Module: E-Text: An Introduction to Alternative Format (Full Document)


  1. Introduction
  2. E-Text Reading Options
    1. DAISY
    2. Learning Support Software
    3. Text-to-Speech Audio
    4. Braille and Large Text
    5. Mathematics and Music Reading Options
  3. How to Obtain E-Text from Outside Sources
  4. How to Convert a Textbook to E-Text
    1. The Chaffee Amendment
    2. What You Will Need
      1. Plan for Output Options and Long-Term Storage
      2. Plan for Delivering E-Text to Students
      3. Document to Be Transformed
      4. Scanner
      5. OCR Software
      6. Proofreading
      7. Document Naming Convention
    3. Overview of the Process
  5. Legislation
  6. Resources
  7. Feedback


E-text is textual information available in an electronic format. This text can be read and interacted with on or by a computer. Given our ability to change or manipulate electronic information, e-text can be converted into several accessible formats to meet students’ various needs.

For students living with visual impairments or learning disabilities, printed formats can be inaccessible. Students who qualify with the disability services office on their campus can obtain electronic versions of their texts in alternate formats that better suit their needs. Although conversion of textbooks and other printed documents is a boon to students, it is time consuming and labor-intensive.

Course materials that are developed employing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles benefit all students, especially those with disabilities. Students may ultimately need their information in Braille, audio, text-to-speech, or DAISY talking books. With flexible electronic materials, creating these alternate formats becomes quicker and easier.

E-text Reading Options

Students today have options in the way they read and display e-text alternatives for their textbooks. A blind student might use a screen reader, while a student with poor vision may use magnification software. Others will use software that reads text aloud and highlights each word as it is spoken.

Following are several of the most common e-text solutions.


DAISY, which stands for Digital Accessible Information SYstem, is a widely used digital format for talking books. It was originally developed for people who are unable to read print, but it now serves the needs of a wider range of people. DAISY books offer flexibility, search options, and the ability to bookmark, making them a very powerful alternate format.

The DAISY Digital Talking Book consists of a collection of digital files which provides an accessible representation of the printed book for blind, visually-impaired, and print-disabled users. These files may contain digital audio recordings of human speech, marked-up text, and a range of machine-readable files.

DAISY talking books can be played on either specialized hardware devices or on standard personal computers. Hardware players offer a portable, relatively easy-to-use solution. Software-based players are generally more affordable and may offer more features, including the display of full text when available.

More information about DAISY can be found at

Follow these links to for a list of DAISY hardware reading options, DAISY software reading options, and tools for creating DAISY books. You will also find options for obtaining books in the DAISY format.

Learning Support Software

Learning support software takes a multifaceted approach to presenting print or electronic text on the computer screen, with added visual and auditory accessibility. It incorporates a host of dynamic features, including powerful decoding, study skills, and test taking tools. These tools are designed to adapt to each individual's learning style and promote active learning. For students who have difficulty physically accessing curriculum materials, learning support software provides a digital means of engaging with text, and supports students who use alternative methods for accessing the computer.

List of Learning Support Software

Text-to-Speech Audio

Many students benefit from having text read aloud to them. The process of taking textual information and converting it into speech is known as “Text-to-Speech” or TTS. TTS comes in many forms, and offers a variety of voice types.

While most learning support software products include TTS capabilities, the textual information they accept must often be supplied in a proprietary format. Fortunately, for those who do not have the budget or the time to convert their text into one of these specialized formats, there are options. Below is a list of free or inexpensive software tools for converting text to speech. In most of these programs, users copy and paste text into a “workspace”—a specialized text box or window—where it can then be read aloud. This type of tool is very effective for students looking for a quick method of having text read to them. It is especially useful when students are typing a paper or doing research on the Internet.

List of Free or Inexpensive Text-to-Speech reading software

Text can also be converted to speech in digital audio formats such as MP3 or Windows Media Audio. These files can be loaded onto most digital audio players, including iPods. Digital audio can be created from text files via specific software tools, or by some AT learning support software. Students have the choice of conversion using a variety of synthesized voices. These voices have improved greatly since the advent of Text-to-Speech, and no longer sound monotone and digital. Rate, pitch, and other voice attributes can be modified to suit each student’s preference.

