The AltFormat campaign - Noel Duffy
With help from Sir Steve Redgrave, Sally Shaywitz, David Blunkett and even Martin Luther King, Noel Duffy looks at how an altformat service can be evolved to deliver vision and print impaired readers, accessible curriculum material, on time. The following is an extract from Noel's talk.
Altformat in a nut shell
The altformat campaign's focus is on people with print disabilities – people who are either visually or print impaired. Altformat is arguing that this group has the right to live in a transparent information age. That means that books, newspapers, pamphlets, signs, lecture notes, information at work, utility bills – that all communication is accessible.
At the moment only 5% of standard text books (one book in every twenty) is available in any kind of alt format. Despite the DDA and the DED only 11% of dyslexic school goers are aware that they can get assistive technology to help with their reading and writing
Why Sir Steve Redgrave is interested
He’s interested because he understands the difficulties associated with learning, when reading is holding you back. Sir Steve was especially persuaded by research at Johns Hopkins which shows an almost 40% improvement in exam results when children with reading difficulties receive their learning materials in combined text and audio.
Dr Sally Shaywitz is the leading dyslexia practitioner in the US. She had these observations:
- Young children from seven upwards shift from predominantly learning through listening to learning through reading
- A large vocabulary is the most powerful influence on reading comprehension
- A child normally learns 7 words a day or a staggering 3000 words a year
- Books offer three times as many interesting or complicated words as even the most educated speaker, so...
- Reading is vital
- Research shows the poorest readers (Child readers in the bottom ten percent) read for less than one minute a day, an average child reads for 4.5min a day, while child readers in the top ten percent read for more than 20 minutes a day. This equates to only 8,000 words a year for the poorer readers; 282,000 words a year for average readers and 1.8m words per year for the better readers. In other words it takes the poorest readers six months to read what the best ones read in one day.
- The implications for learning are enormous but neither the school system nor the Government have identified that for some children there may need to be a different way
Sir Steve believes all children should be taught to read – neither he nor we want to suggest anything other than this.
The requirement for altformat, for people, with vision impairments is self evident and will not be explored too deeply in this paper.
Our experience shows visually impaired students may benefit from multiple solutions depending on whether they are blind or partially sighted, in fact even depending on when they lost their sight.
Altformat – the Current situation
A Couple of weeks ago I received an invitation to write to David Blunkett to explain about altformat and, amongst other things, to give him an overview of the shortcomings of the current system. This is what I’ve learnt from speaking to students and professionals and from my own observations:
- The positive side is that the industry is staffed with bright, enthusiastic caring people but
- This is outweighed by the negatives:
- the service is fragmented
- Because of copyright law - work practices are archaic (evidenced by the proliferation of scanning)
- The service is under funded to meet its obligations (evidenced by the nature of requests on the VI Forum)
- The service doesn’t meet the requirements of the disability Act or the Disability Equality Duty – only 11% of dyslexic schools goers are even aware assistive technology exists
- Because of lack of specific funding – school governing bodies pay lip service to accessibility legislation
20% or 1%
Sir Steve Redgrave understands that by seeing the interests of the low vision and low literacy communities side by side, a compelling set of numbers present themselves to support the aims of personalised learning. He could not be more right - ultimately a 20% problem is more material than a 1% problem and more effort and resources will be applied to rectify it.
If "I had a dream"
Taking a leaf out of the Martin Luther King philosophy on civil rights, let's dream for a moment about what might be done!
- Imagine a library that holds all the raw files in an electronic format -this doesn't need to cost one penny extra because the publishers have to create electronic files anyway.
- Now imagine how much more efficient you were than two minutes ago when you didn't have these electronic files - no scanning for a start.
- Next imagine a tool exists to convert these electronic files into Braille or large print or audio or Daisy or just into Word – and to do it automatically.
- Now, I want to you to imagine you are each running a department like the IT department in your school:
- Imagine it is properly staffed and funded
- You can afford to have proper tools
- You can afford to go away on professional training days
- You can afford to offer student training, not just on assistive technology, but help them to transition effectively to further education or to the world of work
- Imagine a professional body of altformat professionals serving the needs of print impaired
The possibilities are endless.
National problem – does it deserve a national solution?
- The problem is a national problem. Access to books, whether someone is visually or print impaired, is needed across the country
- the disability act and the disability equality duty are national requirements
- findings from work carried out by RNIB, the Scottish Executive, findings in the US, research in Austria and many others suggest we need a national repository of electronic books.
- National, regional and local transcription centres are needed to convert these electronic files into alternative formats.
- There needs to be a local service to convert all other materials such as periodicals and handouts into alternative formats.
- There needs to be ring fenced funding to support these requirements
In summary there needs to be a national infrastructure and there needs to be sufficient funding.
Is this ever going to happen?
We are writing regularly to MPs.
Steve Redgrave appears on TV, radio and print media fairly regularly.
The altformat website is raising the profile of these issues and is getting 4,000 around visitors a month.
It's all good but it's not really good enough!!
A national solution needs parliamentary support.
The MPs' Reaction
The majority of MPs either don't respond or try to divert the issue to a different department. Some suggest that since this is not a problem that's coming from the grass roots, there is no problem!
Some MPs do care but they need help – they need parents and teachers and support professionals to make noise.
What can we do?
We should ask ourselves one question:
Can we deliver the same service to a child, with a visual or print impairment, at the same time, as to a sighted child, without a print impairment?
If we can’t do this, we're failing under the disability act and the disability equality duty.
If one of our children is not getting the service he deserves we should inform our MPs - not once, or twice, but every time!