Higher Education and Disability e-Text
Interview with Ron Stewart about the Association on Higher Education and Disability e-Text Initiative.
Listen to this interview in MP3 audio format (external link).
Beth: Hello and welcome to Disability 411, last week we talked to Janice Carter and Susie McKinnon about the Bookshare program. And, as part of the conversation they mentioned some of the initiatives that are going on to help make books that are used in collages and universities more easily accessible. And so, as a follow-up interview today, I have Ron Stewart from the Association on Higher Education and Disability whose going to be talking to us a little more in depth about some of the things that are going on, some collaborations between collages and universities and the publishing industry that will hopefully make it a little bit easier to get text books in alternate formatting for students who need that for access.
Ron, for those few people out there who aren't already familiar with your name, why don't you give us a little introduction on who you are and what you do?
Ron: OK. I'm Ron Stewart. I'm currently the technology advisor for AHEAD, the Association on Higher Education and Disability. Just recently, I left Oregon State University where I was the director of the Northwest Center for Technology Access, which was a research and development project that looked at technology, disabilities, and adult education.
Basically, at Oregon State I was responsible for access technology for the Oregon State University system, for people with disabilities.
In my position now at AHEAD, I'm chairing the E-Text Solutions Group, which is a national effort (or a North American effort) to make sure students with print disabilities have access to their curriculum.
Beth: And that's why I wanted to talk to you today. There's some exciting things going on which this initiative. Why don't you tell us a just a little bit about what it is and what you all are doing, and what's been accomplished so far?
Ron: Over about almost two years ago, I had came to the realization that we were spending a lot of institutional resources converting print materials - text books, curricular materials, notes, those kinds of things - to electronic formats for our students with print disabilities.
At the same time, we were also involved in discussions with the American Publishing Association on the whole issue of how can we get our text books from them in electronic format so we're not reinventing something that already exists.
As a result of that, AHEAD approved a strategic initiative that's called the E-Text Solutions Group, to work with the publishing industry and the advocacy associations - the NFB, AFB, LDA - to focus on this issue and come up with some real world solutions. Because we've been having this discussion for several years and not making any progress.
As a result of that, we convened a national stakeholders meeting in December of last year in New York City. And basically had all the significant stakeholders around a table, and I asked the basic question, "How can we fix this, and what do we need to do to make it happen?"
As a result of that, the American Association of Publishers implemented their own strategic initiative and hired national consultant from the publishing industry who's an expert on digital media. And he and I in collaboration are leading this effort in the U.S.
Beth: Working in college with students with disabilities, we do have a lot of students who need to have their print materials in some sort of alternate formatting and it's constantly a struggle. As you said, there is a lot of duplication. We might produce a book in an alternate format, and another college produces that same book. And, it does take a lot of time and a lot of effort.
So, is part of what you all are looking at a way to reduce that duplication of effort?
Ron: What we're really looking at is looking at a variety of model building activities where we can look at how the different types of post-secondary institutions work, what academic cultures are, how students interact with the curriculum.
But number one to end as much as we can the redundant duplication of books. We have indicators that there are books that have been done hundreds of times by different institutions around the country, in particular at the two-year level.
One of the issues though is that we don't work together anyway. Each institution is kind of autonomous, and at the same time we're talking about the publishing industry where each publisher is autonomous. So what were looking at is. OK, what can we do that is palatable to all the parties involved in moving us forward in the solutions. And we're moving there relatively rapidly.
One of the common misconceptions on the part of the DS community is that the textbooks are already in electronic format, and why can't they just give us the files?
Beth: I was going to ask you that question, yeah.
Ron: The answer is, they are available in digital format if they're in current print. But that digital formatting is not particularly constructive for our purposes, because it consists of multiple layers of images nested on each other and the text that we want is only one part of it.
The publishers are in the process of retooling their manufacturing process, and this is partially being driven by the international DAISY movement. DAISY is a format for accessible digital talking books, and it's based on a computer programming language called XML, which is where all digital information is moving. But the publishers are just starting on this process.
