A new national online database is making it easier and quicker for college students with print-related disabilities, including blindness or dyslexia, to obtain the alternative textbooks they need for their academic courses.

The AccessText Network contains more than 300,000 textbook and novel titles available in alternative formats. To date, more than 650 colleges and universities have enrolled. The Association of American Publishers (AAP) developed the database in conjunction with the Alternative Media Access Center (AMAC) at the University of Georgia.

The membership-based online system provides quick access to information about publishers’ course materials and expedites how institutions can request electronic versions of course materials for students with print disabilities or obtain permission to scan these course materials.

The new system is fulfilling orders for students in about four days on average, said Christopher Lee, AMAC director.

"Every day we’re adding more textbook titles and signing up more schools to participate, making us more effective for both disability service providers and students," he added.

Since its debut on Aug. 24, the AccessText Network has fulfilled more than 3,000 requests for alternative-format textbooks from member schools, including Toccoa Falls College and Valdosta State University.

Colleges are federally mandated to give students with disabilities equal access to course materials. But to do that, colleges must contact the textbook publishers for each individual student with a disability, request an electronic copy of the text, and convert it to a format that suits that student’s disability. The process is lengthy and often prevents students from keeping up with course readings and assignments.

"Before AccessText, students with disabilities often waited weeks or even months for these alternative textbooks, sometimes getting their materials only after their classes were well under way," said Tom Allen, AAP’s president and chief executive officer.

The AccessText Network is being funded through donations from publishers Bedford/St. Martin’s, W.H. Freeman, and Worth Publishers; Cengage Learning; CQ Press; McGraw-Hill Education; W.W. Norton; Pearson; Reed Elsevier Inc.; and John Wiley & Sons. AAP’s higher-education member publishers donated nearly $1 million to fund the nonprofit venture.

The network uses QuickBase, an online database powered by Intuit Inc., to let publishers and colleges effectively combine their resources.

Mike Shuttic, president of the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD), called AccessText Network "a significant step forward that combines stakeholder resources and addresses the rights of students with disabilities. I encourage every member of the disability community to coalesce around this solution, ensuring its success."

The resource is the result of combined efforts that included talks with disability service professionals, a review of current disability practices, and exploration of existing distribution systems, he added.

AccessText Network also reduces paperwork associated with copyright protection and lets colleges and universities share resources and helpful information. Members are able to track requests, request approvals, and fulfillments online. The database’s web site says members have access to publishers that produce 92 percent of the college textbooks on the market.

Currently, the database is in beta-testing mode and is free to schools, said an AccessText Network representative. The network has yet to decide whether it will adopt a flat fee or a fee based on size, but AAP and AMAC expect fees for institutions to be between $300 and $500 per year. The database will continue to be free until July 2010, developers said.

Links:

AccessText Network

Association of American Publishers

Alternative Media Access Center