Aggies that struggle with standard textbooks will get the resources they need to succeed.

Texas A&M will join several universities to develop a shared system of their individual catalogues of accessible textbooks so that the colleges can give disabled students a wider variety of high-quality readings. The shared grant was awarded to A&M in March by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and established a project for a federated accessible textbook repository. The grant will fund the project for two years and includes several groups that will be working on research, the projects website infrastructure and  best practices of producing quality textbooks. The process is still in its beginning stages of development as the universities begin to share their current collection of accessible textbooks.

Assistive technology coordinator in Disability Services Justin Romack is spearheading the project at A&M and said that the amount of students that need accessible textbooks has shown that there is a problem with providing students with an equitable education.

“Every semester, we get about 350 to 500 requests from students with disabilities for textbooks that aren’t accessible,” Romack said. “If the student has dyslexia or a visual disability and reading a standard print textbook is difficult, it’s challenging; it poses an access issue.”

According to Romack, the process of translating a print textbook into a text-to-speech format is time-consuming, and there is a chance that others have done the work before.

“We have a process where we take print text and find a digital version of that text or create our own digital version of that text that students can then use reading software to have that textbook read out loud,” Romack said. “If you think about it in a micro level, that’s a lot of work here, but then expand that to institutions across the entire country and the world; we’re all doing a lot of work to make sure textbooks are accessible to students. The problem is we’re all probably doing the same work because there is no system that tracks what has been made accessible.”

Psychology junior Tiffany Reck serves as the team lead under Romack and said that this grant is a step toward streamlining the process and getting students the textbooks they need.

“I think [the grant] will be a great way to get recognition out there for the need for this kind of technology as well as expanding our network to be able to get accessible copies,” Reck said.  “It’s pretty expensive and time-consuming to take that book from print; to buy it from the book then to cut and scan it and take it through all those processes. So with this database, we’ll have much more accessibility for textbooks for students. It’ll be less of a time constraint on students getting their textbooks. If we’ve got that database and all those books in one central place, you get books to students quicker.”

According to Romack, sharing resources across universities will diversify their library of books and allow them to focus on creating more high-quality textbooks for students with disabilities.

 “We’re doing a lot of work, and it’s likely that we’re duplicating work across the country, and it just doesn’t have to be that complicated,” Romack said.

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