer with software permitting print magnification. 
    2. A blind student who is a Braille reader will need a computer or notetaker having a refreshable Braille display.  Assuming the student has such equipment, or the college makes it reasonably available, E-text probably would be an equally effective alternative to hardcopy Braille, except in situations where spatial orientation or format is important, since such information is not readily conveyed by a refreshable Braille display.
    3. For simpler materials, or where format, punctuation, spelling, or technical detail are not crucial, a blind person may be able to use E-text with speech output as a substitute for Braille.  This may even be a better alternative if large volumes of information must be read quickly and the student will not be required to master or frequently refer to details in the text.
    4. Many students with learning disabilities will benefit from using E-text with software which reads the text aloud while highlighting it on the screen.
    5. In any case, the E-text will have to be free from errors and in a format compatible with the equipment being used to provide access.
  6. In some limited instances use of a reader or materials in a recorded audio format may be an equally effective alternative to either e-text or hardcopy Braille or large print.  Normally, this is only true where the material does not contain complex formatting (e.g. literature, history, business, etc.) and a general understanding of the material is sufficient.  In such cases, audio may even be a superior format when compared to hardcopy Braille, where large volumes of material must be covered quickly. 
  7. An audio recording generally will not be an equally effective alternative to E-text or hardcopy Braille or large print when:
    1. The material is complex or technical in nature.
    2. The student is expected to achieve detailed mastery of the information to complete a course or participate in a program or activity.
    3. The student is expected to quickly review material and provide an immediate response (e.g. review the material on page 57 and there will be a quiz in 10 minutes).
    4. The material must be used in class or as a frequent reference source outside class.
  8. Providing an alternative that is not equally effective (e.g. a physics textbook on tape instead of in Braille) can only be justified if the college makes a written determination that providing the requested accommodation would either:
    1. require a fundamental alteration in the nature of the class or other program or activity in which the individual is involved; or
    2. Impose undue financial or administrative burdens on the college. [added note - never make this determination without the involvement of legal counsel]


Discussing a few examples may help to illustrate the recommended approach to handling requests for alternate media.

Example 1.  A blind individual considering enrollment at the college requests the catalog and current schedule of classes in Braille.  Consistent with these guidelines, the college has these materials available in E-text form and offers this as an alternative.  If the individual has a computer with access software/hardware, providing E-text would probably be considered an equally effective alternative and will most likely be accepted by the individual.  However, if the individual does not have equipment necessary to use E-text, the Braille version should be provided.  In this case, allowing the person to use an electronic version on a computer at the college is probably not an equivalent accommodation because the person making the request is not yet a student and because other individuals have the option of having a catalog at home where they can refer to it frequently at their convenience.  Providing the catalog in Braille should not take long or involve significant additional expense if the college has already prepared the formatted Braille file as suggested above.

Example 2.  A member of the public using the college library requests large print versions of several novels.  An effort should be made to ascertain whether large print versions of these books are available from the publisher, and if so, they should be obtained.  If not, they may be available on tape and this option should be offered to the patron.  Failing this, the library would need to provide the equipment necessary for the individual to read the books with the needed magnification.  This could be accomplished either through use of a CCTV or a scanner and computer with magnification software.

Example 3.  A blind student taking a history course requests that both assigned textbooks be provided in Braille.  On further investigation, the faculty member advises that students are required to read both books, but only portions of one book will be used as the basis for testing in the class.  Neither book is currently available in either Braille or E-text, but they are available on tape.  The college might appropriately offer to provide the taped versions and to scan and Braille those portions of the one book on which the student will be tested.

Example 4.  A blind student taking a geography course asks that the book be provided on audio tape, but wants maps and diagrams available in a tactile form.  However, neither the taped book nor the tactile maps are readily available.  The college should send the book to RFB&D for recording and, if the student is not a DR client, supply a reader to read the portions of the book which will be covered before the tapes are available.  It should be possible to convert the maps and diagrams into tactile form using the Purdue University process discussed above.  If this proves not to be technically feasible, the college could contract with an organization which does Braille transcription and has the specialized capability to produce tactile maps.