Parallel activity is going on is the NIMAS effort in K-12 education as part of Idea 2004. NIMAS is the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standards, which is part of federal disability law for K-12 education, which mandates accessible textbooks.
So, over the course of the next year, two years, all the textbooks being used in K-12 education will be available in a format that we could also use. The question that often comes up at this point is. Why can't we do the same thing at post-secondary? And the answer is: It's an issue of scale. There are between 1, 500 and 2,000 textbooks used nationally at the K-12 level. There are between 10,000 and 15,000 textbooks used in post-secondary ed. The system for one won't work in the system of the other.
One of the things that the consultant for the AAP and I are doing is we are both on the advisory council for NIMAS. We're looking at that effort and trying to figure out what are they doing that we can use to solve the problems at the post-secondary level.
Beth: Students in the K-12 system are going to be using NIMAS. They kind of become use to that sort of accessibility. I would expect that they then would go to college and expect something similar. So the colleges should start preparing for this.
Beth: Close enough.
Ron: But, it's an accessible digital talking book. NIMAS does not include all the information we need at post-secondary. At this point, it excludes a lot of tables and graphs. It excludes math and science. But those things will all come in time.
What we need at post-secondary is something that we're calling NIMAS Plus. We may not need the full-blown DAISY standard, but we at least need a certain level of structure in the files we're getting. We're rapidly moving towards the point where we'll actually be able to get structured files from the large publishers.
Once we're at that point, we'll be able to use those files - they're not going to be end-user files. What I mean, these are not files you're going to be able to give to the student unless the student is a very sophisticated user of technology. What we'll have to do in the disability services community or actually even better as institutions approaching our requirements for accessibility, is do some conversion on those files so they can be used by students.
Beth: I know that a problem we sometimes face is getting any sort of digital file from a publisher. Sometimes it's difficult to find out whose the right person to contact, getting a hold of that person, knowing how to request a book in digital format, and then sometimes what we get requires a lot of work on our part before we can give it to the student. Do you have any suggestions on how to make this process a little easier?
Ron: Actually, as a result of some of the things that came out of the meeting in December, what we call the long hanging fruit, is things that we could do now, that weren't going to be contentious between the various parties involved. One of those is a national look-up service. And that is a new website the AAP has put on their website that lists all their member publishers and who to contact and where the links are to their request forms for textbooks from them.
And currently, it's in beta. The beta was launched the 15th of August. The website is off the AAP's main website, which is publishers.org (external link). What you can do there is go in and search by title on a textbook and it will bring up to you who it is that is the permissions holder that you need to contact. A little bit down the road, the link will be there, the email will be there, so you can go directly to the form.
The other two things that we're talking about with the publishers that they're not quite ready to do because of the resources involved is - one is a national database of e-book holdings. Who has what book and what format that it's in. There's a variety of issues around this, but we're hoping we can get to point where right now you can go to APH (American Printing House for the Blind) and look up books in the LUI database and it will tell you what's there. Or you can go to the AMX database from the California Community College and you can look up holdings that they list and then you will get the contact information for who has that material.
Unlike at the K-12 level where there's going to be a national repository for these files - the publisher's files - the only thing we're going to see at the post-secondary level is a look-up service. Not a repository.
We're looking at models: subscription models, membership models, those kinds of things. This is all in discussion.
The other thing that we've asked the AAP to do is: one of the issues we keep coming up with is what changes are there in a given title between the third edition and the fourth edition and how do we get access to that information? Well, the publishers have that information. That information is readily available to them. What we've asked the AAP to do is: can we get access to that information as well? It's currently under discussion, but it looks like it's going to be very doable, where you can go in and look up the - I call them addendum notes. They have a different name for them, but it's the same thing. Where I can go up and look: what are the changes between the third edition and the fourth edition?
Beth: So, if you've already adapted the third edition, you can look and say, "The only changes are we've changed the homework problems at the end of the chapter on these chapters; we've added this section." You wouldn't have to re-scan or readapt the entire book. You could just go and make those tweaks.
