How to Request Accessible Textbooks in College

How to request accessible copies of textbooks in college for students with visual impairments and print disabilities.

The other day, one of my friends texted me with an urgent question asking how to request accessible textbooks in college. Their professor had just announced they would be using a new textbook for the rest of the semester, and they had no idea how they would be able to find a textbook on such short notice in a format that they could read with their visual impairment. While it’s best to get textbooks after the professor announces them at the beginning to the semester, many accessible textbooks are only a click or request away. Today, I will be sharing how to request accessible textbooks in college for a variety of formats.

Check to See What Formats the Textbook is Available in Online

Whenever possible, I prefer to purchase my textbooks in digital formats through Amazon or a similar website and read them on my iPad or computer. With Amazon Kindle eBooks and eTextbooks, I can increase the font size and have the book read out loud on the application, or even read out loud by Amazon Alexa. I also like being able to rent books if I won’t be reusing the textbook for another class, such as with my general education requirements. The publisher’s website may also offer textbooks in accessible formats for download at no additional cost.

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Look at Accessible Online Libraries such as Bookshare

Bookshare is a free service for students in K-12 and college institutions that allows them to receive books in a print disability friendly format such as ePub, audio, Braille, and more. Bookshare has over half of a million different titles and quite a few textbooks, so users can download up to 50 titles a month at no cost. I used Bookshare to download required readings for my English class and was super excited to have everything in an easy-to-access format.

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Request an Accessible Copy from Disability Services or Assistive Technology

Sometimes, there is no digital copy of a book available for download. My college’s assistive technology office has a service that allows students to submit textbooks and course materials for them to be converted into an accessible format and accessed with the technology of their choice. I submitted a copy of the book I had purchased on Amazon with a screenshot of the receipt to the assistive technology office, and they had a large print digital copy ready for me in less than a week- my preferred document format. I highly recommend doing this before the first day of classes if possible so that they have time to process requests. Some colleges may require students to go through the Disability Services office or an assistive technology specialist to get copies of accessible textbooks.

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Ask the Professor if They Have the Book in Another Format

One of my professors wrote their own textbook in a difficult-to-read font, so I asked them if they had a copy of the book in another format so that the font could be adjusted. My professor then modified the book to include large print in a font that I could read and improved the contrast on some of the graphics so I could see them easier, which was totally awesome. I had this professor before so they were familiar with my vision loss, but if they weren’t I would have sent them a message with my preferred font size and type.

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Look Up the Book on the Campus Library Database

Some textbooks are available on the campus library database free of charge for students to access from their own computers. This was the case for my history class, and I was able to easily access information with a screen reader or increase the font size in my web browser. If it had been around at the time, I also would have used Immersive Reader to access my history textbook.

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Read the Hard Copy with Assistive Technology

If everything else is chaotic, sometimes the only option is to read the hard copy of a textbook with assistive technology. This happened with a graphic novel I had to read for a class, so I decided to use my video magnifier and follow along in class that way. If I didn’t have a video magnifier, I would have used my phone or an old-fashioned magnifying glass.

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Final Thoughts

Learning how to request accessible textbooks in college is an important skill for students preparing to attend two and four-year colleges and can help tremendously with teaching students about assistive technology. I’m fortunate to attend a college with an awesome assistive technology department that helped me learn all of the different ways to find books, but even if that isn’t the case for other students, accessible textbooks can be found after a bit of searching. I wish you the best of luck!

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes,