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Alternative Formats Policy


Student Counselling Mental Health and Accessibility (SCMHAS)

Library Services



Who is the service available for?

This policy outlines the roles played by key teams and departments at City, University of London in the provision of alternative formats for print-disabled library users.

A print-disabled person is anyone for whom a visual, cognitive, or physical disability hinders the ability to read print. This includes all visual impairments, dyslexia, and any physical disabilities that prevent the handling of a physical copy of a print publication.

(Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA), 2011).

This definition has been extended by section 31F (2) of the Copyright and Rights in Performances (Disability) Regulations 2014:

"Disabled person" means a person who has a physical or mental impairment which prevents the person from enjoying a copyright work to the same degree as a person who does not have that impairment, and "disability" is to be construed accordingly.

Any individual who falls under the above definition may be eligible for access to the alternative formats service.

Students must be registered with Student Health & Wellbeing and have a referral for alternative formats indicated on their Student Support Plan (SSP). If a student would like access to alternative formats and does not have a referral – please direct them to Student Health & Wellbeing to discuss appropriate adjustments.

  • This policy only applies to materials on reading lists and for research (for example; assignments) and does not cover lecture and seminar handouts/slides etc. Standard materials for teaching and learning should be provided in accessible formats by Schools directly using the guidance provided by the Learning Enhancement and Development department (LEaD).
  • If you need any help or advice about creating or accessing teaching materials in alternative formats please contact LEaD.

You can make an accessible copy of a work if you own the copyright (for example; it is your own work), have permission from the copyright holder, if the copyright has expired, or if it is for someone with a print disability. If any of these statements apply, staff and students must agree that:

  • the copy will not be shared with others
  • you abide by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, Section 31A (Disabled persons: copies of works for personal use) and the Marrakesh Treaty 2018.

For further copyright advice please contact [email protected]. Guidance on copyright exceptions for disability and the University copyright guidance.

Students will be sent a Terms of Use document before any alternative formats can be shared with them which they must agree to before we can proceed (see appendix 1)

Student Health and Wellbeing

  1. Student Health and Wellbeing staff will assign an alternative format category using the Alternative Formats category Table 1 (below) and indicate this on the Student Support Plan (SSP). Notification should also be given to Library Services at the earliest opportunity in order that alternative formats processes can begin. For category 1 students this should be initiated before the SSP is in place.
  2. Schools should be made aware of students requiring Alternative Formats through their SSP and should have their Module Reading list ready at the earliest opportunity. Student Health and Wellbeing staff will add a notification to the On-Course Support (action by course tutors) section of the SSP when a student has a referral for alternative format so teaching staff and module conveners are alerted. "This student has been recommended alternative format reading list material. Please make sure module reading lists are finalised on the Library's Reading Lists Online system in good time before the module start date."
  3. Library Services will contact all students in each category to advise them of the next steps they will need to take to access materials in alternative format. See appendix 2; Invitation to student to discuss alternative format needs.
  4. Library Services will arrange for a 1-2-1 meeting with students to further understand their format requirements and training needs. Students in all categories should be invited to training in the use of assistive technologies and scanning methods with the aim of empowering independent creation of alternative formats.
  5. Library Services will record details in the Alternative Formats spreadsheet including Module, Module leader and term dates.
  6. Students are to discuss with Module leaders which ‘Other’ texts to prioritise, as outlined in the SSP.

Table 1: Alternative Format categories

Category Example of need Items which can be requested Formats students can expect to receive

Readers who use screen reading software such as JAWS, NVDA, VoiceOver and Narrator.

Cannot access materials in any other form except digital and will be using screen reading software.

  • Core (must read)
  • Other [1] (on student request)
  • Accessible e-book
  • CLA Scan via Moodle/RLO [2]
  • Accessible files via RNIB Bookshare/Bookshare US/publisher request/British Library Alternative Format scanning service [3]
  • Library in-house scan (accessible Word/PDF) including additional remediation work such as adding headings and bookmarks.

Readers who use text-to-speech and magnification tools.

Needs information in digital format to aid access but can access some print.

  • Core (must read)
  • Other (on student request)
  • Accessible commercial e-book
  • CLA Scan via Moodle
  • Accessible Word/PDF files via RNIB Bookshare/Bookshare US/publisher request/British Library Alternative Format scanning service
  • Library in-house scan (accessible Word/PDF).

