Government urged for national library of educational materials in accessible formats

Sir Steve Redgrave calls for alt format resources for dyslexic and visually impaired schoolchildren

12th Jan, 2007

Sir Steve Redgrave is urging the Government to set up a national ‘library’ of books and learning materials in a common electronic format to help the education of dyslexic and visually impaired children. 

The key to making this happen, according to Sir Steve, is to persuade the education publishers to file all their curriculum books in one location, in a standard electronic medium.

Photo of Sir Steve Redgrave at the BBC news office in LondonThe five-times Olympic gold medallist says that every school in Britain would then be able to access educational texts that can be quickly and easily converted into alternative formats, such as audio for MP3 players, talking books (with combined audio and text), large print and Braille.  A similar model has recently been introduced by Congress in America.  

As part of a campaign that has captured the attention of ministers, Sir Steve has publicised research from the US showing that when students with literacy problems are exposed to learning materials as combined audio and text, their test scores can increase by up to 40%.  

Sir Steve, who is dyslexic, believes that the establishment of a central repository in the UK would solve a major headache for schools, saving them precious time and costs in sourcing learning materials in alternative formats, which they are obliged to provide under disability discrimination legislation.  Even more important, dyslexic and visually impaired students would have their education transformed by unrestricted access to the materials given to them and their classmates.

Sir Steve is leading a campaign (www.altformat.com), backed by the British Dyslexia Association and others, to improve the education of children with visual and print impairments by exploiting the availability of innovative assistive technologies that have been specially developed to help with learning.  Research shows that up to 89% of disabled students don’t even know that such technology exists.

The campaign has pointed out that only 5% of books published in print in the UK are available in alternative formats.  According to the campaign’s supporters, it is therefore vital to have standard printed texts available in alternative formats.

Speaking today at the BETT education technology show in London, Sir Steve Redgrave said: “I know from personal experience that dyslexic schoolchildren can fall up to two or more years behind their peers before their disabilities are properly identified and addressed, and for many, this irrevocably ruins their life chances.  Establishing a national repository of learning materials for dyslexic and visually impaired children would significantly speed up the timeframe in which the materials are delivered to students who need them in the classroom.  It would also be a very cost-effective solution when school budgets are faced with so many demands.”

In support of Sir Steve’s call, Richard Orme, RNIB's Head of Accessibility, said: "We welcome an initiative that highlights the inefficient way in which schoolbooks are currently made available to blind and partially sighted pupils. Research published recently by RNIB, as part of the Right to Read Campaign, shows that delays in getting hold of textbooks in accessible formats are commonplace, affecting both the educational and social development of blind and partially sighted pupils."