Who Uses Alternative Formats?

Alternative formats can benefit everyone:

1) Students, educators, and staff who experience visual strain from extensive print reading benefit from audio books that provides visual-free learning, such as DAISY books.

2) For those who are more effective auditory learners or are frequent commuters, obtaining information through auditory means may be valuable than looking at traditional books or notes on transit systems.

3) For those who are learning English as a second language may find the auditory feedback helpful while following along with print material.

4) Students, educators, and staff who have a print disability may have difficulty reading, comprehending, or physically holding a textbook - using alternative formats may assist with  accessing  the same information as their peers or colleagues. Print disabilities may be due to a visual impairment, physical disability, or learning difficulty. Although the needs and characteristics of individuals with print disabilities are very different, they all experience barriers accessing print in the standard way.

5) Alternative formats are also a solution to help struggling readers access and understand text content. Struggling readers are “students who read below the grade level and struggles with comprehension, phonics and vocabulary.” (Martin & Pappas, 2006, p. 4)

Below are examples of various exceptionalities that could affect individuals’ ability to learn, teach, and work in an educational setting. Although the types of exceptionalities are organized under the five categories in the Education Act definition of “exceptional pupil”, this information can also be applied to teachers, educators, and staff as alternative formats can benefit everyone in obtaining equal access to information.

1) Communication

Students with autism may have difficulty relaying information to others or comprehending class content provided by instructors in a classroom setting. They may also have difficulty interpreting symbols and understanding what images represent. Possible alternative formats include providing text description describing images in e-text or print.

Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing
Students may have deficits in language and speech development due to diminished or non-existent auditory response to sound. They will likely benefit from alternative formats that draw on their tactile and visual senses, such as Braille and easy-to-browse electronic documents to follow along during lectures.

Language/ Speech Impairment
For those who have some language impairment that involves language delay, dysfluency, or voice and articulation development, they may benefit from combined audio, e-text, or large print to receive both auditory and visual input. Students who have difficulty with articulation, rhythym and stress in language can benefit from audio recordings or e-text with text-to-speech software (Link to appropriate section on SNOW). This enables students to review educational material outside of the classroom and practice their speech with auditory feedback.  

2) Intellectual

Learning Difficulties, Mild Intellectual Disability, and Developmental Disability.

These conditions may impact reading, writing and spelling and can be experienced by a wide range of people, including those with dyslexia and other learning disabilities or developmental disabilities.  Factors such as low literacy, a low skill level in using a computer, or difficulties understanding information may affect students’ educational growth in the school environment.

With various technologies and alternative formats to choose from, it is critical for educators to recognize the diverse needs of all learners and to provide learning in various formats to meet students’ educational needs.  Working together with students is critical in finding their optimal learning format. Alternative formats benefit all students. Research has shown that audio books increases content acquisition and improves performance in students’ reading skills, regardless if they have been diagnosed with or without learning disabilities (Boyle et al., 2003).    

3) Physical

Low Vision/Blindness
Individuals with visual disabilities who cannot access the same information as their peers, due to its inaccessible format, may not be able to participate fully in everyday educational activities. Various technologies to create alternative formats such as Braille, large print, audio players, and electronic text may assist students obtain the academic material they need. When text is converted into an audio format, people with blindness are able to have the information read to them, while someone with low vision can benefit from large print to be able to read materials more comfortably and with less eye strain.

Physical Disabilities
Students with varying types of physical disabilities experience barriers to accessing information. With regards to students accessing textbooks and the Internet, limited arm or hand movements, co-ordination or sensory deficits may affect their ability to hold and manipulate printed materials or impact the way they interact with the keyboard/computer equipment. It is important to also consider those who have a temporary physical disability, such as an arm or hand fracture, to be able to access the same material as their peers during the recovery period. Alternative formats may be required to meet their reading, writing and educational needs.

4) Behaviour

Students with learning disorders characterized by specific behaviour problems can adversely affect educational performance. This can be characterized by excessive fears, anxieties, or compulsive reaction to events. Attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) is one example that may impact a student’s ability to concentrate or process information. Introducing alternative formats that match their needs or calm their anxieties may assist in their academic growth.

5) Multiple

Multiple Impairments
People with multiple disabilities have a combination of two or more exceptionalities, including intellectual, physical mobility, communication, and behaviour. Examples of multiple impairments can be conditions that affect both physical and intellectual or communication functions, such as Cerebral Palsy and Multiple Sclerosis, where students may benefit from additional auditory inputs when they are reading text.


Boyle, E.A., Rosenberg, M.S., Connelly, V.J., Washburn, S.G., Brinckerhoff, L.C., &  Banerjee, M. (2003). Effects of audio texts on the acquisition of secondary-level content by students with mild disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly, 26, 203-214.

Martin, P. & Pappas, P.  (2006). Startegies for struggling readers.

Helping you meet Ontario's AODA
How It Relates to the AODA legislation: 
AODA Significance: 

1. Learning about who uses alternative formats and how these are used, assists educators with integrating inclusive approaches to teach, communicate and share information.

2.  People interact, learn and communicate in diverse ways. Learning opportunities are increased when flexible ways of engaging with learning materials are provided. Considering how people communicate is important for knowledge to be exchanged. Alternative formats take into account diverse ways of exchanging information.

3. The AODA legislates that educational institutions and its employees know how to produce accessible or conversion ready versions of textbooks and printed material. Educators, teachers and staff are to learn about accessible course delivery and instruction and be knowledgeable at interacting and communicating with people with disabilities who may use alternate formats.

Additional Resources: 

To learn of ways to innovate, develop & design for accessibility, visit OCAD University’s Inclusive Design Research Centre website.    
To learn how this section relates to the core principles of the AODA Customer Service regulation, visit the AODA page on SNOW.