Iowa State Information Technology Services (ITS), Parks Library, the University Bookstore and Procurement Services are partnering with University of Iowa and University of Northern Iowa to push textbook companies to be accessible for all.
The departments have followed the Williams settlement that took place in California in 2004, which requires public schools in California to provide “sufficiency of instructional materials.”
According to the California Department of Education website, “each pupil, including English Learners, has a standards-aligned textbook or instructional materials, or both, to use in class and to take home. This paragraph does not require two sets of textbooks or instructional materials for each pupil."
The group, Digitally Accessible Materials, is composed of the bookstore, Office of Equal Opportunity, procurement, Student Accessibility Services and ITS. It works with Redshelf — an education technology company — and other vendors to push textbook companies to make their content accessible by ensuring that it abides by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. It also encourages textbook companies to create accessible content for students with learning disabilities. Current textbooks do provide text-to-speech extensions in their e-books.
Cyndi Wiley, coordinator for the creation of the new assistive technology lab and University Digital Accessibility, said accessibility should also include affordability, so Wiley said she wants to focus on students who are first-generation college students.
“For me a disability, within the context of education in campus, is anything that’s a barrier,” Wiley said. “So, finances can be a barrier. Tons of students have a financial barrier."
Wiley said she would like more faculty to understand the student perspective about obtaining the necessary materials. When Wiley taught graphic and website design, she said it was hard for her to understand why the students did not have the required textbooks.
“A lot of the reasons the students gave to me for not having a textbook was they couldn’t afford it or they were waiting for their paycheck,” Wiley said. “... So they would miss some valuable course content if they weren’t able to borrow from somebody or they were too embarrassed ... so there’s some shame and embarrassment that goes along with not having your course materials.
"It was very, very rare that someone just blew it off and didn’t buy [the textbooks] because they just didn’t want to — it was more about there was something else going on.”
Lauren Johnson, a sophomore in psychology, said she has to use a physical book to highlight the content, and she likes to read the textbook multiple times in order to understand her lectures.
"I think that I would fail my classes without the book," Johnson said. "I need resources like textbooks and office hours for help."
Currently, Iowa State must follow the federal Higher Education Act which was reauthorized in 2008 by a passage in the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA), and according to The Office of the Registrar, Iowa State must make all textbook information available to students, including pricing and ISBN information, directly from the Bookstore.
Iowa State must also abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires schools to provide appropriate educational services to the same extent as the needs of students without disabilities, physically and digitally.
Wiley said Iowa State is currently changing the language of their contracts with the textbook companies to create more accessibility for students.
“From that standpoint, we need to have paperwork that says 'here’s what we are expecting, and here’s what you’ll provide, and if you don’t here’s what happens,'” Wiley said.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article included an incorrect second reference to Iowa State Information Technology Services. The article has been updated to reflect the department’s actual name, and a clarification regarding the Digitally Accessible Materials group members has been added. The Daily regrets this error.