How students access their learning materials

Students access their learning materials in a variety of ways. Some will prefer to print material off and read a hard copy, other will read from screen and some will use assistive software to help them with their reading. This guidance supports the creation of learning materials in such a way that all of the above is possible. Within the disability team we can work with students to show them how to manipulate their materials into a format that is best suited for them. This however, is contingent on the material being provided in an accessible format.

Students who meet with the Disability Team can be shown different ways of accessing their materials, using assistive software, to allow them to work effectively. Some of the key reasons students may visit the Disability Team include difficulties with reading speed, reading comprehension, visual impairments and comprehension. All of which have an impact on how written material is accessed.

Below are details of some of the assistive software packages used by students. These are all available on campus.

Software for literacy support

The most commonly used software package to assist with academic reading and writing, at GCU, is Read and Write Gold. One of the features of this software is the ability to have text read aloud. The university has a site licence for this software, meaning all students and staff have access.

As a result, there may well be many more students using this than we are aware of, making good design of teaching materials imperative. Students who present to the Disability Team may be advised to use this software if they have difficulties with areas including reading comprehension, processing or concentration and memory. The ability to have text read aloud, whilst reading along can have a major impact on comprehension of material. Well-designed teaching materials work well with this software.

Another key feature of this software is the ability to change or tint the background colour on screen. For many students, reading black text from a white background can be uncomfortable, and by showing students how to change this feature, they have better access to their material. This also reduces the requirement to print out hand-outs on different coloured paper.

Screen reading software

Screen reading software is used by students with visual impairments. The software will read aloud everything on screen to assist with navigation. For example, icons, screen prompts and menus will be read aloud, to allow the user to open files or applications.

One of the most commonly used examples of screen reading software is JAWS. Students would use this software in all aspects of their computer usage, such as opening files, accessing the internet, producing written work and accessing their reading material. This guidance provides details and advice on how to best structure your documents to ensure that a JAWS user can successfully navigate them. There are a number of pre-set formatting options within Word to help with this. Simple use of these features can make a huge difference for students using JAWS, or other screen reading software.

Magnification software

Some students with visual impairments will make use of magnification software. This software allows everything on screen to be powerfully, and accurately, magnified to a comfortable reading level. The guidance will touch on some important issues to consider when producing teaching materials, which may have an impact on students using this software.

On campus, students can make use of ZoomText, which is a piece of magnification software.

Further information on software

The Disability Team offers training on assistive software packages to all students and staff. If you are interested in finding out about any of these packages mentioned, or indeed any other assistive software packages on campus (see DT website for details) please contact the Disability Team directly (disability@gcu.ac.uk). Having an awareness of the types of software used by students on a daily basis can help to anticipate any potential barriers when creating new material.