List of Text-to-Speech MP3 creation software

Students also have a variety of playing options for textbooks converted to the MP3 format. Common software such as Windows Media Player, Real Player, QuickTime, and Winamp will all play MP3 files. Hardware players such as iPods and other MP3 players can also read them. MP3 files can also be burned to a CD and played in most CD or DVD players.

Braille and Large Text

The text of most textbooks is small—typically a font size of 8 to 12 points. When textbooks are available in a digital format, the font can be increased to any size to meet the needs of students with visual impairments. The text can also be converted and printed into other formats, such as Braille and large text.

Conversion to Braille can be especially challenging because it must be error-free. Since Braille uses the same cells for different purposes depending on the context, this level of accuracy is essential. Even slight errors can cause extreme difficulties in interpretation.

Once digital text is converted to Braille using special software, it can be printed using a Braille embosser, which stamps out the tactile Braille characters (with or without the corresponding visible alphanumeric characters for sighted readers).

Follow this link for information about Braille conversion software and embosser options.

Mathematics and Music Reading Options

There are alternate reading options available for subjects that require their own notation, such as mathematics and music. Depending on the discipline, Braille as well as computer based options are available.

For math, a markup language known as MathML can be used to display equations in a web browser. These equations can then be read aloud by a computer using Text-to-Speech. For users of Braille, a form known as Nemeth Code is available. Nemeth uses the standard 6-dot Braille format, but includes multi-cell codes that relate to specific mathematic notation. Institutions with graphic embossers may also choose to use the DotsPlus font. This form of tactile math differs from Nemeth since DotsPlus preserves the special representation of mathematic equations.

For music students, a company called Dancing Dots offers many software and service options for translation and conversion of sheet music into a Braille format.

How to Obtain E-text from Outside Sources

To obtain an alternate format textbook, start by checking with the publisher. Many larger publishing companies have online request forms. You may have to contact smaller publishers directly. It may take several attempts at contacting before you get e-text from the publisher, so be persistent. Some publishers will require a confirmation that the student has a disability and that they own a purchased copy of the book.

If you do receive an electronic copy from the publisher, it may not be in the ideal format for your student. However, the text can usually be converted to the format you need. The possibility of obtaining source files from a publisher is well worth pursuing. Source files are not student-ready, but they can often save a disability services office a great deal of labor.

Publishers and Alternative Media Libraries

How to Convert a Textbook to e-text

The Chaffee Amendment

If you are unable to obtain digital copies of a textbook from the publisher, you will need to convert the student’s printed textbook into a digital format. Many people question the legality of digitizing a copyrighted textbook. Fortunately, the Chaffee Amendment addresses this concern:

“It is not an infringement of copyright for an authorized entity to reproduce or to distribute copies or phonorecords of a previously published, non-dramatic literary work if such copies or phonorecords are reproduced or distributed in specialized formats exclusively for use by blind or other persons with disabilities.”

The Chaffee Public Law 104-197

The Association on Higer Education and Disability (AHEAD) has issued a similar perspective on the Issues of textbook access (December 2006):

“Until publishers and copyright holders are willing and able to provide appropriate digital text, colleges and universities must have the legal ability to do so.”

What You Will Need

This section discusses what you will need in order to successfully convert paper-based text to digital e-text. Plan to have policies and personnel in place before you begin your process. This section is intended to help you understand what factors you will need to consider. Included in each section are links to software and hardware options for each step.

Plan for Output Options and Long-Term Storage

Determine the types of files that are most useful to the greatest number of students, and plan to save the same document in multiple ways so that it will not have to be recreated. Keep the original scanned images (TIFF files) so that the books can be recreated if necessary. You will need a large storage solution and a plan for backing up your stored e-texts.