Example 5.  A student with a learning disability requests that the Career Center equip one of its computers with screen reading software and a speech synthesizer to enable her to more effectively access the Center's files containing information on career planning and employment opportunities.  This is a reasonable request and should be granted, provided Adaptive equipment can be obtained which is compatible with the hardware and software the Center uses.  Indeed, if these guidelines are followed, the Center should already have one or more accessible workstations.  If this is not the case, the adaptive equipment will need to be obtained and installed.  In the interim, it may be necessary to provide the student with a reader or put material on disk so the student can access it using a computer at the High Tech Center.

Example 6.  A blind student planning to pursue a mathematics degree at the University of California requests that several math textbooks for his transfer courses be provided in Braille.  The books are not currently available in Braille and contracting to have them transcribed will cost several thousand dollars and take a few months.  Assuming the student is a Braille reader, there probably is no equally effective alternative to providing the texts in Braille.  Therefore, provided that the request is made enough in advance to make it practical, the college should arrange for the books to be transcribed. 

Usually, it will be possible to arrange to have portions of the books shipped as soon as they are completed, but there may still be times when the student does not have a particular portion of the book in Braille by the time it is covered in class.  Under such circumstances, the next best alternative would probably be to obtain the needed portions of the book in E-text and offer to produce those portions in hardcopy Braille using the college's in-house Braille production capacity.  In that case, it will be important to use software that can handle Braille mathematics and have it carefully proofread by a knowledgeable individual.  Alternatively, the college could provide the student with the E-text and access to a computer with a refreshable Braille display.  This probably would not be an equally effective alternative to having the book transcribed, but it might suffice as an interim measure while waiting for hardcopy Braille to arrive.  If the book cannot be obtained from the publisher in usable E-text format, then these latter alternatives may require scanning, proofreading, and correcting the text.

Example 7.  A student in a psychology course is required to read several newspaper articles.  She asks that the articles be provided in E-text so she can read them with her computer which has a speech synthesizer.  More recent articles from many newspapers will already be available in E-text.  If this is not the case, they can probably be scanned unless the print quality is too poor.  If scanning proves impossible, the college could offer to put the material on tape.  This would probably be an equally effective alternative unless the articles are to be frequently referenced in class or the student can provide a reasonable explanation why tape would not be adequate.

Note on use of readers

Excerpted from City College of San Francisco, OCR Case Docket No. 09-97-2145 (January 9, 1998):

Section 504 implementing regulation [34 C.F.R. § 104.43(c)] prohibits colleges from excluding students, on the basis of disability, from any "course of study." As OCR has stated in prior opinions [OCR Case Docket No. 09-91-2157 (January 15, 1992)], "Failure to translate specialized material, such as mathematical symbols and equations, into a language [e.g., Braille] specifically created to communicate such material to the visually impaired, has the result of strongly deterring visually impaired students from taking courses, or concentrating in areas, that involve higher mathematics [or other "courses of study" whose printed information is expressed in special symbols or punctuation]."

Besides the problem of translating certain types of subject matter into a meaningful auditory medium, there are additional problems in using a personal reader to make a large volume of printed material, such as an entire textbook, accessible. When a college offers a personal reader as the means for translating a textbook into an alternative format, the student with the print impairment is asked to set aside significant blocks of time which must be coordinated with the schedule of the reader(s) so that both are present at the same time and place on campus. Such coordination may be especially difficult for a blind student whose mobility is ordinarily dependent upon public transportation or other third person drivers. As to the role of the student with the disability in asking fellow classmates to act as a personal reader, some students prefer to secure their own service provider, while other students are highly reluctant or even unwilling. Some students with disabilities state that having to personally approach fellow classmates to request special services (even when offering compensation) undercuts their ability to establish peer relationships.

In addition to the difficulties commonly associated with the use of personal readers (e.g., adequate supply, scheduling conflicts, reliability, acceptable speaking voice), when a student is in the process of learning English as a Second Language (ESL), comprehension of information presented in spoken English is significantly less than would be expected of a native English-speaking blind student, and any foreign accent by a personal reader would be more problematic than usual.

