Challenges to Consumer Acceptance of Accessible Etextbooks
As noted in the final report of the Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities (the Commission), "barriers that would deny students with disabilities their rights to full and complete access to their educational experience are unacceptable in a society that values achievement through education."
Specifically in regards to students with disabilities not having access to textbooks in accessible formats at the same time as their nondisabled peers, the Commission believes that "the solution to current and future challenges lies in the establishment of a vibrant market of thoughtfully developed instructional tools that are designed from the outset to meet the needs of the broadest possible range of students, including those with disabilities."
The Student E-rent Pilot Project (STEPP) was funded by a grant from the US Department of Education and designed to meet the textbook rental needs of postsecondary students. The program was unique in that its textbook offerings were modified for accessibility to meet the needs of students with disabilities.
STEPP leveraged the expertise of AMAC Accessibility Solutions, one of the nation’s leaders in producing accessible materials, with the distribution of CourseSmart, a leading electronic textbook rental service, and the reach of the AccessText Network, a publisher supported portal for post-secondary file requests.
One of the project goals was to "increase knowledge and awareness amongst all players in the marketplace of the need for and the profitability of providing universally accessible eTextbooks." To this end a survey was conducted to "determine overall eTextbook satisfaction, including satisfaction by those individuals with print-related disabilities when eTextbooks were made accessible. This type of information would allow the STEPP staff to recognize a student’s ability to successfully use their eTextbook, as needed, in his or her postsecondary classes."
Further analysis of the survey data and continued observation of STEPP yielded additional insight regarding the viability of accessible materials as commercial products. Namely, that accessibility is a multi-faceted subject and that students with disabilities will need education and support to become aware of and take advantage of mainstream products that incorporate accessibility. In essence, there is more to a successful marketplace than offering products for sale without sufficient information for consumers to make informed choices.
In response to this analysis, AMAC developed the Document Accessibility Profile (DAP). DAP provides a common descriptive format that sellers and buyers can use to evaluate a products fitness for a particular customer, such as a student with a print-related disability. DAP is designed to harmonize with existing standards such as WCAG and Section 508, but not be limited to them, and to remain flexible enough to cover a variety digital document types. With support from the publishing industry, DAP can help popularize accessibility features within commercial retail channels.
In summary, further research and exploration is needed to ensure that students with disabilities are able to take full advantage of accessible products in the mainstream market, including etextbooks and other digital materials. In the fast-moving and complex world of digital products, accessibility is one of many factors influencing product design, development, and marketing. But for a student with disability, the exciting new features of digital platforms may be moot if the student cannot use the product with the same facility as a non-disabled user.
Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities, Final Report
Student E-rent Pilot Project, Grant Abstract
STEPP Survey Results and Analysis
The Accessible Publishing Newsletter is published monthly by the AccessText Network: www.accesstext.org
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The AccessText Network (ATN) was launched by the Association of American Publishers to help students with print disabilities by making it easier for US colleges and universities to request files and permissions from publishers.