Alternative Formats

Follow the steps below to access learning materials in different ways to support your studies:


Finding accessible materials

Creating accessible materials

Reading accessible documents

Specialist formats

You can make an accessible copy if you own the copyright (eg, it's your own work), have permission from the copyright holder, if the copyright has expired, or if it's for someone with a print disability.

If so you need to agree that:

Contact us for copyright advice:

To find items on a reading list

  • Check the reading list for the module by entering the module title or module code on the readinglists@kent system or use the reading list link on the module page on Moodle. Every reading list will give you an up to date view of all readings with links to electronic resources where available.
  • Check the module page on Moodle to see if an item has already been scanned and added to the course documentation.
  • Search the Internet (e.g. GoogleGoogle ScholarGoogle Books) to see if the resource is available.
  • When you find the resource you need online, remember you can convert it to a more accessible format using Sensus Access.

If you cannot get access to the resource through the above steps, try the following:

  • For some of your materials we may have gone directly to publishers for files. These files will be emailed to you when we receive them. If anything is really urgent, please let us know as soon as possible so we can prioritise these items.

To find specific items (non-reading list research)

  • Check LibrarySearch.
    • Enter the title of the book or the search terms e.g. ‘social work’ (leaving the default filter options as Everything).
    • This will present a list of all electronic and physical resources, e.g. journals, books, web pages etc.
    • To filter results to only those available electronically, select Full Text from the right hand menu under the Limit by heading.
    • To refine the list by resource type you can select e.g. journals or books on the right hand menu under the Source Type heading.

If you cannot get access to the resource through the above steps, try the following:

Scanning a document so that you can hear it being read aloud


  • Scan the material you require using one of the multi-function devices (MFDs) on campus and email the scan to yourself - this will send an image-only (e.g. not fully accessible) PDF to your email.
  • Now use your browser to go to Sensus Access and follow the process for uploading the file to be converted (e.g. image/pdf file). Follow the prompts to get an "accessible format" (e.g. Word document, MP3) emailed to you. For example you could convert a Word or PDF document into MP3 so that you can listen to it 'being read aloud' by the computer or device.
  • An email will be sent to you with a link to the accessible document (please note you will need to use your Kent email address).
  • Proofread the document to correct any conversion errors.

Reading a scanned document

  • Use any of the following to listen to the document being read aloud by your computer or device.
  • Use ClaroRead Pro (if you are on campus), the inbuilt text to speech in Word or Acrobat Reader or a third party tool like Orato, DSpeech or Balabolka to read it. Sensus Access will allow you to convert document formats e.g. PDF to MP3.
  • Follow the guidance for your device contained in the My Computer My Way site.
  • Where text is delivered through a browser you can use browser plugins for Google Chrome to get text to speech. Plugins can be downloaded for free and installed without needing administrator rights. Google Text to Speech is recommended for a good quality voice.
  • Once you have a textbook (or extract from a textbook) as a digital file you may need to add accessibility value to it in different ways as shown in the Adding accessibility to electronic documents guide below where we explore the different stages in making digital text fully accessible.

Reading editable text in Microsoft Word or Adobe Reader

When reading information on a screen sometimes text can appear small and difficult to read. Magnifying or zooming text can make it easier and more comfortable to read written content in Adobe Reader and Microsoft Word. Change the background colour in Word. In Acrobat Reader use the Acrobat accessibility options to change the colour of a PDF.


Reading text on a tablet or phone

Follow the guidance for your device contained in the My Computer My Way site.


Making font bigger

Use a magnifying lens – these come in a range from cheap plastic magnifying sheets costing less than £5 through to more sophisticated plastic and glass lenses with inbuilt lights, neck lanyards or reading stands.

Use a smart phone or tablet and take a photograph (guidance on taking photographs on a mobile device) of the page or scan the material you require using one of the multi function devices (MFDs) and email the scan to yourself. Usually this will send an image-only PDF to your email, then try one of the following:

  • Follow the guidance for your device contained in the My Computer My Way site.
  • Use a magnification app like ClaroMagX to magnify the text while you read it.
  • Use your browser to go to Sensus Access and follow the process for uploading the file to be converted (e.g. image/pdf file). Follow the prompts to get an "accessible format" (e.g. Word document, MP3) emailed to you. For example you could convert a Word or PDF document into MP3 so that you can listen to it 'being read aloud' or change the font size using the guidance above Reading editable text in Microsoft Word or Adobe Reader.
  • If you are on campus you can use ClaroRead Pro to convert the image file to editable text or change the way the information is presented (e.g. font size, background colour).

