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SCRIBE offers accessible formats for class materials in Canvas

Convert a class assignment in Canvas into all sorts of accessible formats including MP3s.

Stanford’s automated system for converting text into Braille and other formats, SCRIBE, is now integrated into the Canvas course management system – providing benefits to all students, not just those with disabilities.

“It’s a game changer,” said Corey Lamb, Class of ’22, who has used the SCRIBE system in the past but found it cumbersome and time consuming. “Now that it’s in Canvas, it’s nearly instantaneous that you get the email back with the converted file.”

SCRIBE converts inaccessible documents into an accessible format. It can turn image-based PDFs into searchable files, a benefit for anyone who is working on a research project, for example. It can also turn documents into audio formats such as MP3s, which is helpful for many students, including those who simply prefer to listen to texts rather than read.

Listening to an article as an MP3

“If you want to listen to an article as an MP3 while you’re going for a run, you can do that,” said Shelley Hou, director of technology for the Office of Accessible Education (OAE). The system can also help graduate students who may live farther from campus and find it useful to listen to texts on their commute, for example. 

“It works in any number of contexts,” Hou said. “It helps expand what is seen as something that’s an accommodation for students with disabilities into something more universal. It’s like a curb cut – it was originally intended for wheelchairs, but people with strollers, bikes or rolling luggage all benefit from increasing access.”

SCRIBE is a browser-based system that allows a user to upload a (typically inaccessible) document and receive an email with the document converted into an alternate, accessible format. It is open to the entire Stanford community, not just students who are registered with the OAE.

The SCRIBE integration for Canvas makes the process even simpler. It allows students to send course content directly to SCRIBE for conversion into the accessible format of their choice, eliminating the steps of downloading from Canvas, then uploading to SCRIBE.

“It makes it a bit more streamlined for students to use,” Hou said. “And for students who don’t have disabilities, it’s a very easy entry into alternate formats.”

Creating accessible event flyers

Within their Canvas site, professors upload documents in the usual way. When the integration is enabled, which is the default setting, students can easily submit documents for conversion into alternate formats by going to the SCRIBE tab in Canvas.

The SCRIBE integration with Canvas was launched as a pilot project last year, the result of a joint effort by OAE and the Learning Technologies and Spaces (LTS) Canvas team.

Although SCRIBE started as a way to make course materials accessible, it can be used for any campus communication. 

“We encourage staff to use it to make sure flyers and PDFs are accessible when they send out notifications about events,” Hou said.