I do my class work on the computer - I do my French on it ... my handwriting is horrible but on the computer it is nicer. The laptop helps because when it reads it out it picks up my spelling mistakes and reads them all ... it's very helpful ... If I do loads and loads of writing it helps. I use it in English and RE ... it tells me the spelling a little bit. ... It makes me feel more confident about doing my work. I'm more confident I'm actually going to get something done. Instead of just sitting there only about reading my own writing and saying listen I just cannot write it, I can just type it up - it's a lot easier - I feel I believe in myself more now than what I did - I just couldn't do it - it's just much better.
Dyslexic Pupil

A photo of a pile of text books with a red apple resting on the top

Summary of Project Results

Detailed results can be found in the Project Report.

This project has created electronic versions of over 130 commonly used textbooks. A legacy of the project is to make these books available to every learner with a print impairment (including dyslexia and visual impairment) in the UK. Schools and local authorities should check the list of books that can be ordered through RNIB before producing textbooks themselves.

At present, pupils, teachers and parents all struggle with the lack of textbooks and supporting materials in accessible formats that can be used by pupils with visual or print impairment.

This project was conceived to assess whether the provision of textbooks and teaching materials as electronic files, along with technologies to convert and ‘read’ them,  to visually and print impaired pupils and staff in schools and local authorities that support them (‘Specialist Producers’) could provide a new and sustainable model.

Laptops with access and conversion technologies and MP3 players were given to 40 pupils aged 11-14 in the north of England. Conversion technologies were also made available to 10 ‘specialist producers’. Staff and pupils were trained in the use of software.

Operating within the terms of a Copyright Licensing Agency VI Licence, 132 textbooks were converted into structured electronic files in MS Word format using a standard specification to help facilitate easy reading and conversion, and these were made available to both schools and specialist producers. This involved setting styles for headings and other content, using a standard 18 point font for standard text, modifying the layout into primarily a linear flow and including image descriptions.

Schools and specialist producers used the technology and materials provided as well as electronic materials already available within the schools from the end of 2009 and throughout 2010, and the impact of this has been evaluated. The textbook files were also made available to RNIB for onward distribution to a wider group of schools and specialist producers, and evidence from RNIB's report is included below.

The evaluation was led by EA Draffan from the University of Southampton. Questionnaires, face to face interviews with both staff and pupils, and online data captured from information gathered throughout the project were used.

The project confirms that making teaching materials available to print and visually impaired pupils in an appropriate electronic form along with access technologies to read them can make a significant difference to their reading, writing, confidence, development and inclusion. The same electronic materials can also provide substantial productivity savings for staff in schools and local authorities who support, in particular, visually impaired pupils.

Pupil Trials

"I was astounded at how the 11 to 14 year old pupils behaved in the interviews, especially bearing in mind I was an outsider who they had not met before. The body language as well as the words showed what a positive impact using the technology had had on them. They were happy, willing and able to talk about what they had achieved. All pupils interviewed said that they would have been devastated if they had had to give up their laptops at the end of the project (they didn’t!). The impact was so much broader than we had expected, contributing to increased achievement, self-esteem, writing as well as reading and attendance according to those teachers we were able to contact."  EA Draffan, University of Southampton

Pupils, with support from staff and trainers, quickly chose the technology and settings that worked best for them and had no problems in accessing a variety of documents including textbooks and school worksheets.

Dyslexic pupils benefited most from using text to speech software, both for reading and writing. The software was able to read MS Word documents and accessible web pages directly. 74% changed the settings on their computers, most changing the font size, the colour background or using highlighting of text as it is read out loud.

Visually impaired pupils used conversion, magnification and screen reading, and digital talking book software. They were much more used to using access technologies than those pupils with specific learning difficulties including dyslexia.

On a scale of 1 to 6 (low to high), 90% of all pupils interviewed rated the value of using a computer for their schoolwork as a 4-6, 48% rated it as 6. 40% of pupils commented that they felt they had improved in their schoolwork.

As a direct result of the project, teachers have reported that:

There was no deterioration in any of the above categories. There were some differences between dyslexic and visually impaired pupils. 71% of dyslexic pupils showed an improvement in reading. 84% of visually impaired pupils showed improvement in confidence and 58% showed improvement in homework completion.

Specialist Producer Trials

Most modification of materials into accessible formats is done from scanned hard copies of textbooks and by creating hard copy outputs in large print or Braille for pupils. There is evidence of increasing use of publishers’ electronic files as well as files produced by other specialist producers, usually sourced from the Becta VI-Forum Listserv or more local groups. The number of books converted by Specialist Producers varies widely from a handful to 40-50 each year. The RNIB report states that some convert hundreds.

It usually takes between 0.5 and 10 days effort to reproduce a book depending on its complexity and whether scanning is required, but this can increase to around 30 days for the most complex books. This can take anywhere between 3 days and 5 months in elapsed time. One Specialist Producer has been adapting Science GCSE Revision Guides since Easter, aiming for one module a week, and this was still ongoing in November. Even where PDF files are provided by publishers, significant editing of layout is usually required to produce an accessible version.

The provision of the project’s electronic files to specialist producers reduced the time taken to prepare alternative format textbooks by in excess of 90%. In most cases, preparation time was reduced to less than 1 hour.

"Without the MyTextbook Word file, this (a Geography book in 24 point) probably would have taken more than 10 times longer to reproduce." Specialist Producer

"Immense time and effort is saved by having books in a usable electronic format as the time taken to modify a book can be months." Specialist Producer

"8 days work turned into an hour's work."  Specialist Producer

The RNIB survey reports that "100% of respondents reported that the electronic textbook files had saved them time. Respondents highlighted the benefits of cost savings, and benefits to students directly in having quicker access to the books."

As well as massively reducing times, no problems were experienced in using the files and they were considered much better than publisher files which are usually PDF. The RNIB survey confirmed that "93% of respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with the provision of electronic files in Word format."

The RNIB report also states that "100% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that it would be valuable to have more accessible textbook files like the ones produced from this project."

There was a preference for breaking books into chapters or modules which makes them easier to convert and faster to provide to pupils who are usually working on one chapter at a time, and also makes them easier to handle as file sizes can be very large.

Recommendations

The project recommends that the majority of English School curriculum materials are made available for print impaired pupils in a cost effective and sustainable way, and that schools receive the guidance and support from technology and service providers to enable their print impaired pupils to fully utilise these resources. This will require a coordinated cross industry effort from a range of stakeholder organisations – schools, local authorities, charitable organisations, publishers, technology and service providers, professionals and government.

In particular, it recommends:

Project Challenges

The project faced a number of challenges, but we do not believe these affect the validity of the results. In fact, had they not been encountered, the results would have been even stronger. These challenges included delays in provision of technology and textbooks, technology issues within schools, logistical and planning issues with extremely busy schools and the weather! A specific textbook issue was the variety of different versions and ISBNs that exist for the same book title and the need for precision in identifying the correct books required. These issues should be borne in mind for any future initiatives. The variety of schools involved in the project gave extremely useful comparisons. In particular, those with a local champion, a coordinated approach and local IT support were best able to adapt and benefit most from the technology and files.