Bringing Text Books Out of the DarkAlternative Text Production Center (ATPC)

Michael Bastine, Director, ATPC

If you attended the "Technology Showcase" breakout session at the Academic Senate Fall 2005 Plenary Session in November, you were introduced to a quiet but mighty program sponsored by grant funding through the System Office.

The use of technology has revolutionized production of accessible text for our college students with print disabilities. The following was written by Michael Bastine, Director of AT PC. We hope you will find the information useful as you consider making materials more accessible for your students. The services of AT PC are available to you, just contact Michael and his staff! Pat James Hanz, ASCCC Technology Committee Chair

"I couldn't read my assignments in high school. It was frustrating that I couldn't be self-reliant," said Marisa, a student with multiple disabilities including dyslexia. "Books on tape helped, but they were frustrating, too. It would take a couple of weeks to get them, they were often the wrong edition for the class so the pages weren't numbered right for our assignments. I spent more time rewinding and fast forwarding than listening. The Kurzweil [assistive reading software] in the lab helped me follow along so I didn't get lost. Audio and visual extraction means that I can take notes easily. Without e-text (electronic text) from the college I couldn't get the grades I get."

Approximately 10% of the community college student population has some form of a disability. Alternate media can benefit students with print disabilities, who may be sight or mobility impaired, or have a learning disability, such as attention deficit disorder or dyslexia. Students' awareness of assistive technology and the increased access it provides is growing. For every student who used text converted into speech three years ago, the numbers have tripled.

The ATPC is the first publicly funded, system-wide resource dedicated to serving the alternate text needs of the largest postsecondary educational system in the world - the 109 California community colleges. From existing print or electronic documents, AT PC creates alternate text products for use by students enrolled in a California community college. A skilled staff, advanced computer networks, electronic document management, and stateof-the-art formatting technologies help produce highquality e-text, Braille, and tactile graphics.

"In the old days I remember it was really hard for some students to use recordings for the blind," recalls Edith Conn, a faculty member at Ventura College. "Electronictext is a much better way now." With e-text, a range of technologies can help the print disabled: Braille, large print documents, tactile graphics, audio books, Text-To-Speech (TTS ) software, computer highlighting of words or sentences. All of these are referred to as "alternate text." There is no single solution for students. The form of text best suited to overcome a print disability may not be the best for another person. Most start with e-text, however.

In many cases, technicians begin by scanning a book and running Optical Character Recognition (OC R) software to convert the printed textbook to plain text. Next comes proofreading to detect misidentified characters and "knitting" the OC R'd files together to make the alternate text coherent. Formulas, graphics, tables, and other features-even more common in textbooks than in many other sorts of publications -can greatly complicate and lengthen the task of converting to e-text. The AT PC has encouraged cooperation from publishers so they often supply usable e-text, eliminating some of this work.

Tags need to be added to plain text to distinguish chapter titles, headings, captions, tables, paragraph breaks, and other features for most alternate text uses. (Imagine reading a textbook as a continuous plain text with no formatting, indication of paragraphs, or differentiation between titles and sentences in text and you will begin to understand the need for tags in most alternate text. Now think about the way assignments are given in school: "Read chapters 12 and 15," "Review pages 147-173." Then think about doing that when you're the only one in the class with a plain text document!) Files can be converted from tagged text to formats compatible with a variety of reader software solutions. Depending on the student's abilities, the text can be read aloud, enlarged, highlighted, or combined as needed. Unlike printed text, e-text can be heard as well as seen and the different reading methods can be coordinated.

There is no "universal" design that is useable by everyone but the process of creating the needed form can be simplified. Since printed books are produced using computers, publishers supplying the files can eliminate the laborious retyping, OC R scanning, and reediting that is required. This ensures accurate content and helps students to get the texts in their hands in a timely manner.

Allowing students access to their textbooks so that they can fully participate in their classes is, after all, the point of the alternate text.

College students face the challenge of keeping up with their reading assignments. This is magnified for a student with a print-disability. The large number of technologies and options for alternate forms of reading can overwhelm a student, whose focus is on studying, not learning new technology. The AT PC works to meet the increasing demand for alternate text materials. However, for the AT PC, the demand is far exceeding their limited resources. To help manage this situation, "priority processing" procedures have been required of the AT PC. Guidelines from the System Office have established when and which alternate media requests get processed first. The "first come-first served" rule is the general order of processing. Additional System Office requirements direct the Center to implement "fees for service" to educational institutions outside of the California Community College System. The AT PC charges embossing fees for their already transcripted and cataloged Braille products. The revenue collected for this product is then added to AT PC's budget to further provide grant services to California's community colleges. Specifically, the fees are $0.62 per embossed Braille page and $0.25 per embossed Braille page in volume.

"I couldn't read unassisted; reading was very slow and very difficult," says Ann, a recent graduate who has dyslexia. "When I first got tapes from Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic I could access material. It was like turning on a light switch in a dark room." Access to e-text was even better: "Learning the technology was laborious but it paid off immensely." Ann went through school the first time undiagnosed and didn't do well. She recently graduated with straight `A' grades and degrees in economics, finance, accounting, and business. She is currently preparing for the Certified Public Accountant exam.

Both faculty and students need to be aware that alternate instructional resources are available locally and from the AT PC by coordinating through their Disabled Students Program and Services (DS P&S) office. In addition, most colleges have Alternate Media Specialist dedicated to providing the appropriate instructional material for students with print disabilities. With early faculty coordination, in regards to specific textbook requirements, alternate media can be produced and delivered in a timely manner to students. Due to the length of time to produce some alternate textbooks, such as Braille, faculty and staff can not collaborate too early to have the necessary resources available for students with print disabilities.

For more information about the AT PC, visit their website at or call them toll free at (800) 858-9984 or TTY (800) 858-9982.

The articles published in the Rostrum do not necessarily represent the adopted positions of the academic senate. For adopted positions and recommendations, please browse this website.