Wednesday, January 27, 2010

E-text books and digital libraries for college students with learning disabilities (post-secondary)

By Zahavit Paz
Co-founder LD Resources foundation (LDRF)
January 2010

Today we have lots of assistive technology choices—digital readers, e-books, and audio books, to name a few. However as a student, I was constantly trying to solve the problem of accessing my e-text books through converting files and trying different types of assistive technology. My personal journey, which so heavily depended on technological aids, made it obvious that postsecondary educational standards for e-text accessibility were not available.

This realization intrigued and motivated me to support other students with similar challenges. I helped them locate their textbooks and research books in e-text format. We often had to resolve issues when the necessary books were received in files that needed to be formatted, or the size of the book was too large. Due to my struggles, it became clear that educating students and staff on assistive technology should be part of LDRF’s mission.

In spite of many positive changes, students with disabilities still face many difficulties and challenges. For example, most colleges do not have any special policy about e-text syllabi for people with disabilities. It's left for the classroom professors, who often are not familiar with the process of applying for digital textbooks. This is part of the reason college students with disabilities drop out at a rate that is nearly twice the rate of students without disabilities. Providing access to a book list and class syllabus 3-4 weeks before a semester starts could partially counteract this problem. This is particularly relevant for new textbooks or out of print books. If this were college policy, it would give students ample time to locate and order their books in digital format. Establishing this requirement is a needed college accommodation. That’s why LDRF’s mission is to facilitate and support students in their endeavor to achieve academic success.

Where can I find textbooks in E-text format as well as digital libraries?
Today’s students have several options:
*Students with learning disabilities can register directly with libraries and get free membership. These library memberships require proof of disability.
Free libraries:
1. Bookshare: A resource for college/university students (postsecondary students)
• Bookshare is the world’s largest online digital library for people with print disabilities. Bookshare seeks to increase accessibility by making books available for free!
• A downloadable reader is available for PC and MAC (the licensing is limited to the use of digital books);
• Bookshare’s University Partnership Program works to significantly expand the collection of books and textbooks for postsecondary students;
• This organization is easily approached and will make books available upon request for its members. Cherie L. Miller Is the University Program Manager at Bookshare (The Benetech Initiative). She is very accommodating with special requests. Her email is:;
• You must register and follow the procedure on their website
2. The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
• Free membership to all qualified registered members.
3. The Andrew Heiskell Library (in New York City)
4. BARD: Braille and Audio Reading Download
• Downloadable Books and Magazines.
5. Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic®
• RFB&D®, a national nonprofit, volunteer organization, is the leading accessible audiobook library for students with disabilities, such as visual impairment or dyslexia;
• Titles available in every subject area and grade level;
• RFB&D's digitally recorded audio textbooks help students who are challenged by the printed page.
• Please note that the books are audio books only.
6. Blio eReader (soon to be available from Kurzweil)
• All types of books available (free and for purchase) with free eReader software;
• A library of more than one million titles.
7. Project Gutenberg
• More than 30,000 titles available;
• Many formats to choose from;
• Contains books with expired copyrights.

*The E-reader consumer market is another option where you can purchase and download digital books online. The trend in the publishing industry is to give students options to regular printed books by offering the cheaper alternative of downloading books. This is good news for students with learning disabilities.
Ordering online digital books
E-text digital books are available for download for various e-readers, such as’s Kindle. Whatever e-text device you use, or plan to use, make sure you check if text to speech is available for the book you are ordering. allows you to purchase books for your mp3 player or i Pod.
Today there are many other sources for digital books. One could just Google the book title and check/research if it’s available in digital format.

Written by Zahavit Paz Co-founder of LD Resources Foundation
and Jason Luchs, Director, Student Disability Services at The New School


  1. Thanks for the great information. For many of my students, e-books are integral to their success. With the realization that students with disabilities are the fastest growing minority on college campuses today, it should be mandatory for professors to release book lists a month early. I am all for PROactivity.

    I run a list serve for parents of high school students with disabilities that distributes information to help make postsecondary transition more successful.

  2. Great information about availability of e-texts.