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On Producing Accessible Course Material - Engelen, Jan

Jan Engelen, Christophe Strobbe, Bert Frees
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Heverlee-Leuven, Belgium


In this contribution we describe briefly what accessible documents are, which ones are needed with respect to the type of reading/writing impairment of the final user and how they can be produced. The two major production paths nowadays are: (1) the use and conversion of existing electronic documents and (2) alternatively, scanning of existing paper documents.

In the latter case all of the structural content as well as tables, mathematical formulae, complex layout etc. generally is lost making it very difficult to use them as course material. In practice (examples given below) scanning is only to be used as a last resort or when immediate availability is requested.

1 Introduction

In many educational situations, PDF (sometimes PowerPoint) is seen as the major distribution format for electronic course material. However not all students can access and handle such documents. This group of reading/writing impaired students consists of persons with a visual impairment, blindness, dyslexia or a motor handicap that does not permit the manipulation of printed material.

To these categories of students (and staff members) other types of documents have to be made available. This is required not only by national and European law, but also by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of persons with disabilities [article 4, paragraphs (f) & (g)]1.

2 How many types of accessible documents are in use?

A short overview of the major types (together with some positive + and negative - comments) follows:

  • • Pure text files
    • + easy to produce, universally readable on all platforms
    • - no structure for navigation, systematic reading not possible, symbols and most foreign characters wrongly displayed
  • Microsoft Word files (DOC)/OpenOffice.org (ODF) files•
    • + are generally usable on most platforms, also for blind students, but care should be taken to maintain structure. Guidelines for accessible MS Word files do exist2. This format is preferred by blind students in Flanders also because software for handling for mathematical formulae is available (SensoMath).
    • - complex tables and pictures need alt-text encoding
  • HTML
    • HTML files (i.e. web pages) are almost as usable as word processing files. A huge literature does exist on producing accessible web documents and sites3. Mathematics can be included if MathML is used.
  • LaTeX
    • Latex files are basically text files, not meant for human reading due to the extensive number of codes put in between the text parts; however, Latex is sometimes used to represent linearized mathematical formulae.
    • + is produced mainly by academic staff; good source format for large print production (as it is a word processing format)
    • - internal format is much too complex for human reading of mainly text based documents
  • PDF
    • + generally readable and usable if tagged PDF is used (this is NOT standard if a document is produced by scanning/OCR)
    • - editing and adding notes is complex (and/or expensive), not directly usable for students with dyslexia

Note: authors need to know which PDF export options are to be checked in order to export into tagged PDF from Microsoft Office or OpenOffice.org. There are no tools that export LaTeX to tagged PDF.

  • KES (Kurzweil) and enriched PDF (Sprint)•
    • These formats are generally used by students with dyslexia. They are based on PDF but post-processing is necessary to get logical spoken output after-wards (cf. ADIBIB project below).
    • + very easy to handle in the appropriate reading software. K.U.Leuven is equipped with sufficient licences of both programmes
    • - two different reading suites are widely used in Flanders.

Editing the documents or adding student’s notes is complex.

3 Production paths for accessible documents

3.1 Common path

Basically there are two major starting points for the production of accessible doc-uments.

a) The use of existing electronic files. However in most cases some manual intervention or conversion will be needed (cf. above)

b) Scanning the paper documents and applying OCR to produce text containing files. Is the most rapid approach, but only admissible for simple text documents

Retyping texts (e.g. those with a very complex layout) is still necessary in some cases. This is clearly the most expensive way.

3.2 Specific paths

As stated above in most circumstances an extra conversion of source documents will be needed to come to a really accessible document. The number of approaches is huge and ranges from simple (e.g. RTF output of a .doc or .docx document) to very complex (Latex to correct mathematical braille e.g.). Describing all procedures is out of the scope of this contribution, but below a few approaches (focussing on students with a visual impairment & students with dyslexia) are detailed.

4 Approaches

In the K.U.Leuven Digital Accessibility Support group for students, both scanning and source document conversion (requiring agreements with publishers) have been used in parallel. For Braille production, sometimes retyping is necessary. Several groups were involved in these processes.

From 2012 onwards a new organisational structure will be implemented.

Type of disability

/ Type of material

Course material (created by lec- turer)


(printed by pub-


Reader of printed articles and/or book chapters provided by lecturer

Visual impair- ment (esp. blind)

Accessible digital version should be provided; ideally in word processor format (e.g. Word or OpenOffice. org), which can

be converted

to Braille, large

print or synthetic

speech (daisy).

