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Leading the way in library disability support

Leeds Beckett Library supports students across the university who have a wide range of disabilities, including print disabilities, meaning they have difficulty accessing printed text

NAG Award

This is most often due to a visual impairment or a specific learning difficulty (SpLD) affecting their ability to read printed text, or a physical impairment affecting their ability to manipulate printed material.

Like all our students, they need to access academic information which is usually in print so they immediately hit a barrier. eBooks can help to address this if they are accessible and compatible with assistive software, for example for reading text aloud.

However, this is not always the case, as described by Sue Smith, Library Learning Support Officer for Disability and Dyslexia, on her recent appearance on BBC Radio 4’s ‘In Touch’ programme.

As a result Leeds Beckett Library colleagues have, for a number of years, been involved in initiatives to change this by working with eBook providers and publishers and leading the way in new ways of supporting students to access the resources they need.

They were lead partners on the award winning 2016 national eBook accessibility audit, assessing the accessibility of eBooks and making recommendations for improvements. Building on this the 2018 ASPIRE audit, led by Jisc, focused on accessibility statements, reviewing information from over 140 eBook providers. As a result real change is happening in the industry, as described in this article.

Closer to home, colleagues have been reviewing the Library’s Alternative Formats service, which provides reading list items in an accessible format for students with print disabilities and they have worked closely with the Reading List supplier, Talis, to create the reading lists themselves in an accessible format, providing all students with the same experience, prompting one student to declare:

“I feel like this will be life changing for me.  Because you can just click and it is there. The amount of times I literally have had to go into different tabs to get things, but it is all in one place which is really nice.”

Not surprisingly, this work is seen as best practice by their peers in the Library sector and many of the staff involved have been presenting at conferences around the country with their key message that collaboration between academic libraries, system providers and book publishers is essential to improve our student experience. And, as we focus on Disability History Month, it is a fantastic example of how Leeds Beckett Library is leading the way in disability support.


The photo features Sue Smith and Vicky Oakwell from LLI receiving the 2017 National Acquisitions Group Award for Excellence. This was awarded to the project team who organised the national 2016 eBook Accessibility Audit, of which Sue and Vicky were members along with colleagues from other organisations.

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