Internet Archive helps make books accessible for students with disabilities

(16 February 2019)  The Internet Archive will be part of a team that is working to address a key challenge for students with disabilities: getting books in accessible formats. This participation aligns with an existing Internet Archive program to make materials available and accessible to readers with disabilities.

The number of students with disabilities at colleges and universities has grown over the past few decades. Many of those students have print disabilities, including the largest subgroup, those with learning differences.  Students with print disabilities require text to be reformatted for screen readers, text-to-speech software, or other forms of audio delivery, often with human intervention. Universities are required to perform this reformatting on request but are rarely staffed to do that work at scale and this type of reformatting and remediation can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Once the work has been done for a student at one university, the reformatted book is almost never made available for use by students with disabilities at other universities.  Without collaboration and coordination across campuses efforts are wasted and students with disabilities often wait weeks to get texts in a form they can access and use.

A newly-funded pilot project, “Federated Repositories of Accessible Materials for Higher Education,” aims to address this problem. This is a two-year pilot program that has recently been funded by a $1,000,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to the University of Virginia (as principal investigator) with a primary goal of reducing the duplication of remediation activity across the seven (7) universities participating in the pilot. It will also support the cumulative improvement of accessible texts and decrease the turnaround time for delivering those texts to students and faculty.

Within this program, the Internet Archive will participate as one of several repositories of digitized books, both to provide initial digital copies (for remediation) and to receive and hold remediated book files. Those improved books can then be shared with other schools and organizations that provide services to people with disabilities. They may also be used as a starting point for further conversion into additional formats (such as Braille) that may be needed to support specific reader needs.

The Internet Archive’s role in this pilot project dovetails with our existing program to make materials available and accessible to readers with disabilities. Our current program allows any organization that is already working with people with disabilities, known as Qualifying Authorities, to access the digital files of over 1.8 million books (about 900,000 of which are otherwise unavailable). Those Qualifying Authorities, especially Disability Student Service teams at colleges and universities, are then able to streamline their preparation and remediation of these digital books for people with print disabilities. Because they work directly with individual readers, Qualifying Authorities are also able to enable existing (and qualified) Internet Archive users for an account with disability access. With that access, these users can enjoy expanded and immediate access to the Internet Archive’s full collection of books (through archive.org or OpenLibrary).

The full story is here.