Readers who experience difficulty handling hardcopy books but can use some limited print.

Readers who are unable to read substantial amounts of print so need to supplement with text-to-speech.

  • Core (on student request)
  • Other (on student request)
  • Accessible commercial e-book.
  • CLA Scan via Moodle.
  • Accessible Word/PDF files via RNIB Bookshare/ Bookshare US/publisher request/ British Library Alternative Format scanning service.
  • Library in-house scan (accessible Word/PDF)
  • Preference for self-support through training/guidance.

Library Services

Once an SSP referral for alternative formats has been received by Library Services, library staff will make the following checks:

Please note that the Library will only check resources that are delivered via the official Reading List Online system.

  1. Check availability of e-books for all items (Core and Other). Where e-books are not available, print copies will be purchased (where not already held) to facilitate Library in-house scanning and publisher requests.
  2. All available and newly purchased e-books will be linked to the reading list prior to completion.
    1. If the list is too large, students are encouraged to discuss with module leaders which other texts to prioritise, as recommended in the student's SSP.
  3. If no e-book is commercially available:
    1. Advise school to make a CLA scan request
    2. Check catalogue for print holdings. It is a requirement of many publishers that the library owns a copy of the title.
  4. Library Services will make RNIB Bookshare/publisher requests and/or scan any materials not available as commercial e-books, or where a CLA scan cannot satisfy requests.

The timeline for providing alternative formats can range from a few days to 10 weeks and is dependent on:

  • the availability of the material in digital format
  • whether a hardcopy needs to be scanned
  • publisher response times.

To enable quicker supply, we encourage module leaders to finalise their reading lists in good time before the module start date, ensure they are using the latest editions of books and prioritise texts available in electronic format.

Formats available


Library Services can provide the following formats:

  • PDF
  • Word

Additional remediation work such as adding headings and bookmarks can be added for category 1 users.

Other formats may be available to download from RNIB Bookshare including:

  • EPUB
  • Electronic Braille
  • Audio


For students requiring print as an alternative format: students can borrow a print copy of a book from Library Services. Students with extended loans in place can borrow a 7 day item for 14 days.

Library Services can provide students with digital print-ready files. Please refer to Student Health and Wellbeing for more information about printing adjustments.

Alternative Formats process

Where commercial e-books are not available or do not meet students' needs:

  1. Check if an alternative format file "Intermediate Copy" has not already been sourced before. Intermediate copies are stored in the Library all-staff drive> Academic Services> Accessibility> Alternative Formats> Publisher Files> Intermediate copies. Check the spreadsheet to find out if the license granted permits use for another student.
  2. If not in stock, check RNIB Bookshare. If available, record details in the Alternative Formats spreadsheet and go to the step sending files to students
  3. If the item is not available via RNIB Bookshare, submit a request.
  4. For some titles, it may be necessary to contact the publisher directly. Appendix 3 is an example template to use if the publisher does not provide a standard form for requests
  5. Check if the item is in stock at Bookshare US
  6. Having exhausted all steps above it may now be required for library staff to create an in-house Optical Character Recognition (OCR) scan of the item
    1. borrow print copy to be scanned
    2. scan relevant material using ABBYY FineReader Version PDF 15. Depending on the student's specification, scans may require us to:
      1. proofread (all scanned items)
      2. add chapter headings, page numbers and table of contents - larger works may need saving as individual files/chapters
      3. add a description of images (you may need to ask Module Leaders to help with this)
      4. check tables and superscript text - for example; numbers are correct and in order
      5. check equations/notation and reformat where required
      6. make sure the front and back covers are included in the scan
      7. save the document and name the file with the Authors Surname_The first part of the title_year of publication i.e. SMITH_Introduction to Land Law_2013
  7. Record all items on the Alternative Formats spreadsheet - item details, author, title, details of scan e.g., page numbers, format, and date of delivery to the student.

Sending files to students

RNIB Bookshare files: Ensure the student has a member account and alert the student that the resource can be downloaded directly. See Appendix 4 for details on RNIB Bookshare accounts for students.