Finally, a personal reader (unless recorded) provides only one time exposure to the information and does not allow the student to independently refer back when studying on his/her own. Even when the personal reader is informally audiotaped, such recordings do not allow the student efficient internal document flexibility to move between topical headings and from page to page. Thus, when later attempting to review materials, the student generally finds it very time consuming to wind and rewind, play and replay, the collected audiotapes in order to locate specific information. Consequently, personal readers are often most effectively used for materials that a student will not be frequently referencing. For a discussion of features to consider when making a textbook accessible in alternative format, see the report "Accessibility of Information in Electronic Textbooks for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired," presented by the Texas Education Agency to the Texas Legislature, at <http://www.tsbvi.edu/textbooks/textbook.htm>.

return to table of contents

Security Of All Alternate Format Materials

DSS offices play a major role in the security of materials, especially electronic text. Failure to maintain security systems that ensure provision of these materials only to qualifying, documented students may form the basis for a copyright infringement suit against the institution.

Policies and procedures should be written that safeguard copies of files in DSS possession, including maintenance of inventory records for materials obtained from all sources and prevention of unauthorized access, misuse, or modification of materials.

Students must be educated as to the severity of any misuse (including sharing, copying, and uploading) and the requirements of the Copyright Act and potential penalties for violation thereof.

return to table of contents


New York Law – Chapter 219

Effective August 15, 2004, New York State Education Law Article 15B (Section 715, also referred to as Chapter 219) will provide a direct role for publishers in the provision of alternate format textbooks and supplementary material to students with disabilities.

An advisory committee has been working with the State Education Department since last Fall to discuss and agree upon implementation guidelines for the law. A technical field memo has been issued and sent to all NYS postsecondary institutions.

The law and implementation guidelines are intended to assist DSS offices and institutions in meeting their obligation under 504 and ADA to provide accessible course materials to students with disabilities, not to transfer that obligation to the publishers.

What the law and guidelines do:

What the law and guidelines do not do:

An important aspect of the law and the guidelines is the requirement that the original structure of the material be preserved to the extent possible. Loss of structure has played a significant role in the low level of effectiveness students have found in many alternate format materials.

File transfer format/usable source format – the law places the responsibility on the publisher to provide the text in a usable electronic source format as agreed upon with SED. Provision of the source file may provide direct access for the student and will permit the institution or an appropriate intermediary to create the necessary specialized file format.

Specialized file format, e.g. Braille, DTB, Daisy, audio, large print, etc., are now and in the future the responsibility of the institution.

Media format, e.g. CD, tape, hard copy, etc., is also the responsibility of the institution.

What are the publisher's responsibilities?

Upon request and properly executed agreements, to provide accessible source files, in a timely manner, to DSS offices in a format as agreed upon with the NY State Education Department.

Timely manner will be defined as fifteen business days.

What are the student's responsibilities?

What are the institution's responsibilities?

Note - Institutions are not required to provide student names to the publisher.

A list of publisher contacts is available here.

return to table of contents


Copyright Issues Related To Materials Created Or Obtained From Non-Publisher Sources

Materials received from RFB&D, Bookshare, or National Library Service do not pose any potential copyright problems because they are clearly authorized entities within the Chafee exemption.

Some online sources (e.g. Project Gutenberg) provide only titles out of copyright, others (e.g. NetLibrary) purchase the electronic rights.

As was discussed above, there is not general agreement that DSS offices are covered as authorized entities under the Chafee Exemption, nor that conversion can be considered fair use. To avoid possibilities of unintended copyright infringement, in any case where a DSS office converts material in-house, provides material to an additional student, or obtains copyrighted electronic material from another office (e.g. through the AMX Database), we recommend that the procedures developed for the implementation of Chapter 219 be followed. Permission should be requested from the publisher by use of the Request form, noting that a file copy is not required. The Agreement on the Use of Recorded, Electronic, or Other Alternatively Formatted Course Material should be signed by the student.

return to table of contents


Other Sources For Alternate Format Materials

Materials appropriate for a particular student's needs may already be available from various sources including

Project Gutenberg http://promo.net/pg/

NetLibrary http://www.netlibrary.com/

E-Brary http://www.ebrary.com/

MetaText Digital Textbooks http://www.metatext.com/

Bookshare http://www.bookshare.org/

University of Virginia http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/

National Library Services http://www.loc.gov/nls/

Louis Database www.aph.org

AMX (Alternate Media eXchange) http://www.amxdb.net/

RFB&D www.rfbd.org

SafariX www.safarix.com (check for accessibility)

additional sources

return to table of contents


Resources for Creating and Accessing Alternate Formats

Hardware and software

Optical Character Recognition

Reading/voice output (no vision)

Reading/voice output (with vision)

Reading DAISY 3

See http://www.daisy.org/tools/playback.asp

Creating DAISY 3


Creating wav/MP3 files


Embossed Braille

Tactile Diagrams

Other resources

Section 508
For background and additional details regarding Section 508:

Adobe Acrobat Accessibility page at:
For some students who may prefer HTML, a Web based PDF to HTML conversion
service is available at:

ANSI/NISO Z39.86 (Digital Talking Book or DTB, sometimes referred to as Daisy3 or DTB3) specification. 
ANSI/NISO Z39.86-2002
ISSN: 1041-5653

High Tech Center and Training Unit http://www.htctu.net
Training and support in Assistive Computer Technology, Alternate Media and Web Accessibility for the 114 California community colleges. A wealth of resources are available on their website including training manuals including

Introduction to Alternate Formats
Creating E-Text

Creating Tactile Graphics
Creating Accessible PDFs
Course Managememt platform accessibility

Conference presentations on various topics are available.

HTCTU also manages the AlternateMedia eXchange (AMX). The searchable database facilitates sharing of materials (e-text, cc video, and tactile graphics). New York institutions may join the Exchange, posting and sharing info and materials. The system works on the basis of reciprocity – you post information on materials you have created or obtained from publishers and search for materials held by others. Subject to the requirements of the Copyright Law, materials are shared directly between schools when the materials were created in-house. Materials obtained from publishers are shared after obtaining publisher permission (getting it from a colleague by e-mail is likely to be much faster than getting it from the publisher directly). If you are interested in joining, contact Sean Keegan at skeegan@htctu.net . Give him the name and contact info for the person at your institution who will be the contact person for the system and he'll provide you a password.

You can also join a number of applicable listservs at http://htclistserv.htctu.fhda.edu/read/all_forums/.

California Community Colleges Guidelines for Producing Instructional and Other Printed Materials in Alternate Media for Persons with Disabilities ( April 2000) was produced by the Chancellor's Office with advice from a Special Alternate Media Workgroup. Contains excellent analysis and practical suggestions.

WBGH Media Access Group Information on captioning, descriptive video and web accessibility.

return to table of contents


Applicable OCR Decisions


California State University, Fullerton (2004)
Discussion of appropriate formats and timeliness of provision.

California Community College (1998)
Outline of concerns and suggested strategies related to access for visually impaired and other students. Very comprehensive discussion.

City College of San Francisco (1998)
Issues related to provision of textbooks to visually impaired student.

California State University, Los Angeles (1997)
Access to library resources.

California State University, Long Beach (1999)
Inclusion of adaptive technology in noncentralized computer labs.

Loyola Marymount University (1992)
Analysis of various access issues for a visually-impaired student including notetaking, exams, computers, and textbooks.

Brooklyn College (1996)
Consent agreement related to various issues including requiring students to seek payment from VESID for auxiliary aids and academic adjustments. Includes discussion of alternate format provision as part of resolution agreement.

return to table of contents


Frequently Asked Questions

When I read Chapter 219, it looks like the publisher should be selling alternate formats directly to my students. Why does the DSS Office need to be involved? Why can't the campus bookstore just get an appropriate format from the publisher for the student?
The vision of those who worked so hard to get Chapter 219 passed was that alternate format text materials would be made available in the bookstore alongside the print copy, providing a menu of options for SWD and others to pluck from the shelf. While we all hope that this model will become a reality in the future, the current realities of the publishing industry and the lack of conversion infrastructures make it unreasonable to expect such a result today. In recognition of those realities and the desire to leave determination of eligibility for alternate format materials in the hands of those with the requisite expertise, the Chapter 219 Advisory Committee determined that DSS offices need to play a role in the process, both in obtaining the file and in providing any additional conversion needed to make the file appropriate for the student's use.

It seems to me that the publishers are suddenly a lot more concerned about alternate format materials then they ever were in the past. How come?
Until fairly recently, most alternate format books were Braille or recorded on four-track tapes – formats not readily usable by those without disabilities. As the numbers of students using alternate formats have increased and as the options have expanded, often in an “open” format usable by anyone, the potential for damage to the interests of the copyright holder has significantly increased.