Accessible digital ver-sion should be pro-vided; ideally in word processor format (e.g. Word or OpenOf-fice. org), but usu-

ally only (poorly accessi-ble) PDF is available. PDF is not supported by all screen readers (for blind students). Con- verting poorly accessible (un- tagged) PDF to Microsoft Word leads to very

low-quality Word doc-uments. For this reason, PDF documents are often converted

to plain text files (TXT), with one file per chapter.

If the materials are not avail- able in a digital for-mat, making these materials accessible is a very time-con- suming and ex-

pensive proc-ess: OCR, add-ing heading struc- ture, recre-ating logical reading struc-ture and tables, adding

alt text to im- ages, re-moving repeat-ing head- ers and footers, reposi-tioning foot-notes…

This  is   typically done  by  special- ised     conversion centres,   on   spe- cial request by the student.


Type of disability

/ Type of material

Course material (created by lec- turer)


(printed by pub-


Reader of printed articles and/or book chapters provided by lecturer


Accessible digital version should

be provided; ideally in word processor format (e.g. Word or OpenOffice.org), but accessible

(i.e. tagged) PDF is also accept- able. Software such as Kurzweil can work with PDF (e.g. read it aloud).

Digital version is re-quested from publisher; this is usually PDF. Nowadays also tagged PDF is possible (if Adobe InDesign is used properly when layouting a book).

Scanning and OCR are the most minimal requirements. These electronic versions have to

be converted into KES or Sprint (e.g. using ADI- Bib software, cf. below)


4.2 ADIBib (Belgium)

The ADIBib consortium was created a couple of years ago in order to provide ac-cessible electronic documents for primary and secondary school use in Flanders. Thanks to their collaboration with the Vlaamse Wetenschappelijke Uitgeversgroep (and support by the Ministry of Education), they can get the electronic versions of the schoolbooks (PDF, possibly Adobe Indesign) from the publishers, often even within a couple of days.

ADIBib’s primary focus is on students with dyslexia, but they are expanding their support to all other reading and writing impairments. ADIBib caters for two types of conversions (scanning is NOT used anymore):

  • type A: unprocessed PDF (mainly for large print or if type B does not exist yet)
  • type B: processed PDF (tagged PDF, Kurzweil format, Sprint format) ADIBib has obtained a specially developed conversion tool (PDF editing software – from Jabbla company) to produce these formats, but manual inter-vention remains necessary for correcting structural scanning errors (facilities for doing so are built into the conversion tool). Social watermarking is used for (moderate strength) copyright protection

ADIBib is a not-for-profit organisation funded by the Flemish Ministry of Education. Conversions are mainly done by volunteers (parents, school teachers...). More on ADIBib can be found in their recent presentation at the AEGIS 2011 conference4.

4.3 Danish central office for Educational material (DK)

They produce accessible documents for the whole Danish educational system and currently have 14000 books on file. Scanning/OCR is only used for urgent requests where students are willing to adapt the output themselves. Only two weeks can be gained from scanning as this is the time span needed to collect books from the pub-lishers and have them turned into truly accessible books5.

4.4 ADOD project (International)

Recently the Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC) in Toronto has started an information collection project on the use, usability and accessibility of Office type documents. A large web database6 has been created. For the moment most of the info is in English but some of it is also available in Dutch. More details about this project in their AEGIS2011 slide presentation7. This presentation also details their “12-General Techniques” for accessible document creation and also pays attention to cloud based Office documents.

5 Acknowledgements

This work was partially funded by KU Leuven’s Support funds (AMF).


1 http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=264adfa.
2 http://www.kuleuven.be/digitaletoegankelijkheid/documenttoegankelijkheid/inleiding-documenttoegankelijkheid.

3 See for example the K.U.Leuven guidelines at http://www.kuleuven.be/digitaletoegankelijkheid/webtoegankelijkheid/inleiding and a selection of other guidelines at http://www.kuleuven.be/digitaletoegankelijkheid/links/links/richtlijnenweb.

4 http://www.slideshare.net/aegisproject/20-adibib-aegis-paper.

5 source: discussion at Aegis conference Dec. 1, 2011.

6 http://inclusivedesign.ca/accessible-office-documents.

7 http://www.slideshare.net/aegisproject/28-accessible-digital-office-document-adod-project.

Pro plný text, prezentaci a videozáznam se prosím přihlašte.