2001 Conference Proceedings

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The Appropriate Provision of Alternate Media: A Current Focus of the California Community Colleges

Marcia Norris
Training Specialist
Wayne Chenoweth
Training Specialist
High Tech Center Training Unit
of the California Community Colleges
21050 McClellan Road
Cupertino, CA 95014


The California Community College system (108 colleges) is in the process of funding and implementing a system-wide solution to provide alternate media to students with disabilities in a timely and appropriate manner. As a result of a system-wide compliance review done by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in 1996, and reported on in 1998, the Chancellor's Office of the California Community Colleges has diligently worked to develop new systems and solutions in order to improve access to electronic information and alternate media by students with disabilities.

The initial focus of these new strategies was concentrated on developing standards for making distance education and all web based educational activities accessible. The Distance Education Access Guidelines for Students with Disabilities were released in August 1999. A second major set of guidelines, the Guidelines for Producing Instructional and Other Printed Materials in Alternate Media for Persons with Disabilities was released in March 2000. The guidelines are landmark publications and serve as a model for other states and countries developing their own standards.

The intent of this presentation is to describe the breadth of the current efforts to develop and implement necessary changes needed to bring about a system-wide means of producing alternate media for students with disabilities, with particular emphasis on media for students with vision impairment.

Definitions of Alternate Media

Hard copy text can be converted to electronic text, to braille material, to large print, or to audio. Electronic text, or "etext" can be provided in standard formats: e.g., plain text, Microsoft Word, HTML Documents can be translated into braille and provided in different ways: hard copy, a braille formatted file, or access to online documents via refreshable Braille display. Documents can be reformatted for large print and provided as hard copy, word processed files, or in Portable Document Format (PDF). Audio material can be provided in a number of ways: audio tape with a human reader or with synthetic speech; recorded to CD, MP3 or DVD with human reader voice or synthetic voice, or a real-time human reader can provide the audio version of text.


Creating alternate text formats is not that difficult; what is difficult is converting hardcopy text to a form that can be converted to an alternate media. Consider that any person needing a form of alternate media must first scan and convert the hardcopy text to an electronic format. Multiply the hours spent scanning and converting text by persons globally, and one discerns that the total is an extraordinary amount of human time. And, ironically, almost all hardcopy text which is scanned into electronic format originally exists as electronic text.

An Extrordinary First Step

Visionary legislators in the California Assembly were successful in getting an important assembly bill passed. Similar to one in Texas, it requires publishers to provide an electronic format of any required textbook or materials needed in an alternate format by a student. This bill, AB422, became effective on January 1, 2000, and not only provides for alternate media for text, but also for alternate media for such required educational materials as educational software programs, video disks, and video and audio tapes.

The Basics of AB 422

This bill applies to all public postsecondary educational institutions in the state of California. Each sector: the community college sector, state college sector and UC sector, is charged with developing at least one center which will be the primary agent for requesting electronic formats from publishers. This center will also be the major source for distribution of alternate media. Once the center has the electronic form of a book or material, it is expected that all other requests for that material be directed to the center. AB 422 also provides the possibility for an individual campus to set up an alternate media center. It is thought that the model of a central alternate media center will provide a more efficient mode of larger volume, streamlined delivery in the provision of alternate media, especially braille materials.

AB 422 requires publishers to provide text and educational materials in an unencrypted electronic form. The electronic versions must retain their "structural integrity. . ., be compatible with commonly used braille translation software and speech synthesis software." Acknowledging the current technological difficulty involved in converting some aspects of text pages, "'structural integrity' need not include nontextural elements such as pictures, illustrations, graphs, or charts." Additionally specialized mathematics or science materials are also exempt from being supplied in an electronic format "until the time software becomes commercially available that permits the conversion of existing electronic files of the materials into a format that is compatible with braille translation software of alternative media for students with disabilities."

The Availability of Funding for Alternate Media Production

California, in the year 2000, has benefited extraordinarily from the dot.com economy. In June 2000, the California Community Colleges received 12.4 million dollars in the Governor's Budget to implement the provision of accessible online instruction and campus-wide implementation of assistive technologies, as well as the provision of alternate media, including video captioning and descriptive narration.

Funding for an Alternate Text Production Center

At the time this paper is being written, a Request for Applications (RFA) for the grant to develop the statewide Alternate Text Production Center (ATPC) is out. The grant will be awarded in December 2000. Grant descriptions of some of the responsibilities follow.

This center will provide alternate text materials according to a three-tiered priority system. Primary consideration will go to priority 1 documents: those materials "which are required and essential instructional materials, including library and learning resource material, such as textbooks, reference materials, assigned reading, and other 'on-demand' materials which require rapid turnaround and a high degree of accuracy which cannot be efficiently or effectively produced locally on campus." As currently structured, all ATPC services to California community colleges are free.

Priority 2 documents "are noninstructional materials such as financial aid documents, student handbooks, college catalogs, class listings and other information which may not be efficiently or effectively produced locally on campus."

Priority 3 materials are those requested by "other public educational institutions (such as California State University and the University of California)." Priority 3 materials will be on a fee-for-service basis.

Funding for Extra Staff

Specifically included in these monies was 6.4 million dollars in ongoing staffing which will provide each campus with support in three basic areas: accessible web design, implementation and support of assistive technologies on a campus-wide basis, as well as support for alternate media production. It is expected that the campus person who supports alternate media production will be the primary campus liaison with the statewide alternate media center.

Funding for a System-wide Braille Production System

The Governor's Budget also includes money for each campus to purchase a designated interpoint tractor feed braille embosser and sound cabinet, a designated scanner with standard scanning software, and a designated braille translation software program. This standard set of equipment was recommended by the Alternate Media Committee, a committee formed by the Chancellor's Office to structure the ways in which the system could best respond to the OCR findings concerning the provision of alternate media. This committee is also responsible for the development of the Alternate Media Guidelines

The ATPC and Campus Embossers: an Integrated System

It was decided that the most efficient way to produce braille on a state-wide basis was for each campus to have the same embosser, the same braille translation software, and utilize the same type of scanner and scanning software. This redundancy will have several effects. The ATPC can format documents in a standard manner as each campus has a brailler with identical settings. It is also expected that locally produced braille files will be easily shared with other campuses.

Training and technical support will be provided by the High Tech Center Training Unit (HTCTU) The ability of the HTCTU to provide an ongoing standard training for campus staff who will be working in the area of braille production will ensure effective use of these new resources now being made available. It is projected that technical support issues will be significantly reduced because the ubiquity of similar equipment is expected to generate redundant support issues.

An update of these dynamic, ongoing changes will conclude this presentation in March, 2001.


California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office Documents:

Distance Education Access Guidelines for Students with Disabilities


Guidelines for Producing Instructional and Other Printed Materials in Alternate Media for Persons with Disabilities



RFA Specification No. 00-0080

Alternate Text Production Center

Chancellor's Office

California Community Colleges

Student Services and Special Programs Division

Disabled Students Programs and Services Unit

Issued October 6, 2000

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