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Alternate Media Workflow

It is important to respect the student's preference and provide the most accessible version possible, which may involve converting files or providing additional support. A typical request cycle is:

  1. Notification sent out at least four weeks in advance of the start of classes to students approved by DSPS for alternate media services to submit alternate format requests
  2. A student makes a request for materials in alternate format.
  3. The request is added to a database or spreadsheet for tracking purposes.
  4. Missing information is completed on the request (i.e. publisher name, copyright date, edition number, etc.).
  5. Materials are requested or acquired from the publisher or other source (e.g., ATPC).
  6. Materials are received from publisher or other source.
  7. Materials are converted and processed into accessible format for the student.
  8. Materials are delivered to student.
  9. The alternate media specialist completes record keeping by recording production metrics and delivery information.

Examples of Alternate Media

Some examples of alternate media include:



PDFs are the most common file type created by a publisher or from scanning the hard copy version of the textbook, and may be the format most often provided to a student. Almost every alternate format conversion process of a textbook starts with a PDF copy.

PDFs have the advantage of looking exactly like the printed textbook, in most cases, including all graphics, visible page numbers, and all sections of the book included in one file. This is very helpful to the person who will be remediating these types of files.

Sometimes, the PDF from the publisher is of sufficient quality to send to the student, with only a few small changes. The single file may need to be separated into multiple files all representing the sections or chapters of the textbook. Additionally, the publisher may have sent PDF versions containing strange file names or print-proof documents that require further editing and need to be changed. Such issues requires minimal time to remediate. For other PDFs, there is a need to rearrange the text in order to work correctly with a Text-to-Speech (TTS) readers. This requires more extensive editing, specifying a reading order, and removing non-text items from reading out loud.

Depending on the amount of remediation needed for a PDF file, it may be best to convert it to another file type, usually, Microsoft Word. Working in Microsoft Word is easier to manipulate and correct the text content as you can leverage the capabilities of a word-processing application.

Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word is one of the most accessible formats for alternate media if formatted properly. In addition, well-formatted MS Word files can be transformed into braille or converted into audio files or other electronic formats. Microsoft Word files have the advantage of being able to be enlarged or reduced in size and printed out in large size without pixelating.

For alternate media workflows, Microsoft Word files tend to be created from a PDF that has been run through an Optical Character Recognition Program (OCR), like Omnipage or Abbyy Finereader. OCR extracts text into a text-based document that you can then edit for formatting and appearance.

In addition, Microsoft Word files can be a good starting point when creating accessible math or STEM content. Various MS Word plug-ins, such as MathType, allow you to create math equations that can be read by compatible screen readers, and other TTS programs and apps. Those same math-encoded files can be saved in a braille-ready format for use with braille displays or sent to emboss in hard-copy braille on an embosser.


The ePub format has been more widely adopted by publishers and can be read by screen readers and several types of TTS apps and programs but does require a compatible ePub reader. ePubs are relatively new, and while there are standards for the production of accessible ePubs, not all ePubs are created equal. Further development of the ePub standard should bring about wider use of the format by persons with disabilities. Currently, while it is possible to create math in the ePub format, such content is not spoken accurately in ePub readers.


Braille stands as a pivotal alternate media for students with visual impairments, enabling them to access education, information, and independence. This tactile writing system, developed by Louis Braille in the 19th century, allows students to read and write through raised dots representing letters, numbers, and symbols. Braille has also evolved with technology, integrating with electronic braille displays and assistive devices, enhancing access to digital information. To transform documents into braille, software is used to transcribe the content, followed by embossing it onto paper using a specialized printer for embossing braille characters into the paper's surface.

Large print

Large print materials are crucial for students with vision impairments. These students typically have low vision or visual acuity challenges, making standard-sized text difficult or impossible to read. Large print provides a solution by offering text that is significantly larger and easier to discern. It allows students to access textbooks, worksheets, and other educational materials independently, promoting inclusivity in the classroom. Moreover, large print materials often include enhanced color contrast and clear fonts, further aiding students in navigating and comprehending printed information, ultimately ensuring equitable access to educational content.

Tactile Graphics

Tactile graphics are a vital component of alternate media for students with vision impairments. These students often struggle to comprehend visual content presented in traditional formats, such as diagrams, charts, and maps. Tactile graphics bridge this accessibility gap by converting visual information into tactile representations, typically through embossed or raised surfaces that students can touch and explore with their fingers. This enables them to gain a tactile understanding of complex subjects, enhancing their comprehension of various academic disciplines like mathematics, science, and geography. 

The American Printing House for the Blind has a free Tactile Graphics Image Library where images are prepared and ready to be downloaded to create tactile graphics.