Audio information is beneficial for many students and can be used by anyone who owns a CD player, DAISY player or a computer. Audio enables people who have low vision or who are blind to “read” or access information through hearing, in the sense that print readers would understand it. For students who have a learning disability or who have difficulty comprehending text only, they can choose to have complimentary auditory input in addition to visual input when they are reviewing material from school. In the classroom context, there are many different ways that audio information can be presented. This ranges from low-tech solutions, such as teachers verbally reading what is written on a blackboard to students, or high tech aids such as scanning and reading software that converts characters from textbooks and printouts and read out by synthetic speech. Screen-reading software on computers can also provide audio feedback so students can experience eyes-free reading.
Different people are likely to have their own preferences about the way they access audio, depending on their experience, how comfortable they are with technology, and the equipment they have to play audio. Consider the following questions when choosing the optimal audio technology for yourself or when working with your students to address their needs:
1) Are you comfortable with using this software?
2) Are you able to manipulate the buttons on the audio equipment?
3) Are you able to learn how to use the equipment and use it effectively?
4) Is the quality of speech output easy for you to understand?
5) Do aspects of the audio file meet your needs (consider portability, size, navigability, ease of controls, and ease of conversion etc.)?
Compact Discs (CDs) were first produced in the 1980s to store and playback sound recordings exclusively. At the time, they were cutting edge due to being a digital way to record sound, offering superior sound quality and size to cassette tapes. Standard CDs have a diameter of 120 millimetres (4.7 in) and can hold up to 80 minutes of uncompressed audio (or 700 Megabytes of data). CDs offer some navigation from the beginning of one track to another, rather than having to fast forward or rewind and guess where the tracks started and finished.
Over time, CDs have progressed from being solely for music, to being a format for all kinds of data storage, such as text, images, photos and videos. Educators can use CDs to store educational materials including taped lectures, presentations, and handouts into one compact disc for the student to access on CD players or computers. There are a range of formats that CDs support, the most popular of which are:
- CDDA (Compact Disc Digital Audio)- the standard format for most audio CDs
- MP3 - a compressed audio format that has greater storage capacity than CDDAs, but lower quality sound. It was developed to increase the amount of material to be stored onto a CD
- DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) - a format developed by the DAISY Consortium, an international group that promotes digital technology for talking books. The DAISY format uses MP3 encoding to compress the audio recording - enabling around 20 hours of audio to be presented on one CD.
Audio files such as MP3, WAV, and WMA files can also be played on a computer that has supporting software. With appropriate text-to-speech software on the computer, students can also “read” content off the screen through auditory means. This is beneficial for students who require the audio feedback or prefer eyes-free reading when doing research online, reading articles, or e-formats of books and educational materials.
Audio relates to the following sections of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Integrated Accessibility Regulation
1. Audio format is an auditory version of printed documents and provides individuals with an alternative way to access information and educational resources. Alternative formats refers to information that is communicated in a manner other than standard text, including Electronic Text, Audio, Captioning and Braille.
2. People interact, learn and communicate in diverse ways. Learning opportunities are increased when flexible ways of engaging with learning materials are provided. Considering how people communicate is important for knowledge to be exchanged. Alternative formats take into account diverse ways of exchanging information.
3. The AODA legislates that educational institutions and its employees know how to produce accessible or conversion ready versions of textbooks and printed material. Educators, teachers and staff are to learn about accessible course delivery and instruction and be knowledgeable at interacting and communicating with people with disabilities who may use alternate formats. All website and web content must meet accessibility standards and support alternative ways to convey information.