Assistive Technology and Alternate Format Materials

What is Assistive Technology?

In a broad sense, Assistive Technology:

  • Is any device, software, or hardware that helps people with disabilities work around challenges so they can learn, communicate and simply function better

  • Can help students work around their weaknesses, while also playing to their strengths

  • Ensures equal access

How to receive Assistive Technology at Penn

  • Assistive Technology is provided as an accommodation.

  • Students should make an appointment with the Associate Director for Assistive Technology to receive training and check out equipment.

  • Students can also apply for funding to purchase Assistive Technology through Disability Services scholarships.

Assistive Technology Software

Screen Readers allow people with visual impairments to navigate computers by reading the contents of their screen.

  • JAWS (for Windows)

    • available for exams through Disability Services

  • NVDA (free for Windows)

    • available for exams through Disability Services

  • Apple VoiceOver (pre-installed on MacOS and iOS)

  • Microsoft Narrator (pre-installed on Windows)

Screen Magnifiers allow people with low vision to navigate computers by enlarging the contents of their screen.

  • ZoomText (for Windows)

    • available for exams through Disability Services

    • Windows Magnifier

    • Mac Zoom

Text-to-Speech assists people with learning disabilities and other print disabilities by reading text aloud to them and usually has a visual guided reading feature.

  • Read&Write (for Mac and Windows)

    • available to take home through Disability Services

    • available for exams through Disability Services

  • Kurzweil (for Mac and Windows)

    • available for exams through Disability Services

  • Mac Text-to-Speech (pre-installed on MacOS and iOS)

  • NaturalReader (free for Mac and Windows)

  • Balabolka (free for Windows)

Speech-to-Text dictation software allows people to interface their computers though voice and speak to type.

  • Dragon (for Mac and Windows)

    • available for exams through Disability Services

  • Mac Dictation (pre-installed on MacOS and iOS)

  • Windows Speech Recognition (pre-installed on Windows)

  • Google Docs’ Voice Typing

Assistive Technology Hardware

Electronic Magnifiers (CCTVs) magnify paper, books, and even far away objects.

  • available for exams through Disability Services

Smartpens are notetaking devices that record audio as you write.

Refreshable Braille Displays display text from a computer or tablet by raising dots through holes in a flat surface that create braille characters.

Assistive Listening Systems are amplifiers that bring sound directly into the ear.

  • available in the classroom through Disability Services

Alternate Format Materials

Students may be eligible for alternative format materials as an accommodation, depending on the nature of their documented disability. Alternative formats allow student with print-related disabilities to access course materials in an electronic text (e-text), large print, Braille, or audio format. The use of alternative format materials ensures that students have equal access to the instructional materials used in their courses.

Disability Services staff members determine eligibility for alternative format materials as an accommodation during the collaborative interview process. Once approved, students sign the Alternative Format Agreement Form and request their course materials from the Associate Director for Assistive Technology. Disability Services provides students approved for this accommodation access to Read&Write, a take-home text-to speech software, to read their electronic text. Students need to have a Penn+Box account set up to receive electronic text.

Students can only request materials, including textbooks, articles, and lecture slides, for the courses they have registered for.  Due to copyright laws, students must show proof that they have purchased or rented a textbook before they can receive the alternative format. Disability Services provides alternative format materials for a student’s personal use only. Students agree not to share these materials with other individuals.

Student Request Process

Procedures for Submitting Requests

  • Submit Self-ID form and documentation to initiate accommodations request process.

  • Sign the Alternative Format Agreement Form during the collaborative interview.

  • Due to publisher guidelines and copyright laws, understand that proof of purchase is required for textbook requests and that alternative format materials should not be shared with others.

  • Setup Penn+Box to receive electronic text.

  • Meet with the Associate Director of Assistive Technology to receive access to assistive technology.

    • Take home access to Read&Write text-to-speech software

    • Accounts for Bookshare.

  • To request alternate format materials, login to MyWeingartenCenter, select Accommodation, and then select Alternative Format.

    • Click Student Entered, then click Upload Document for Alternative Format Request to provide book or article information.

    • Textbook requests should include proof of purchase, book title, name of publisher, the ISBN-13 number, and desired alternative format.

    • Turn-around time for most requests is within 3 weeks.

Timeline for Submitting Requests

  • Textbook requests are processed in the order that they are received. The earlier students submit their requests, the sooner they will receive their materials in alternative format.

  • It is recommended to submit requests before the start of the semester.

  • Requests for the following formats should be submitted 2 months before the start of the semester:

    • Braille

    • Tactile Images

    • STEM electronic text for students with low vision using screen readers

  • Requests for the following formats should be submitted 2-4 weeks before the start of the semester:

    • E-text (PDF, Word Doc, Plain Text, and HTML)

    • MP3 files/audiobooks

    • Large Print

  • Requests for articles, handouts, and lecture notes can be made as needed during the semester.

  • If Disability Services is unable to obtain an electronic copy of a textbook through the publisher or other means, the student will be responsible for providing their physical copy of the book to be scanned.

Receiving Materials

  • Allow 1-3 weeks for most materials.
  • Disability Services needs up to 1 week to receive the publisher file and up to 2 weeks to format the text.
  • Students will be notified when their course materials are available.
    • Electronic text (e-text) will be available for download in their Penn+Box folder
    • Large print and Braille will be available for pick up at the Weingarten Center.
    • Students are encouraged to use text-to-speech software to read electronic text