Text-to-speech accommodations


If you’re watching this video, you probably have a student with a text-to-speech accommodation. The first thing ITG wants to establish is that you are not alone in ensuring that this accommodation is fulfilled. To that end, our hope is to establish a partnership between you and three different offices: the Instructional Technology Group, Student Accessibility Services and the Library. 

Before we dive into the accommodations process, let’s first talk a bit about the nature of this accommodation. A common initial misconception is that a student with a text-to-speech accommodation must be blind. This is certainly a possibility, but note that there are other conditions beyond vision issues that necessitate the need for text-to-speech compatible readings. ITG doesn’t know exactly what your student’s disability is, but if their disability requires further accommodations in addition to text-to-speech compatible readings, SAS will inform you and work with you to ensure that the student’s needs are met. 

We also cannot disclose the name of your student until you receive their accommodation letter. You may or may not get an accommodation letter over the next several weeks; regardless of if you get the letter, from our perspective we still want to be proactive in remediating content since it is a time-consuming process. 

Besides notifying you of the need for accommodations, ITG’s role in the accommodations process is to sort through and remediate your PDF readings, or source existing accessible versions through the library or elsewhere online. You can remediate PDFs on your own if you’d like; feel free to book a meeting with ITG if you’d like to go over the PDF remediation process. We can also help with making sure that any required or recommended books that you are asking students to purchase are available in an accessible format. 

Your role in the accommodations process is to first help ITG understand what course readings we should be evaluating–we would need to know where to find these readings and also when you are asking students to read them by. We use your reading due dates to prioritize our queue of PDFs to remediate. We aim to have all readings remediated by at least one week prior to when students are expected to complete the readings by. Another area where we need your assistance is in answering any follow up questions we may have about your readings. For example, we sometimes need to know if you prefer a certain translation of a reading or edition of a book, or if you are open to other versions. 

The best way to get this information to us is by filling out the Google form we sent out in our initial email to you. Once we are done remediating your readings or finding accessible versions, we ask you to place them into your Canvas course, or make them available to students some other way. 

I’m now going to show you some examples of readings and the sorts of things we look out for when we evaluate PDFs for accessibility. Here is an example of an inaccessible PDF. As you can see, this is a scan. Because it’s a scan that has not yet been remediated, the text you see is merely an image of the text; it’s not digitally recognized yet. Since the text exists only as an image, students’ text-to-speech software is not able to extract it and read it out loud. I know that the text is not yet digitally recognized because when I try to highlight text, I cannot, and if I try to search for a keyword in the text, no results come up. To remediate a scan, we add digital text to it through a process known as OCR. OCR stands for Optical Character Recognition. 

Here is the same PDF scan that we just looked at, in its remediated form. As you can see, in this version I am able to highlight the text and search for words in it. If I copy and paste a passage from the text, the pasted text is accurate and matches the text of the document. Since the PDF has accurate OCR on it, it is considered to be accessible enough for students with a text-to-speech accommodation.

We’ve discussed scans and remediated scans so far. There is a third sort of category of documents that I want to highlight here, since we get a lot of questions about these. They are known as “born digital” documents. Something is born digital if it was created in a digital format from the start. In other words, if the document was made by typing directly into a file on a computer or other device, it is born digital. For example, a Microsoft Word document that has text typed directly into it is born digital. A conversion of such a Word doc to a PDF would also be considered born digital, as are slideshow presentations for example Google Slides or PowerPoints. The only thing to look out for is screenshots of lengthy text. We most commonly see this in slideshow presentations. Any text contained as an image or screenshot that is longer than a few paragraphs is something we’d want to remediate. 

That was a quick overview of the process, but we hope this helps clear up some questions you may have had after reading our initial email. We also have an FAQ section directly below this video that goes into more detail and addresses some other common concerns. You can also add any questions you may have on the Google form I mentioned earlier, or book a meeting with us to discuss anything further. Remember that we are here and happy to help, and we don’t want you to feel like you have to handle this on your own. Thank you for your anticipated cooperation. 

