Textbook Accessibility

At The College of Saint Rose, the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities coordinates academic support services for students with disabilities, such as extended time on tests, note taker support, and computer technology. Please seek their guidance and support in choosing texts for your course.

The following is informational only, and is intended to help faculty create more universally accessible content using the tools and technologies already provided by Information Technology Services. It is the responsibility of the course instructor to deliver course content in a way that is accessible by students using assistive technology.


Since the development of e-readers, many major publishers will release textbooks in a digital as well as print format. Digital books are often more accessible, and even students without disabilities may prefer digital textbooks because they are less expensive and lighter than print versions (among other benefits).

However, smaller publishers and independent publishers may not release digital editions. Your students will appreciate being alerted to this, so that they can make other plans.

Custom textbooks can create similar issues. Publishers may not be willing to release custom textbooks in digital editions. Make sure to let your students know where the chapters were taken from, so they are able to purchase multiple textbooks if need be. Additionally, make sure you know what the original page numbers are, so students are able to complete reading assignments successfully.

Electronic Reserves and Scans

Electronic reserves are an accessibility grey area: they can make life easier for students with disabilities, but they can also be inaccessible. If they are scanned in and saved as image files, a screen reader cannot recognize that there is text. This problem can be remedied by using software with Optical Character Recognition, or OCR. OCR software scans a PDF and translates it from image to text, so that screen readers can decipher them. Adobe Acrobat Pro DC offers Optical Character Recognition support, and computers in the labs should be equipped with Acrobat Pro. Simply open a PDF in Adobe Acrobat Pro, and then from the File menu, choose to export to Microsoft Word or Accessible Text formats.

The ideal solution, from an accessibility and copyright standpoint, would be to check with the librarians if your desired text is already online somewhere, and assess the accessibility of that particular resource.

However, please keep in mind that databases themselves are not necessarily accessible websites, so students may need to go to librarians for help. Similarly, many documents in databases are in two-column formats, and are therefore difficult for screen readers, which read left to right, to parse.

Scanning textbook pages into your Canvas course should prove accessible if you save them as PDFs and run them through Acrobat Pro, and screen reading programs should be able to parse the text. This essay from UVM is slightly dated, but still has valuable information relating to electronic reserves, PDFs, and accessibility. The “cleaner” a PDF is (no smudges, not a copy of a copy, etc), the easier it is for OCR software to translate.

In a similar vein, course packs are often difficult for blind students or students with low vision. Course packs that are composed of copies of copies of old newspaper articles are not “clean” scans, and are therefore difficult for OCR technology to discern. If your course pack contains documents like the United States Constitution or laws, it can most likely be found online, in a format that is more accessible to screen reader users. Consider assembling a series of links in your Blackboard course instead of creating a course pack.