The Alternative Formats Service

Welcome to the Alternative Formats Service blog.  Here is where you can find out what Alternative Formats are, why they are important, and how the service can help you.  If you need any information on how to produce your own accessible versions of documents or teaching materials, or how the Alternative Formats Service can source or produce accessible reading material, this will all be outlined on this Blog.

What is the Alternative Formats Service?

The Alternative Formats Service exists to help support the University of Dundee to provide information suitable for all people.  Being able to pick up a book and read it is something that is often taken for granted; how would a visually impaired, blind or print disabled person be able to read that same book?   This is where the Alternative Formats Service (sometimes called Alt Formats or AFS) comes into play.  We can help to source or produce accessible versions of these reading materials, so that everyone is able to access the text they need to complete their work.

The service is a collaboration between University of Dundee IT (UoD IT), the Library & Learning Centre (LLC), and Disability Services to deliver support for all University departments, staff and students.

Although a lot of work is completed by Alt Formats for students of the University, such as materials on their course reading list, it is not just for that purpose, and Staff are welcome to use the Service as well.  However, it must be stressed that our service exists only for reading material, and not for teaching materials.  Producing accessible versions of books is a very time intensive process, and there are limitations on how much time we have.  If you need help with creating your own teaching materials, or converting your existing ones to make them more inclusive, please see the relevant page of this blog for more information.

How does it work?

Students are usually referred to the Alternative Formats Service through Disability Services, and they can then submit requests to the staff that work for the service.  It is important that this referral system is used, so that we can make sure that we are producing content for the people that really need it.

When a request comes in, the book or journal paper is sourced, usually purchased from Amazon or another supplier.  The books are then scanned entirely, to ensure that all content is captured.  It is then that we can start to edit the document to ensure all the information is captured and made accessible; all content in the book can be accessed by anybody.  In some cases, this is harder than others.  An example of this is when creating content for blind users of the service, as all information, including graphs, charts and images must be given a text description so that they can understand the things they can’t see.  This process takes a very long time, although we do our best to get the content out to people as quickly as we can.

We can produce books in many different formats, which allows us to cater for lots of different people.  We can produce PDF and Word Document versions of books, allowing for users to easily change the font size, or have the text read aloud to them on their PC, as well as being able to produce braille and audio versions of books for people that require it.

The benefit to the University of us doing this process ourselves is that it is exceptionally expensive to get this done externally – it can cost up to £25 per page!  Now imagine the cost to get a 400 page book produced!  In an ideal world, everything would be accessible, but as that’s not the case, this is where the Alternative Formats Service steps in, and is why we are such a vital service for members of the University!

The Alternative Formats Service relies heavily on volunteers to produce the things we do, and without them the service would not be possible.  If you would like to volunteer for the service, please follow this link, or use the headings along the top of this page.

In Summary

We source and produce accessible versions of textbooks and journals for our print disabled students.  We also seek volunteers to help adapt books and reading material.