Intake Form


Does the accommodations process require that I change my course objectives, assignments, readings, learning activities, lesson plans, etc.? How will this influence my teaching?

With accommodations of this nature we always strive to make your existing resources/materials accessible through well-supported remediation workflows across multiple support offices on campus. In almost all cases a text-to-speech accommodation will merely affect how existing course content is delivered, rather than the content itself; it is a very rare occasion that we have to ask someone to swap out one reading for another. We make multiple efforts to not have to go down that route, but depending on the availability of resources, it may be necessary to ask that changes are made. 

For other kinds of accommodations, other changes to your course and approach to teaching may be necessary. ITG is unable to consult on what that might involve because we only deal with text-to-speech accommodations, and we are not informed of other accommodations your students may have. SAS will be in touch with you if there are additional accommodations that you should be aware of. 

What about images, videos, and other visual materials? Do I need to do anything differently while teaching/during class sessions?

ITG is only informed of text-to-speech accommodations for students, so as far as we know, visual materials need not be remediated for your student and no other accommodations or special changes need to be made. However, if your student has any additional accommodations including any for visual materials, you would be informed of that by SAS. With all that said, we still strongly encourage that all courses follow the Teaching Guidelines for Making Courses Accessible.

I have not received the accommodation letter yet. Can we wait to take further action until I receive the letter?

Students with approved accommodations at Emerson have approval for the entire time that they are at Emerson, so from our perspective regardless of if they choose to send the letter to you, we want to be as proactive as possible. It is also best to get a head start as soon as possible, since remediating readings is a time-consuming process. 

I would like to make my readings accessible myself. Is that possible? How do I make my PDF readings accessible for a text-to-speech accommodation? 

You certainly can remediate PDF readings on your own, but keep in mind that ITG is more than happy to handle the process for you! If you want to try your hand at it, first check out our guide on Optical Character Recognition (OCR) in Adobe Acrobat Pro DC. This guide explains the entire process step-by-step. We can help troubleshoot any issues along the way or answer any questions. 

Even if you remediate your own PDFs, ITG would still want to handle the sourcing of accessible versions of required or recommended books (i.e., books you are asking or recommending students to purchase), as there are some specialized resources we have access to to find these. 

Why wasn’t I notified sooner? 

Our timeline for notifying faculty largely depends on when student registration is finished, since we need to know what classes students are registered for to know who to notify. As you are aware, registration is also in flux for the first few weeks of the semester; last-minute schedule changes impact the timing of when we are able to notify you that your readings need to be accessible. Additionally, for various reasons, sometimes students are not able to go through SAS’s accommodation verification process until after the semester begins; this can cause our notification email to be sent out later than usual. 

What if I have an assignment where I’m asking students to peer review each other’s written work? 

Assuming that students’ work is going to be in a born digital format, there should be no concerns here. It may be a concern if students are handwriting their work and submitting that for peer review, but if they’re typing up their work (e.g., in Microsoft Word or other word processor) it would be in a suitable format.

What if I have an assignment where I’m asking students to find their own readings/resources (e.g., a research paper)? 

We know that our students with text-to-speech accommodations are adept at being able to find resources that are in a format that works for them. Most of what is contained in the library’s online databases are in an accessible format, so that is a good place to encourage students to look. If a student has any concerns about being able to find resources on their own, they should know that they can reach out to their SAS point person to request extra support. 

What other resources do you have on digital accessibility at Emerson?

For document/PDF accessibility, we recommend starting out with these guides:

You can also view our other guides on accessibility. Feel free to reach out to ITG if you’d like to discuss anything relating to digital accessibility of your course materials. 

Still have questions?

Please let us know if you have any further questions about the process! You can reply back to the initial email we sent informing you of the need for an accommodation, request a meeting with us (see booking links in our initial email), or include questions for us on our intake form.

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