Avoid lawsuits – Incorporate accessibility into curriculum development

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Accessibility is the key to student success!

Often, Faculty approach me during the summer to discuss academic accommodations because they are thinking ahead and want to brainstorm ways they can meet the needs of the students in their upcoming classes.  Granted, not ever students is going to have a documented learning disability, but it is important for faculty to prepare themselves prior to the start of the semester.  The recent ruling against the University of California at Berkeley is a strong indicator that providing academic accommodations to students shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of the disabilities services office.  To accomplish this, Faculty should try to view their curriculum through the lens of the Universal Instructional Design theory, and be intentional about making their textbooks accessible.  The suggestions listed below will not apply to all students seeking accommodations, nor should it be assumed that students with the same diagnosis will benefit from the same accommodations.  The suggestions below will help faculty identify accessible reading material, and offer strategies for adopting textbooks.


Many of my students have a free Bookshare  membership, which provides them access to all Bookshare’s audio books.  Bookshare has also gone mobile, and has a $20 app that can be purchased in iTunes.  The app allows members to stream  audio-books on their iOS device.

Why is this important information for Faculty?  When choosing a textbook, one might search the Bookshare database to identify texts that are already in accessible audio formats.  By choosing accessible texts, the instructor can decrease the amount of time and energy that is spent converting the textbook to an accessible format.  If the desired textbook is not available, the instructor can inform Bookshare and ask that the text be added to the Bookshare database.  In the past, I have also purchased a textbook, sent it to Bookshare, and had an accessible audio format available to my student in a matter of days.  Since this was done through my role as the disability services provider, I am available to help facilitate this for Faculty as needed.

*The student mentioned above was featured in one of Bookshare’s blog posts, and I would recommend that you check out her interview.

Learning Ally

When I first started working at Eastern Nazarene College, Learning Ally was the primary resource that my students used to obtain accessible textbooks.  A few years ago Learning Ally offered a free membership for college students, which was sponsored by a government grant.  Unfortunately the free membership program was disbanded when the grant money dried up, and the number of students at my institution using Learning Ally has declined.  The current membership fee is $119, which is not a bad price considering that most students spend at least $80 on a single textbook.  Learning Ally has over 75,000 audio books in their database, all of which are read by humans as opposed to digital voices.  The audio book can be delivered through several different mediums, which is a great improvement over the delivery methods available four years ago.  Learning Ally is a viable option for accessible audio books, and they provide a plethora of support on their website.


It is important to get to know each of the major publishers so you can understand their policy on making accessible formats of textbooks available to students.  The more accessible a publisher, the more likely I am to use one of their textbooks.  Each publisher is different, but most publishers have a form or department that you can work through to request an accessible format of the textbook.  More often than not, these communications will need to be initiated by the disability services office so the publisher can verify the student’s disability.  This task can be somewhat tedious, but extremely beneficial to the student who is comfortable using a screen-reader to consume typed text.

This is just the beginning

As I stated at the beginning, the suggestions here are rather limited and will only benefit a niche group of students.  However, it is still important for Faculty to understand the resources available, and build their curriculum around accessible texts.  If the texts are not currently available, faculty can be a strong advocate for their students and request that publishers make their content more accessible.  Journal articles are another concern, and something that I will address in an another post.

How do you make your texts more accessible?  Do you consider accessibility when adopting a textbook?

Let’s connect on Twitter @EA_Clark.

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