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ARCHIVED - The Council on Access to Information for Print-Disabled Canadians

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Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers (CADSPPE)


CADSPPE is the Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers in Post-Secondary Education. The 100 members of CADSPPE provide comprehensive support services for college and university students with a variety of disabilities. A significant percentage of these students are print disabled because of problems related to visual acuity, because of difficulties in the processing of print because of a learning disability, or because of conditions which prohibit the physical manipulation of text. The students we work with on a daily basis are as motivated to learn and succeed as their peers. Yet for many of these students printed text is a barrier to gaining knowledge.

Our members, faced on a daily basis with trying to ensure equal access to learning for these students, have developed a piece-meal approach to the problem. Access varies across the country depending on local conditions related to financial resources of both students and institutions, availability of personnel, and the availability of technology and knowledgeable technological support. Because education is a provincial rather than a federal responsibility, funding also varies across the country both at the institutional level, and for individual students. The result is that some students may have reasonable access to academic materials while others have poor access. This differential must be reflected in success levels and, indeed, may determine whether students decide to even attempt studies at the post-secondary level.

In this environment some post-secondary institutions run their own, non-standardized, books-on-tape service. Others rely heavily on the services of the U.S. organization Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, though this organization rarely has texts on Canadian topics. Others find material from electronic sites such as Amicus, or others that offer materials in audio format. Some are fortunate to have access to the latest scanning and brailling technology on site. Still others can access provincially based alternative format production facilities. A few have begun to call individual authors and publishers in an attempt to obtain books in electronic format. A round table of CADSPPE service providers held in June 2000 concluded that none have a system they would consider satisfactory for their students. All the searching and production takes time. Often this means students do not receive texts until well into the semester, and sometimes they never receive them. Hence the need for a comprehensive, Canadian based, system where we, and our students, can access texts in alternative format in a timely manner. This also implies access to appropriate technology.

We cannot over emphasize how important an issue this is for both our members, our students, and for society as a whole. Not providing adequate access to post-secondary level text materials deprives a section of our community, who are otherwise capable of benefiting from such an education, of this opportunity. It therefore deprives society of educated, contributing individuals.

The National Library of Canada has a role to play in providing access to print materials for all Canadians. They also have a leadership role to play in working with libraries in post-secondary institutions to ensure that materials in accessible format are available through inter-library loan, and that data base and other research materials are available in an accessible format.

CADSPPE wants for its professionals and students:

  1. A definition. Agreement on a definition that covers all the legitimate print-disabilities which entitle a person to access to alternative formats. The definition must be broad enough to encompass the students we actually see in our daily work: not only those who have a visual impairment, but also those with motor impairments, and learning disabilities.

  2. Universal standards for electronic text and digital audio and the conversion to the various different accessible formats. At present there are no standards for preparing e-text materials and for dealing with included non-text items such as graphs, charts, pictures, etc. There must be national (and preferably international) agreement on technical specifications that once established, will allow the broadest access to materials.

  3. Resolution of copyright issues. Recording or scanning of text, and the production of large print materials already a reality. A clear definition of copyright issues related to the educational milieu must be accepted and disseminated.

  4. Action. We would like to see legislation which ensures that Canadian publishers must create a standardized text format electronic copy of all publications, at the same time that the printed text is published. Similar legislation has been enacted in other jurisdictions (Texas and California, for example); it can be done here. We suggest that this file could be submitted to a central clearinghouse, as suggested in the 1998 Report to the Book and Periodical Council. The existence of the electronic file would permit the easy and accurate production of the publication in the various alternative formats. This broadened access to information would benefit not only people with disabilities, but the entire population. The National Library is the logical body to maintain the central clearinghouse.

  5. Coordination. The National Library should take on the role of central coordinator of existing and newly created resources. Some texts already exist in alternative formats, but they are scattered around the country and are often hard to find or to access. Some post-secondary institutions and alternative format producers have catalogues of their holdings. Under the action proposed in #4, new archives in electronic format will be created. At a minimum, information on already existing materials should be gathered, and included in the archives. Attempts should also be made to gather copies of existing materials, have them checked for appropriate production standards, and, when appropriate, have them added to the collection at the National Library.

  6. Publicity/Education. There must be wide dissemination of information about the program undertaken by this committee so that library and information specialists in colleges and universities, library science schools, service providers and consumers are aware that materials are available.

  7. Ongoing co-operation: A formal mechanism should be created so that, on an on-going basis, discussion on the process and implementation of access to print materials is continued. CADSPPE should be included in these discussions.

What are we Proud of:

That, despite the difficulties, our students graduate well, and move on from post-secondary education and make a contribution to society.

Barriers:

Other than those mentioned in the presentation two areas are of real importance:

  1. Lack of electronic access to scientific and engineering materials

  2. Ongoing problems with the use of inaccessible websites. This is becoming a very real problem as universities move to using electronic classroom and communication materials.

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