Accessible Materials for Students with Print Disabilities

Accessible Materials for Students with Print Disabilities

Many struggling and special needs students have a print disability. Teachers can meet these students’ needs by translating the three principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) into practice. Learn about the seven features of "born accessible materials" and how to select these materials for your school and classroom.

Many struggling and special needs students have a print disability. Unable to gain information from printed materials, their challenges only increase as they progress through school.

Teachers can meet these students’ needs by translating the three principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) into practice.

  • Principle I: Provide Multiple Means of Representation (the “what” of learning)
  • Principle II: Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression (the “how” of learning)
  • Principle III: Provide Multiple Means of Engagement (the “why” of learning)

In particular, Principle 3 — provide students with multiple and flexible methods of representation — directly addresses print disabilities. UDL guidelines recommend presenting information through different modalities (e.g., through vision, hearing, or touch) and in a format that allows for adjustability by the user. For example, digital texts, such as those provided by Bookshare, allow users to enlarge text, amplify sounds, and click for supporting information such as definitions and/or images.

Going even further down the accessibility and UDL road, many developers and publishers have begun to create born accessible materials and products. From the very outset, these materials are both digital and accessible.

There are seven key features of born accessible materials. The list below can guide teachers and administrators to select appropriate born accessible materials to best meet the needs of their students.

  1. All text is available in a logical reading order: Special tags are used to create a logical path through the primary narrative so that it is clear in what order the text should be read.
  2. Presentation is separated from contentThe meaning of the content should not be conveyed solely by using visual cues such as color, font size, or positioning.
  3. Complete navigation is provided: A complete table of contents should appear at the beginning of the ebook and at the beginning of each section so that the reader can more easily find his place in the book.
  4. Tables have headers and captions: Tables in ebooks should have labeled headers so that the reader can easily find her place in the table. Captions should also be provided so that the reader knows what information the table conveys.
  5. Images are described: All images should be described using text or should have a tactile or audio alternative available.
  6. Page numbers are included: The page numbers should match the print version of the same book. 
  7. Math expressions are written using MathML: There should be the use of Math Markup Language (MathML), a special set of tags for describing equations.
  8. Alternative access to media content is provided: Captions and/or descriptions for video segments and transcripts for audio segments should be available.
  9. Interactive content is accessible: For example, slider bars that display rapidly changing information, should be operable.

PowerUp WHAT WORKS offers evidence-based teaching strategies that can help you translate UDL principles into action if used with or even without born accessible reading materials. Comprehension strategies, such as self-questioning, summarizing, and visualizing can enhance learning for students with print disabilities.

Tracy Gray, PowerUp WHAT WORKS (2016)


You are welcome to print copies for non-commercial use, or a limited number for educational purposes, as long as credit is given to Reading Rockets and the author(s). For commercial use, please contact the author or publisher listed.

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"A book is like a garden, carried in the pocket." — Chinese Proverb