Accessible formats

by Jean Hutchins, B.D.A. Contact Magazine, September 2011, with later additions.

Accessible does not just mean an electronic version of a printed document. It means an unprotected version in a format:

  • in which you can set your own visual preferences of color, font style and size, spacing;
  • available to text to speech for listening, with text that sounds sensible.

For formatting recommendations, see B.D.A. Dyslexia Style Guide. and Writing for TTS.

1. The Seeing Ear.
2. Books for All.
3. Load2Learn.
4. JISC TechDis.
5. Publisher Lookup UK.
6. Conversion software.
     6a. My DocStore.
7. Adapted Digital Question papers.
8. Universities lectures on-line.
9. Wiley accessible formats.
10. European ‘book famine’.


1. The Seeing Ear

Seeing Ear Logo

This is a library of books of all kinds for all ages. They are free to download by, or for, anyone who is print-disabled. Guests can see the lists of books, but you have to register to be able to download books. There is no subscription and no return system.

As allowed by the Copyright Licensing Agency, (C.L.A.) The Seeing Ear will scan any book that members send, or lend to them, that is not already available in a suitably accessible format, and add it to the library. They produce text files or Word files, as plainly as possible. They do not retain the layout of the printed books.

These are Intermediate files, for users to convert to Braille, large print, audio or DAISY books. Or users can access them as they are, and listen with their own text to speech software, or set their own visual preferences for font size and color, background color, line length, line spacing etc.

Seeing Ear says that it costs about £50 to purchase, scan, proof-read, catalogue, store and distribute the average novel.


2. Books for All

Books For All logo

Books For All logo

The Seeing Ear worked with CALL Scotland (Communication, Access, Literacy and Learning) on the Books for All project, providing adapted learning materials in accessible, alternative formats for pupils mainly in Scottish schools who have difficulties reading ordinary printed books.


3. Load2Learn.

My Textbook logoA similar project for England was the My Textbook project. See the Word file of her report published in B.D.A. Contact magazine May 2011, and a Powerpoint presentation as a PDF file. See the summary and final report of this project.

A second phase of this project is Load2learn for which Dyslexia Action and the R.N.I.B. have received support from the Department of Education for a partnership project to create a fully accessible and dyslexia friendly website-based service. This free service provides downloadable curriculum materials in a range of accessible formats for schools, for young people who cannot read standard print. Their web has good guidelines for creating accessible formats and samples of intermediate files.

4. JISC TechDis.

TechDis was a UK advisory service on technologies for inclusion. It had guidelines for creating and using accessible formats. Alastair McNaught collaborated with five organisations, including the British Dyslexia Association, to produce a document about Technology to support reading. See our version Word and PDF files.


5. Publisher Lookup UK.

TechDis and The Publishers’ Association have set up a list of UK publishers who will provide educationalists, mainly in higher education, with electronic formats. These are usually in pdf format and have limited accessibility; hence the need for conversion of files to versions that accommodate reader preferences better.


6. Conversion software.

Many programs can scan from paper to PDF and Word, and convert PDFs to Word, text, and sometimes ePub and Mobi (for Kindle) and synthesised audio files, with varying efficiency, partly depending on the complexity of the documents. See details in Audio Files.


6a. My Doc Store.

Iansyst has been awarded government funding to explore the quick and easy conversion of files with users’ preferences between all forms of digital resources.

For the MyDocStore project, Iansyst will work with the Electronics and Computer Science department at Southampton University and Raspberry Software Ltd.


7. Adapted Digital Question papers.

Call Scotland logoCALL Scotland and The Scottish Qualifications Authority (S.Q.A.) report on the uptake for 2013 shows increasing school use of Adapted Digital Question Papers for candidates who require Assessment Arrangements. There is evidence that digital papers provide a more independent and less costly alternative to readers and scribes. Numbers increased in 2013 to 4,291 requests for 1,677 candidates in 188 schools. (There were only 876 requests in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.)

Digital ExamsS.Q.A. supplies the papers in PDF format on CDs. Pupils with disabilities, or additional support needs, who meet the criteria, can use Text to Speech and Speech to Text to answer questions on-screen, or they can listen and write on paper, (especially for maths). This is much easier, cheaper and more consistent than teachers in each centre scanning the papers for pupils or providing readers and scribes.


8. Universities lectures on-line. May 2009.

Dyslexia forum members listed several universities which post all lectures on their web site. Students can download the lectures and print them out and refer to them without having to make notes during lectures or record them. Join Dyslexia forum or search the JISCmail archives.


9. Wiley accessible formats. May 2009.

Wiley journals are available to purchasers as accessible PDF files. Dyslexic students can have free electronic versions of course text books. Educational institutions can get permission to create electonic copies of any journals that Wiley cannot supply. We hope that other publishers will follow this excellent example.

10. European ‘book famine’.

European Blind UnionIn June 2011, The European Parliament, under pressure from the European Blind Union and the European Dyslexia Association (to which the B.D.A. belongs) agreed a resolution. Unlocking the potential of cultural and creative industries, among other things, calls upon the European Commission to agree an international treaty to make more books available in accessible formats. Article 69 of the resolution ‘stresses the need to address the “book famine” experienced by visually impaired and print-disabled people’.

© B.D.A. New Technologies Committee. July 2015.
Copies of this page may be made providing it is unchanged and the source is acknowledged.

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