When providing a file under Chapter 219, does the student have to buy a new book at full price?
No, a student with a disability has all the same options for purchasing his or her textbooks as does a nondisabled student.

Isn't there one place I can go to find publisher contacts?
Yep, check out the list compiled by HTCTU for the AMX Database and available for your use by clicking here.

I have never before required that students prove that they own a book before I give them a taped or other alternate format copy. Why should I start doing it now?
Until recently, most alternate format materials were obtained from RFBD or other authorized entities – organizations that are specifically exempt from the copyright law when providing materials to persons with disabilities. When files are provided from any source not specifically exempted by law (primarily the Chafee amendment), copyright issues must be addressed. When the student owns a legal copy of the book, the financial interests of the copyright holder are protected.

The Chafee Amendment regarding copyright protections for materials being made into accessible format does not apply directly to the implementation of Chapter 219 because colleges are to request copies of documents directly from the publishers. In the case where a disability services office converts material in-house, provides materials to an additional student, or obtains copyrighted electronic material from another office (e.g. through the AMX Database), we recommend that the procedures developed for the implementation of Chapter 219 be followed to avoid possibilities of unintended copyright infringement. Permission should be requested from the publisher by use of the Request form, noting that a file copy is not required. The student should purchase a copy of the materials and sign the Agreement on the Use of Recorded, Electronic, or Other Alternatively Formatted Course Material . All copies, irrespective of format, should contain copyright notice and prohibition against further reproduction. NYSED Chapter 219 Technical Assistance Field Memo revised November 2004

What is considered a “derivative copy?”
Audio files (tape or electronic), scanning print text to create digital text, and creating a large print or Braille version of a textbook, article, coursepack, or other material are all derivative works and fall within the list of rights reserved to the copyright holder.

Do I have to order books from the publisher?
No, you may legally obtain books from an authorized entity, if it is available. And any file can be legally provided if you have obtained consent of the copyright holder.

Can my institution meet its obligation to provide effective access by having the students purchase their own membership in RFBD or Bookshare and get their books that way?
No, you cannot require that student pay for an accommodation. Additionally, it is unlikely that a student will be able to obtain all their books from either organization or obtain them all in an appropriate format. You should have a plan in place to provide audio, electronic, Braille, and large print books.

My institution provides scan and read technology for students to scan their own textbooks or other print materials. Is this alone sufficient to meet our obligation?
In our opinion, no. While you may not be charging students money for their accommodation, you are “charging” them time, something that college students with disabilities seldom have extra of. Additionally, the files may have significant scanning errors that interfere with the effectiveness of the alternate format.

But students need to develop skills that allow them to work independently, not become dependent on the DSS office.
Of course students need to develop skills that allow them to work independently and you should help them gain those skills if they don't bring them with them. However, that does not mean that a student should have to access every print document in the most time-consuming way possible. Why would you want to make a student spend time creating an inaccurate copy when you can provide them a complete and accurate one – a copy that now allows them to immediately begin reading it just like every other student?

We have always provided books on tape when students request alternate format. Is this sufficient?
Maybe. For an extensive discussion of appropriate alternate formats (appropriate to both the student and the type of material), see the DSC Alternate Format Handbook at www.TC3.edu/bcl/altformhandbook .

A student wants some books as e-text, some audio, and a human reader for others. Do I have to provide different formats to one student?
Again, maybe. See the discussion noted above.

I have an electronic copy of a book that a colleague at another school needs for a student. Can I give her a copy?
Only with the consent of the copyright holder. Have the other institution obtain the permission, noting that they don't need a copy of the file. This is sometimes done when time is a factor.

I have an electronic copy of a book that I got for one student, now another student needs it. Can I give it to him?
Yes, with the consent of the copyright holder. Fax a copy of the Chapter 219 agreement to the publisher noting that you don't need a copy of the file. You may also be able to use many publishers' electronic forms.

Do I have to provide this same level of accommodation to a nonmatriculated student?

return to table of contents


Sample forms and Policies


Student Request Form - Cornell University

Student Agreement - Cornell University

Student Agreement - TC3

Request and Production Tracking Database in ACCESS

Request and Production Tracking Spreadsheet in Excel

return to table of contents



Glossary of terms related to alternate format materials.

return to table of contents