Accessible Publishing Newsletter - Volume 1, Number 3, December 2012
Accessible Publishing Newsletter: published by the AccessText Network
Volume 1, Number 3, December 2012
The Accessible Publishing Newsletter's focus is on accessibility-related issues of interest to academic publishers. Please send your questions, comments, and suggestions to

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Q & A  Submit a Question

In this section we will answer your questions about accessibility. Please email your inquiries to If we do not know the answer, we will find it.

Question: How many college students need their textbooks in alternate forms?
This has always been a difficult question because the most commonly collected statistics about students with disabilities do not directly correlate with alternate format usage.  Nor is it clear that every student who may benefit from using an alternate format has access to their textbooks in such formats. Let's take a look at the issue from several perspectives.
The Advisory Commission on Accessible Instructional Materials in Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities met during 2010 to address and seek remedies for the challenges encountered by students with print disabilities enrolled in postsecondary institutions. In the Commissions final report it noted that around 10% of college students nationwide (roughly 2 million people), have some form of disability. Within that number, 30% have learning disabilities and 3% are blind or visually impaired.
But the report does not break down that number to show how many of those students actually use alternate formats, or what percentage of students use what type of alternate format. So, while it is safe to say the number of students using alternate formats is less than 2 million, there does not seem to be data available to break that down into more specific percentages.
The AccessText Network (ATN) is able to provide different but related data: how many requests colleges and universities are making to publishers for electronic files to support disabled students. This data comes with its own caveats:

  • ATN does not record how many students are being served, just the total number of requests.
  • Not all colleges and publishers are members of ATN.
  • Students also use Learning Ally, Bookshare, and other sources for alternate formats.
  • Colleges still scan textbooks to create alternate formats in-house.
Given these limitations, ATN data is perhaps more useful as an indicator of the potential market for electronic textbooks if they could be made fully accessible. During the last 12 months, ATN processed 58,365 requests from 1,180 colleges and universities to 13 textbook publishers. To give this some context, the Simba Information Group report "eTextbooks and Multimedia in Higher Education 2012" says etextbook sales were estimated to be $68 million in 2011. What is interesting to note is that students with disabilities represent a potential 60,000 or more sales for etextbooks, but only if the books are accessible to the students in the formats they need.
In conclusion, while the lack of definitive data does make it difficult to know how many people going to college are using (or could benefit from) alternate formats, students with disabilities are protected by law against discrimination and technology is available to remove many long-standing barriers to accessing information in a variety of formats. So the question is not if these students will be fully integrated into the mainstream, but how soon?

AIM Commission Report
eTextbooks and Multimedia in Higher Education 2012

Short Takes

eTernity Initiative for Educational Textbook Standards
This new initiative defines open interoperability standards for the European digital textbook marketplace. The initiative aims to reshape the marketplace towards more open and interoperable architectures and formats - to increase access, affordability and the quality of learning in Europe.
eBooks: Great Expectations for Web Standards, New York, 11-12 February 2013
The goal of this W3C Workshop, organized in partnership with IDPF and BISG, is to bring together major players of the eBooks market, including publishers, standardization organizations, booksellers, accessibility organizations, etc., to bring eBook publishing to its full potential through standardization.
International Publishing Conference in Copenhagen, June 13th-14th, 2013
"Future Publishing and Accessibility" highlights the latest developments in the fast evolving digital publishing industry and the perspectives for users with special needs. The multi-faceted conference is a forum for an open dialogue across different related industries and geographical borders.


The Accessible Publishing Newsletter is published monthly by the AccessText Network
Our address is: 512 Means Street, Suite 250, Atlanta, Georgia 30318

The AccessText Network (ATN) was started in 2009 by the Association of American Publishers to help students with print-related disabilities by making it easier for US colleges and universities to request electronic files and permissions from publishers.

AccessText Network: Improving College Textbook Accessibility
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