Yesterday, several people asked me if I had heard a news story on NPR reported from station KCUR in Kansas City, MO titled, “Paper Cut: Missouri College Embraces E-Textbooks.” I had not been tuned into NPR, but they had sent me a link to the online version. While reading the article, I was thinking to myself things like; “That’s very misleading” and “Why don’t they mention accessibility with the e-textbooks?”
The article mentions 2 types of e-textbooks: some are “just on-screen versions of the bound copies. But the newest books are interactive.” It does not specifically say which version the Northwest Missouri State is using; but since CourseSmart is also mentioned, a students says, “I like having the book in front of me,” and because there is a statement about the students renting both a laptop and the e-textbooks from the college, I am surmising the 1st type of book has been adopted.
If one were looking at this adoption as a “green” and money saving strategic move, perhaps the article provides enough information. However, if one were reading the article with accessibility as the strategy, one might have some questions.
In the statement “digital versions of books that can be read off of a computer screen,” the word “read” is misleading. Does that mean a screen reader can read the text or that a student without vision or reading difficulties can read the text?
I wonder how the digital distribution works as it is not the process as described by CourseSmart; where each student “rents” or “subscribes” a specific book from CourseSmart and the student is given a choice of having the book downloaded onto his/her laptop or accessing the book online from any computer with an internet connection.
It doesn’t mention any printing restrictions from the college. Can students who prefer to read from paper and not from a screen, print out the text? This could defeat the “green” aspect of the move. If printing is restricted, it sounds a little like reverse discrimination. Students with a preference for a print version don’t even have the option at this point for a legally guaranteed print version of a text, but even if they did, they would then subjected to the same hassle and delay students with a documented disability experience when they attempt to obtain a digital version.
This post is not a slam against the reporting on NPR because most if not all articles I have read about e-textbooks do not mention accessibility at all. Some publishers have developed special software to open a digital book, take notes, highlight, and other great study skills tools but do not have a built in screen reader and other screen readers can’t access the text. I’m just making the point that students with LD needs are not being heard as clearly as the people who are concerned with costs or the environment.
DISCLAIMER STATEMENT: The views and conclusions expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Landmark College or its officers and trustees.