Section: News

New SASS project to increase accessibility of digital content

On March 18, the Kenyon office of Student Accessibility and Support Services (SASS) sent an all-campus email announcing SensusAccess, a file-conversion program intended to make digital resources easier to use. The email featured a graphic of a cartoon robot translating dozens of files, which — in accordance with the project’s accessibility goals — included a descriptive caption, allowing students with visual impairments to view it.

SensusAccess can be accessed through the Kenyon website and supports over two dozen file types. Anyone with a Kenyon email address can upload a text document, and the converted version will arrive in their inbox within a few minutes.

Users can convert their files into editable text files, braille documents or even MP3 audio — the software includes a text-to-speech feature that can transform any text file into an audiobook.

While the service is aimed at students with accessibility needs, SASS hopes that SensusAccess will attain broader use. Erin Salva, director of SASS, noted that  the program can be useful to anyone who wants to access digital content in a different way.

“More and more people are using text to speech,” Salva said. “It’s simply a productivity tool. You can be on the treadmill listening to your text … Or, if you’re on the bus and you get motion sickness, you can actually listen to your textbooks.”

She also described the benefits of the program’s PDF-to-text capabilities: SensusAccess can render any text document editable, eliminating the need for students to print out forms before filling them in. “It’s not just a tool for people who might have dyslexia or print disabilities,” Salva said. “It’s promoting universal accessibility.”

In addition to SensusAccess, a new faculty organization called AccessKenyon aims to help students navigate the digital accessibility options available to them. While SensusAccess itself is fairly user-friendly, use of some of its more complex features — such as ebook construction and translation of text into braille — can be easier to naviagte with additional help.

AccessKenyon will host an email address that students can send inquiries to, regardless of whether or not their questions relate to SensusAccess. The group hopes to provide the personalized help that an automated service like SensusAccess can’t offer.

“Let’s say you’re a student and you want to get into video production,” Salva said, “but you know that in order to produce a video and make it accessible it really should be captioned. And you have no idea how to go about captioning video material. That, for example, is something you could contact AccessKenyon about.”

While AccessKenyon is in its early stages, Salva hopes that the program will grow in the scope of its operation. The group aims to help improve the accessibility of the Kenyon website, and already has plans to provide live captioning of the upcoming Kenyon Queer and Trans Studies Conference in April. 

Students can reach AccessKenyon at accesskenyon@kenyon.edu.

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