Ron: Yeah. Something happened a couple years ago at Oregon State that was: we had a third edition of physics textbook done, and the fourth edition came out. Unbeknown to us, the fourth edition had one more chapter than the third edition. If we had known that in advance, all we would have had to do is that additional chapter. The rest of the textbook was the same.
And also, let the student how the page numbers had changed. Not to actually go in and redo it just to reorder the page numbers, but give the student the information that they needed. Our goal is we provide the student with the independence they need to be successful students and not be so bogged down in the day to day minutia of gaining access to their materials.
Beth: I know that some places have gotten frustrated with trying to work with the publishers to get the format and have decided its just easier to - I'm just going to scan the book myself, I'm not going to contact the publisher. Are there problems with that?
Ron: There's actually a lot of problems with that, because one of the things that does is - the publishers don't get the information they need to know what the level of demand is. One of the things that come in this national discussion is those of us in the disability community (both advocates and disability providers) is saying this is a crisis. We know from some research we did through AHEAD that the average institution is spending $32,000 a year on e-text production, or about $1,000 per student.
A lot of institutions aren't doing a lot, so what that tells us is a few number of institutions are spending tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on e-text production for their students, and producing the same thing again and again.
So, we see the crisis on our end, but if we're not making the request to the publishers for the textbooks and also giving the publishers feedback on what it is they are providing, how are they going to know what the need is?
Beth: So, when we get a file from a publisher that has so much mark-up - and I call it garbage - that it's practically unusable, that it's really important that we let the publishers know it's unusable, otherwise they'll just keep sending us the same stuff. Right?
Ron: Right. What we know from the data - and unfortunate the first E-Text study is a little rough. We're in the process of trying to implement this second round of it, and hopefully we'll have that done pretty soon. What we know from that is about 35%-40% of the requests to publishers are being responded to in what we call a timely manner, which is basically less than 15 days. Of the files that people are getting, somewhere between 30%-40% are actually usable.
So, we have all these varieties of frustrations for the DS providers, and to be honest with you, I can see where they're coming from. That it's just quicker to not even bother with the process with the publishers. But once again, then the publishers don't know what it is you need. And you're also have some intellectual property issues that go along with it, because under a strict definition of copyright law, we're not allowed to produce e-text. We do so under disability law. Well, the publishers - you are using their intellectual property. They have the right to at least know what's going on.
So, there are a variety of issues that are coming together. What I would ask you, as the chair of the E-Text Initiative from AHEAD is that always request permission from publisher. If you know you're going to scan it anyway, most of their pages now have a block on it that says, "Don't send file." What that tells the publisher is that you're doing this book. You're scanning it. That's good information for them to have, because then they know what the volume is.
The other thing that came up just recently in a second meeting in New York, just a short time ago with some of the same groups of publishers, is they are willing to allow us to share files, which is a big step forward. But they only want sharing files through the national authorized entities, which are people that operate under Chafee. That's RFB&D, Bookshare, APH. So, we are making progress.
The other thing I should probably say is, and this may get a little ruffled feathers in the publishing industry: if you don't have time to do the requests for the books when you're first doing, at least make sure you do them when things calm down a little bit. That we really ask that you do a request for every book, for every student, and then give feedback to the publishers on what the quality of the material is. The most common thing you're going to find is no page numbers. That's part of the production process of textbooks. Page numbers are on a different layer of the textbook file than the text.
As part of this discussion with the AAP, we've also asked that a mechanism be developed so that we can give feedback to the publishers on what we're getting. Because we've had large national publishers say that, "We've delivered X number of files to the disability offices last year, and never heard anything back there were problems." Well, we're so busy doing our jobs that we're not going to take the time to tell somebody that what you're giving us is garbage. Our normal operating practice is we just want to ask again. And we need to try not to do that.
