by Tara Bakken
Digital books are electronic files that make reading materials accessible for students who have print disabilities. Visual impairments, specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia, and other disabilities can make it difficult to read a print book. Digital books give students the ability to access and navigate reading materials in an alternative format.
Two of the most popular digital book formats are electronic text (e-books) and audio (audio books or talking books). An electronic text format is text without audio, while the audio format does not include text. These digital book formats are available in different files types. Common files for the text format are: PDF, .txt, .html, RTF, and .xml, while common audio file types include: .wav, mp3, .ogg, and .aa. A special file structure, or markup, called DAISY (Digital Accessible Information SYstem) adds navigation abilities to digital books and can be in text or audio format. A student using a DAISY book, for example, would be able to quickly find and jump to a specified page number within the digital book.
If this sounds too technical, don’t worry. You don’t need to know all of the file types to use digital books. The most important thing to know is that you must match your digital book formats and file types with your digital book player. Players differ in their compatibility with digital book formats, files, and the DAISY structure, so finding the right fit is vital. Digital book players range from software programs on the computer to portable hardware devices. You can read an electronic text digital book, for example, using text-to-speech software or a scan and read program, or listen to audio books using a DAISY player, portable media player, or digital media software such as Windows Media Player.
So, what digital book formats, file types, and structure should you look for? Consider:
• Will the student access reading materials best through audio, visual, or visual paired with auditory supports?
• Is there a preferred type of audio support: human narration or synthesized speech (computer/electronic speech output)?
• Are navigation abilities an important feature to include for the student’s reading and study needs?
• Is the digital book compatible with the appropriate digital book player(s) for the student?
For help finding digital books, see the “Resources for Digital Literature” handout at pacer.org/publications/stc.asp. It lists resources and the formats, options and requirements for using them, and information on how to acquire them. Some digital books are available to the public at no cost. Keep in mind that they are typically out of copyright and often include classics and some reference material.
Two resources are especially helpful. Bookshare and Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D) have collections of DAISY-structured digital books, including textbooks. Bookshare has electronic text DAISY files, while RFB&D has audio DAISY files in human narration. Both organizations require proof of a qualifying disability for a membership. Bookshare membership is free for qualifying students; RFB&D membership requires a fee.
For more information on digital books and resources, please call 952-838-9000, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit PACER.org/stc.