Plan for Delivering E-Text to Students

By having a plan in place when the request for e-text is made, students will know how they are to get their alternative format materials. Consider the use of a USB key, a burnable or rewritable CD, an iPod, or other device to suit their needs and preferences. Have a policy and make it available to students.

Document to Be Transformed

First, you will need to obtain the material that the student needs as e-text. Remember to consider all the options before recreating documents. If the document has come from an instructor, it is likely that he or she already has it in an electronic format. You should be able to obtain these files from the professor without much trouble.


Conversion of printed text to e-text begins with a scanner. When selecting a scanner, consider whether it has a document feeder, which allows for rapid processing of multi-page documents. Most high-speed scanners are already equipped with document feeders, but these can be purchased for some lower-priced flatbed scanners as well.

Scanning terms to be familiar with:

DPI (dots per inch)
This is the resolution at which your scanner is taking the picture of the text. Generally, you should scan in black and white, at 300 dpi, for good text replication. Scanning at a setting higher than 300 dpi will create a higher quality image with a larger file size, but optical character recognition (OCR) accuracy will not likely increase (see OCR Software below for more information). If you encounter major OCR accuracy problems, increase the dpi and see if your results improve.
A common choice is between black and white, grayscale, or color scanning. Use black and white for text, grayscale to retain non-color images, and color if you need to retain all of the images in their original color form.
Duplex and Simplex
Duplex is double-sided scanning—i.e., obtaining pictures of both sides of the document in one scan. Simplex scans one-side at time.
TIFF (Tagged Image File Format)
TIFF is a graphical file format that supports multiple pages of scanned material to be included in one file. This file format retains 100% of the image quality as read by the scanner. TIFF files are very large in size.
JPEG, or JPG (Joint Photographic Experts Group)
A JPEG is a graphic file format that uses compression to create rules for color display. These files are much smaller in size than TIFF files, but there is a loss in accuracy from the initial scan compared to the quality of a TIFF file. A JPEG might seem grainy, but will save storage space if photo quality is not a concern.

List of Scanner Options

OCR Software

OCR, or Optical Character Recognition, is the machine recognition of printed text. These are the tools that turn a picture of text into actual text, which can then be edited by a computer. The text can then be converted into any type of document format required. OCR tools can recognize text in different fonts and sizes. Advanced OCR tools can even recognize hand printed text. OCR software can be purchased separately, may come bundled with a new scanner, or can be included as a component of assistive technology learning support software.

List of OCR Software Options


Once a book is scanned and converted to digital text using OCR, there is still work to be done. Someone will need to proofread the text to ensure that the character recognition process was successful. OCR is rarely 100% accurate, so some corrections will need to be made manually.

Document Naming Convention

You should establish a logical convention for naming the digital e-text files you create, and follow this convention. Most Disability Services offices break books up into chapters, with one file per chapter. If you name chapters beginning with the chapter number, use 01 to 09 for the first nine chapters so that the computer will sort them in proper numeric order. Each complete book should be stored in its own folder; different editions of the same text can be placed in a single containing folder.

The Process

  1. Receive a student request with verification of book ownership and desired output type. The HTCTU offers Alternate Media Sample Policy Documents and Request Forms.
  2. Prepare book by chopping off spine, and splitting into three sections: front material, body, and end material. Check with local copy shops or library for guillotine paper cutter. Some university libraries have archival programs that will do this for free.
  3. Scan book to multi-page TIFF format. If your Disability Services center does not have the equipment to complete this process, check with local copy or photo shops.
  4. Perform an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) of the material. Be sure to check the structure and reading order. Check the pages for true replication of the actual book's content.
  5. Edit the text. Proofread, and spell check the book. Your center can determine how much time is spent on this labor intensive step. This varies between institutions, and may be determined by the student's needs, as well as by long-term plans for the material.
  6. Convert the text into the format chosen for the student. Common formats include Microsoft Word DOC, RTF, PDF, and HTML. Some students will require proprietary formats for specific assistive technology learning support programs.
  7. Archive the project. The original scanned TIFF images should be saved so that they can be converted into other formats in the future as needed. Use archive quality DVDs or other dependable tape storage solutions to store materials.
  8. Label and deliver the e-text to the student. Include a “fair use” disclaimer. For example: “This specialized format of [book name, copyright owner, and copyright date] was created for a person with a disability, and any further reproduction or redistribution is an infringement of copyright law.”