Adding accessibility value

Stage 1: optical character recognition (OCR) of an image-only scan.

Optical character recognition (OCR) software turns an image of text to actual editable text. It is not 100% accurate and the more complicated the layout of the book (for example with multiple columns or text boxes and call outs) the more time it will take a human being to correct it. 

When this stage is completed the resulting text file will be suitable for users who need modest magnification or will be making modest use of text-to-speech tools.

You can convert image-only documents to editable text using Sensus Access.

Stage 2: navigation

Many digital files obtained from publishers or by scanning/OCR will lack navigational headings. By adding structural headings to word processed documents or bookmarks to PDF documents print impaired learners can rapidly find their way to the appropriate sections of the book. This benefits every user but it particularly benefits those with more significant accessibility needs who would otherwise struggle to find their way through the book.

Stage 3: reading order and reflow

For users who need more magnification, text reflow is vital. This means that as text is magnified the lines wrap to fit the screen, reducing any need for the reader to scroll left and right. Reflow also helps you check if the reading order is working.

On Microsoft Word documents reflow can be checked in View > Web layout.

In Acrobat reader click on View > Zoom > Reflow.

Check the reading order is not “infected” with other page artefacts such as header or footer appearing in the middle of the body text. If there is a problem with the reading order you may need to manually correct it. In PDF documents this process is done using Adobe Acrobat or Adobe InDesign.

When reflow and reading order are optimised you give a significantly better reading experience for people needing high levels of magnification or those reliant on text-to-speech or screen readers.

Stage 4: describing non-text content

Stages 1 to 3 optimise the accessibility of text content but many books contain non-text visual content such as graphs, images, diagrams etc. By providing text descriptions of the key teaching points within the visual content you make it meaningful to blind readers but also add value to sighted readers who may simply not “get” what visual content is trying to show. Since the value of the text description is related to the teaching points, it is important that subject specialists are involved in describing non-text content.

Stage 5: complex content

STEM subjects (science technology engineering and maths) are rich in equations, symbols and visual representations. These can be especially challenging for blind students who will need to not only learn new curriculum content but will also need to significantly enhance their skill with access technologies, learning higher grades of Braille or developing or specialist screen reader skills. Music can also provide similar challenges. In these cases very specialised help is needed and you are advised to contact your nearest transcription centre or the UK Association for Accessible Formats.

More guidance on creating accessible documents can be found on the accessible documents, presentations and spreadsheets pages.


Specialist formats

As a general rule, the more mainstream a user's technology is, the more independent the user will be and the more sustainable their support will be. Nonetheless, for users with particular needs maximum benefit may require working with a specialist format.

These vary in the amount of commitment they require both from the user and the provider of support. By definition, specialist formats will be more expensive to procure but they often provide a level of access and understanding which makes them very worthwhile.

The main specialist formats in use are: audiobooks, Braille, tactile graphics and DAISY format. For detailed technical guidance on Braille, DAISY and other formats see the UK Association for Accessible Formats website. Detailed technical guidance from the Benetech Diagram Center is also available on creating accessible diagrams and Maths.

Where alternative format needs go beyond the basics you may need to contact specialist transcription centres. The UK Association for Alternative Formats (UKAAF) is an important source of specific expertise. The UKAAF website allows you to search for specific services (eg transcription) amongst their members.

Audio books

There are numerous sites offering audio recordings of texts. These can be very useful for listening on the move and are often read by actors so may be more 'performed' than computer generated text to speech alternatives:


Braille is a highly specialised format requiring skill to create and to use. A small proportion of blind people are competent in Braille and for these users, this offers significant advantages over screen readers - the other main technology for blind users.

Braille allows users to skim a text by touch in a similar way a sighted person would skim a page by sight. It allows multi tasking – for example speaking to someone on the phone whilst referring to notes. This is easily done with Braille in much the same way as a sighted user would read while speaking, but a screen reader user would listen to two sets of aural information – the phone call and the screen reader information.

