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SensusAccess App Makes Documents More Accessible

By Elizabeth Zhou

This Monday, Mar. 21 marked the launch of SensusAccess, an application that allows Middlebury users to automatically convert documents into a variety of accessible formats. Now free to all students, faculty and staff members at both the College and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, the web-based service supports learning, teaching and research in innovative ways. Anyone with a working College or MIIS e-mail account has unlimited, free access to the service.

Users have the option to convert a wide array of formats (including Word and PDF) into an mp3, e-book, Braille document or DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) or an audio book, among other selections. The complete list of supported file types includes .DOC, .DOCX, .PDF, .PPT, .PPTX, .TXT, .XML, .HTML, .HTM, .RTF, .EPUB, .MOBI, .TIFF, .TIF, .GIF, .JPG, .JPEG, .BMP, .PCX, .DCX, .J2K, .JP2, .JPX, .DJV and .ASC. In a straightforward, user-friendly process, individuals can either upload the file, enter the URL or type the text of the document they wish to convert. Next, they select the output format, specify options and enter their e-mail address. Depending on the size and complexity of the file type, users will receive the results in their inbox within a few minutes to a few hours.

SensusAccess is capable of transforming a photocopy or a photograph of text into a format that can be edited in Word or read aloud by high-quality voice software. The audio conversion feature of this self-service supports a wide variety of languages, including Arabic, Bulgarian, British and American English, Danish, Dutch, German, Greenlandic, French, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovenian and Castilian and Latin American Spanish. There are limits to the application, however: SensusAccess cannot convert audio files into written texts; it also does not translate from one language to another. The company is currently working on these issues.

In an e-mail sent out to the entire Middlebury community on Monday morning, Director of Academic Technology Bill Koulopoulos emphasized the everyday utility of SensusAccess. “Different formats create greater opportunities to learn and to engage,” he wrote. “For example, when you’re traveling, taking a walk or working in a dimly lit space, an audio version of an article might be more accessible than a print version.”

Based in Denmark and powered by the award-winning RoboBraille service, SensusAccess markets itself as “a self-service solution for print-impaired students, faculty and alumni at universities and colleges.” The movement to bring its services to the Middlebury community stems from the collaborative efforts of the Center for Teaching, Learning and Research (CTLR), the Academic Technology Group and the Advisory Group on Disability, Access and Inclusion (AGDAI). AGDAI was formed a few months ago as part of President of the College Laurie L. Patton’s vision for a more inclusive and accessible Middlebury.

In Patton’s inaugural address last fall, she stated that “diversity is an everyday ethic to be cultivated, made richer and more vibrant.” By supporting a wide range of learning contexts, SensusAccess is a step in this direction.

As Susan Burch, AGDAI member and Associate Professor of American Studies, explained, “Each source format has inherent assets and limits. Flexibility is key. For certain situations, a Word document format may work best for an individual, but in a different context an audio file may be more accessible. Having different source formats readily available enables support for our diverse learning community.”

To learn more, visit go/sensusaccess.

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