Legislation passed in 2004 created a national standard for the production of textbooks as e-text:

  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA2004), signed into law in 2004 authorizes state and local aid for special education and related services for children with disabilities through age 21. Although the IDEA does not specifically apply to higher education, textbook access is important for students of all educational levels.
  • One addition to the law includes a major section on technology: Sec. 674 Technology Development, Demonstration and Utilization: Media Services; and Instructional Materials), which created the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS).
  • The NIMAS 1.1 standard was published in the National Register on August 18, 2006. The standard applies to digital source files that can consistently produce instructional materials in a variety of alternate formats using the same source file.
  • Through IDEA, The National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC), a national repository for e-text, was created for the storage, cataloging, and distribution of NIMAS files.
  • Publishers of K-12 textbooks are required to follow the standard and to deliver materials in a timely manner when requested. They have the option of participating in the NIMAC.
  • The state of Colorado has aligned the Exceptional Children’s Educational Act (ECEA) to incorporate the IDEA regulations and has declared its intent to participate in the NIMAC.


AHEAD E-text Solutions Group

The AHEAD E-Text Solutions Group
Includes numerous resources, including information about copyright law, the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS), and informative manuals on the process of e-text conversion. One noteworthy resource is the E-Text Production Manual. This 112 page document, one of many to be found on the AHEAD E-Text Solutions Group site (above), will step you through the production process from scanning to Kurzweil or DAISY book.

High Tech Center Training Unit's Training Manuals

Training Manuals
Topics include: Introduction to Alternate Media, Creating Tactile Graphics, Transcribing with Duxbury, and Creating E-Text.

Indiana University Adaptive Technology Center

Presentations Related to E-Text Conversion
Topics include: High Speed Scanning Process, High Speed Electronic Text, and Scan, Read, Achieve!

Other Resources

Adobe® Digital Editions
Adobe® Digital Editions is an engaging new way to read and manage eBooks and other digital publications. It is built from the ground up as a lightweight rich Internet application (RIA). Adobe Digital Editions works online and offline and supports PDF- and XHTML-based content as well as Adobe Flash® SWF for rich interactivity.
American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)
Coordinating Instructional Materials Accessibility is a checklist for the delivery of accessible instructional materials.
ATHEN (Access Technologists Higher Education Network)
Includes articles on E-Text and Alternate Media Production, including the history of e-text (alternative format) materials, OCR and Textbook Policy, NIMAS, Creating Accessible Math and Science Materials, and more.
eBook Library for Technology Professionals
The eBook Library brings together the best in technical information, ideas, and coverage of important IT trends to help technology professionals build their knowledge and shape the future of their IT organizations. The eBooks cover a broad range of topics and represent the diverse challenges that present themselves to IT managers. The topics covered include development, security, networking, and storage, as well as general management topics such as dealing with staff and IT career planning.
Jim Fruchterman
A 52 minute video presentation titled “‘Universally Accessible’ Demands Accessibility for All of Humanity.” Fruchterman is founder of and Benetech, which concentrates on applying technology to human rights, literacy for people with disabilities and the environment. From September 20, 2006.
OER Commons
Open Educational Resources (OER) is a teaching and learning network, from K-12 lesson plans to college courseware, from algebra to zoology, open to everyone to use and add to. Browse by categories or collections. Filter searches by license to find resources you can modify.
AFB and CAST PowerPoint Presentation: What is NIMAS? is a PowerPoint presentation has fully transcribed version on the web page.
National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM)
NCAM’s Beyond the Text project studied ways to make multimedia (images, audio and video) used in e-books and digital talking books (DTBs) accessible to people who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, blind or visually impaired.

Please give us your feedback!

E-Text: An Introduction to Alternative Format
Was the information in this module helpful?