Bookshare US: Ensure the student has a member account approved by the relevant Student Health and Wellbeing staff. Upload the file(s) to Microsoft OneDrive and send the student a secure link to access and download the materials.

Publisher files: Upload the file(s) to Microsoft OneDrive and send the student a secure link to access and download the materials.


Appendix 1: Terms of Use for students

Terms of use

TITLES: [List titles here]

Alternative Format Digital Files are for personal study only.

You may not:

  • rent, sell the digital files
  • share the digital files or make them available for download, including other students on your course
  • make copies, except for back-up purposes
  • reverse engineer, decompile or disassemble the files or create a derivative product
  • alter the contents, except as a required conversion to the Alternative Format
  • include content or copyrighted material from the Digital Files in any other product, unless quoting in your work
  • this accessible copy is made under our CLA licence or The Copyright and Rights in Performances (Disability) Regulations 2014 or The Marrakesh Treaty 2018 as appropriate
  • you must delete all files and personal copies made once your course is complete
  • by accepting this copy, you agree to abide by the previously stated conditions and UK Copyright Law.

Please also refer to the alternative formats and assistive technology pages for access to other tools and assistive technologies to support reading.

Appendix 2: Invitation to student to discuss alternative format needs

Dear [student name]

We have received your Student Support Plan (SSP) with a referral for alternative formats.

We can arrange alternative format reading materials for Core reading list items where available. These will be digital files, you can adjust how they display or use them with assistive technologies.

We have added many titles to our collections in e-book format so you may find that links to these are already available in your reading lists via Reading Lists Online. Please check that the existing e-books and articles are in an accessible format for you.

If you would like to receive any further alternative formats can please inform us of the following:

  1. Which texts do you need? We will focus on Core/Essential readings first. You can send me either a list of the Modules you will be taking or a list of books you want to read.
  2. Do you have a preferred format - such as PDF or Word? Do you have any additional specifications for formatting?

We can set up an account for you with RNIB Bookshare. It is a collection of resources which you can independently search and download some of the titles you need. We do not share any personal details with Bookshare apart from your first name. We can discuss these points in more detail in our meeting on ….. .

Appendix 3: Correspondence template for Publishers

Dear [Publisher]

I am supporting a student studying at City, University of London. The student has a print impairment. The following ___ title(s) are on the student's reading list for this term. We have purchased [xx] copies of the print editions [link to catalogue].

Please can you supply digital versions for individual private study which we can share with our student under The Copyright and Rights in Performances (Disability) Regulations 2014 or the Marrakesh Treaty 2018.

Appendix 4: RNIB Bookshare accounts for students

The example email wording below can be used:

Dear [student name]

We have set up an account for you on RNIB Bookshare. This is a platform where accessible textbooks can be accessed using the instructions below.

By accessing this account, you agree that these resources will only be used for your own educational, non-commercial purposes and you will not share them with anyone else.

Instructions for logging in to RNIB Bookshare:

To login:

Go to https://www.rnibbookshare.org

Your username:  [xyz]

Please note for security reasons your password will be provided in another email.

  • On the homepage you can search by title, author, ISBN or keywords in the search box.
  • On the results page you will find a download link for each item in the actions column.
  • Some of the books may appear twice in the results list: this means they are available in multiple formats: PDF and EPUB, Word or audio. Use the dropdown to see the list of all available formats.
  • If you see the Read Now button, on an item result this means you can read the title in Bookshare's e-reader which has text-to-speech and display customisations.
  • You may only download titles to adapt which are in the City Library collection. Please check CityLibrary Search.

The following videos provide more guidance:

Please contact me if there's anything you want to read and cannot find on RNIB Bookshare, and I will request for it to be added to Bookshare or ask the Publisher for a digital copy where possible.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Please also refer to the alternative formats and assistive technology pages for access to other tools and assistive technologies to support reading.


[1] The category Core or essential is used on the City RLO system. This allows us to prioritise items.

[2] Online resources can be converted to more accessible formats using ABBYY FineReader, Read&Write and ZoomText software.

[3] Where files received from publishers are not fully accessible or conversion to Microsoft Word or other formats is required Library Services will remediate files for Core reading e.g.: page numbers, font styles, headings, contents pages, image description (with help from Module leaders where required).