Guidance to Schools for the provision of texts to visually impaired students


Students with visual impairments need to have equal access to their course texts. Legislation states that:

'The responsible body for an educational institution must take such steps as it is reasonable for it to have to take to ensure that... disabled students are not placed at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with students who are not disabled' (Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001).

Therefore it is the university's responsibility, under the Equality Act, to make all texts and College handouts that are available to all students - such as core texts, module handbooks, timetables, reading lists, etc. - available in a suitable format to students with a visual impairment.

Suitable alternative formats could be:

  • enlarged print
  • electronic file format
  • Braille
  • Moon
  • or whatever is accessible for that individual

Secondary texts are the responsibility of the student. If the student is in receipt of Disabled Students Allowance (only available to UK students), this will often cover the cost of providing them with a support worker to make these secondary texts accessible.


Colleges should work closely with the student to ensure that core course texts and College documents are made available to the student in a suitable format.

When producing documents, the RNIB clear print guidelines should be followed.

The College will need to use the following guidelines to ensure that it provides the student with equal access to texts.

Secondary or supplementary texts need to be sourced by the student. A student may have a support worker who can help. AccessAbility can advise the student on suitable formats and help the student if they do not already have a support worker.


Sourcing accessible versions of texts can sometimes be a very lengthy process. It can often take a number of months, and it is therefore essential to allow a good amount of time for obtaining suitable formats.

As an example, it is best practice to provide details of secondary texts at least 3 months in advance.


The student may be in receipt of the Disabled Students Allowance. This does not usually cover the cost of sourcing core texts, that is normally covered by the College.

You will need to clarify with the student whether their Disabled Students Allowance covers the cost of sourcing and/or transcription of core texts or not. The student’s funding body (usually SFE) will advise them on what their allowance covers in their particular case.

If the Disabled Students Allowance will not cover such costs, these will have to be borne by the College/Institution.

Initial questions to consider before sourcing texts

Comprehensive guidance is available from the JISC TechDis website. However, here is a summary of some key points to bear in mind for sourcing texts in alternative formats:

  • Is the title already available commercially in digital format?
  • Is it available in online databases - such as RNIB Library catalogue?
  • Is it available in PDF format? If so, how big is the file size? Is a screen-optimised version available? How accessible is the PDF – is it selectable and marked up for structure and reading order?
  • What are the costs?
  • What are the terms and conditions?
  • What is the likely timescale for delivery?

How the College can source alternative formats - a brief guide

1. Reading Lists

The College should provide the student with a list of texts, with key texts and passages highlighted. The College should ascertain what formats are preferred by the student.

2. Research if Core Texts are already available in an Alternative Format

The student should take responsibility, where reasonable, to research existing availability of non-core texts. They may liaise with the College or AccessAbility if unable to do so.

The recommended procedure for the College to research available formats for core texts is as follows:

a) Contact the university library - your Academic Support Consultant -  to see if a suitable format is available or if they can obtain one. If not…

b) Contact the RNIB Library & Info Team on 01733 3753333.

Are the texts available already in a suitable alternative format?

If so, the RNIB will advise where to obtain them from.

Their Talking Books Service can be subscribed to by the student – they can then loan some texts themselves – usually in Braille or Daisy CD format, which is an audio format.

c) Or do an RNIB web search at

d) Or search or

e) Or contact the publishers and / or the author direct to ask if they can provide the texts in an electronic, Braille, audio or enlarged format. Google searches usually find contact details. Search on

After all this, if texts are not available in a suitable format already…

3. Use a Transcription Service

The transcription can be done by

a)   an RNIB Transcription Centre.

The South West centre is contactable on 01752 690092.

b)   an Independent Centre.

c)   in-house, by a support worker scanning the information into an electronic format. AccessAbility may possibly be able to provide a support worker for this, at a cost to the College.

NB: Foreign language texts – if these are being transcribed into alternative formats, they may possibly need proofreading by someone with linguistic knowledge. You could use a postgraduate student, a local native speaker or somebody provided by the Institute of Linguists. They would then work with the chosen Transcription Centre.


Rules surrounding the production of texts for blind and visually impaired students mean you are now able to produce an accessible copy of any book , journal or periodical published in the UK, and some foreign works, under the Copyright (Visually Impaired Persons) Act 2002, which came into force in October 2003.

Further information about this can be found at the Copyright and Licensing Agency or at - follow the links to Intellectual Property.

Awareness training

AccessAbility can provide staff training on Visual Impairment – Inclusive Teaching Practice. 

for more information.

Useful resources

Transcription centres

  • RNIB South West – 01752 690092
  • RNIB and Leeds University – 0113 3433928/29
  • RNIB Loughborough College –
  • Swansea University – 01792 295085
  • Oxford University – 01865 283861
  • St Andrews University – 01334 462774
  • Nottingham University – 01159 514591
  • A2i Transcription Services Ltd – 0117 9707090
  • Techno-Vision Systems Ltd – 01604 792777
  • Pia – 0844 500 6450