Beth: Just to sort of summarize: what you would like people to do is to make sure they are going through the official request process for every book, with every student. And one thing I have heard you talk about before, is that when you fill that out you don't put the student's name on there - you use your name for confidentiality reasons. Even if you're going to scan it yourself, that you still put in the permissions request so that they see there's a need, and if they provide us with the textbook electronically that we provide feedback on what good as well as what we were not able to use.
You can't fix what you don't know is broken, so they need to get that feedback. It's better to put in this extra time for the long term. Maybe it takes us a little more time right now, but for the long term picture it's really important that everybody does this so the publishers see the huge crisis that we're seeing and hopefully make the process a little bit simpler.
Something else I wanted to touch on: you mentioned that one of the publishers is OK with sharing files as long as we're going through one of the major approved resources. So, what you're saying is that if I have scanned in a book, and my friend at another college needs that book, I can't just give them that scanned copy of that book.
Ron: No actually, you can't. You need to talk to the Institutional Council to find out what exactly you're supposed to be doing - because you can't be operating underneath the radar here. You need to have your administration know that you're doing this so it doesn't come back as a surprise to them if you actually get a contact from a publisher - basically, what you'll get is a cease and desist letter.
The other piece on this whole process is typically, on these request forms, you're not going to get the files that we think you really need. You're going to get Word files or PDF files. As part of our national training effort, what we're asking people to do is really look at moving your alt format production processes to DAISY, the digital talking book standard. Well, the publishers aren't going to give that to you as an option typically on their website, so in the comments, we'd like you to fill that in so they start hearing as well that we want DAISY.
The other piece, getting back to the confidentiality issues, and this actually came up today on the de.liou.us server, where a publisher was demanding the name of a student and saying they had an educational need to know. My position - I'm not a lawyer - is that no, they don't have an educational need to know. Number one, they aren't part of your educational institution. Use your name and your contact information; don't use bogus information. We need to be honest here. And fill the forms out with that.
I'm also hearing from some publishers that they're requesting receipts. I would not be sending the receipts for the textbooks to the publishers. What I really recommend you do, if you really need more information about this, is go to the AHEAD E-Text website. We've developed a series of best practices training, and a lot of your questions will be answered by the training materials on the AHEAD website.
The other thing that we're doing, nationally, is that I'm doing e-text institutes every other week for the foreseeable future. And if you can get folks together in your regional area, we'll come in and give you the best practices training on e-text production, which will answer a lot of these questions for you and additionally will give you a really up-to-date snapshot of what's going on and where we're at.
I would also recommend that you check the E-Text website from time to time because I routinely update it with where we are currently. Other than that, if you have specific questions I'm sure my contact information is going to go on this podcast. Send me an email. I have no problem responding to your emails, and I'll do my best job to answer your questions.
Beth: As you know, if you listen to this show, I always put lots of links into the show notes for further information. I don't typically put the guest's contact information without their permission, but since Ron has given his permission I will do that.
I really appreciate you taking the time. I know this is a big issue, and a big concern for people. I know that a lot of places, as you say, working under the radar. It's important that we all do the same thing. We're working together for a better system in the future. So, thanks for taking the time to be us today.
Beth: Well, I have to say that working in the post-secondary arena, I've learned quite bit from this interview with Ron, and I'm pretty excited about some of the things that are coming about. I'm a little surprised that we can't do things that many schools do, such as sharing scanned files and things like that. I think this was a really informative interview for me and as well, I hope, for you all.
But that will wrap us up for the week. Don't forget to check out our website at disability411.jinkle.com. There you can read the transcript of today's show, listen to all of our past shows, and read their transcripts. You can find out how you can help promote and endorse this show. Sign up on our frapper map, join our forums, and don't forget you can always email me with feedback or ideas at email@example.com. Or you can call and leave and leave a comment on our voicemail line at 281-668-4662. And we now have an old-fashioned snail mail address as well that you can find on our site if you just want to write me a letter.
Source: This interview has been extracted from disability411.jinkle.com (external link) with kind permission from the author.