Braille can be created in various ways – directly onto paper, via digital text to paper and via digital text to a Braille embosser. This is like a small keyboard with hundreds of pins which dynamically pop up to create a Braille version of text on screen. Braille conversion is often outsourced to specialists including prisons.

Braille works well for plain text, simple tables, music and simple maths but is much harder to use for complex tables or mathematical and engineering formulae. Learners wanting to progress to a higher level course may need to develop a deeper understanding of Braille to expand the range of their vocabulary.

Braille can exist in traditional print format or it can be delivered via small Braille displays. iOS devices such as iPads and iPhones have native support for Braille displays allowing text content on the screen to be read or written using a wirelessly connected refreshable Braille device.

Producing small amounts of course material can be done with tools such as Sensus Access but if a student requires all their resources in this format please contact us.

If you are a Kent member of staff and would like help resourcing module reading in alternative formats for students with print disabilities please follow the guidance in the Kent Alternative Formats Process (docx).

The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) and Kent Association for the Blind (KAB) provide transcription services in a variety of formats.


DAISY files consist of a highly structured but highly flexible format that allows text to be navigated and read entirely by sight, entirely by listening or by a combination of the two.

If you have listened to podcasts and unintentionally lost your place, or want to fast forward to the exact start of the next section, it is easy to appreciate the frustrations of disabled people who rely on audio files where often this navigation is non existent. The current DAISY format addresses these issues. It consists of a highly flexible synthesis of:

  • Structured text files (either the transcript of a human voiced talk or the original text of a text to speech mp3)
  • Audio files synchronised to each of these structured text elements. (An earlier DAISY format often used to provide audio books for the blind did not synchronise the text to the speech).

Depending on the software/hardware the DAISY files are played on, the user can either browse by audio only (navigating aurally by headings, subheadings etc) or read using synchronised text and speech.

The DAISY format is associated with blind people - it offers them a sensible way to ‘skim’ the contents of long audio files as a sighted person might skim a table of contents. However, DAISY books can be great for dyslexic people. The combination of text highlighting and audio can reinforce reading speed and confidence.

Ultimately the DAISY format could transform the audio book experience for many users, eg millions of drivers who would like to navigate easily to a new chapter without taking their eyes off the road, non English speakers wishing to read and improve their English and simply those of us who prefer to listen to text due to our busy lives.

Learn how to use DAISY

Sensus Access can support conversion to DAISY format.

Tactile graphics

The Chinese proverb, a picture is worth a thousand words, is true for most but blind people are usually condemned to thousands of words instead. For some concepts eg, graphs, snowflakes, jellyfish and maps - a simple diagram is a very economical way of communicating knowledge, allowing a grasp of the whole image as well as the various parts. In these circumstances tactile diagrams come into their own.

There is often a spectrum of complexity of how diagrammatic information should be presented - the skill for a presenter is working out the most appropriate approach for the given circumstance and the individual user. Individuals have different sensitivities of touch so one user may need bar charts illustrated using Lego bricks whereas another may be fine with a Microsoft Excel graph printed out on swell paper.

For instant graphics, you can use embossing (German) film which creates a raised ridge behind a ballpoint pen.

Creating tactile images

  • Use embossing film and create the image using a ball point pen or similar object.
  • Now go to Google Drive.
  • Select New Google Docs Blank document.
  • Create an alternative text description to accompany the tactile image. This should effectively convey the meaning and context of the image to someone who cannot see it.
  • Ensure that the description title is correctly labelled - Format, Paragraph styles, Heading 1.
  • Select File, Publish to the Web, Publish, OK.
  • Copy the link that is provided.
  • Now go to QR Code Generator.
  • Paste in the link just copied from the Google document.
  • Copy the QR code that is generated.
  • Print the QR code, cut it out and stick it to the top left-hand corner of the tactile image created at point 1.
  • Add Braille labels to the embossing film if required.

The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) and Kent Association for the Blind (KAB) provide transcription services in a variety of formats including tactile diagrams and images.

If you are a Kent member of staff and would like help resourcing module reading in alternative formats for students with print disabilities please follow the guidance in the Kent Alternative Formats Process (docx)


More information


Student Support, University of Kent

The University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NZ, T: +44 (0)1227 764000

Last Updated: 07/11/2018