Alternate Media Formats Explained

Berkeley City College

Please use this document as a guideline when deciding on which alternate format is best for you.  You should consult your DSPS counselor or the Office of Alternate Media for further clarification.


What is Alternate Media

Alternate media (alt media), is a general term that refers to an alternate format different than that of traditional materials such as a textbook, course readers, or handouts.  Alt media formats include electronic text (e-text), audio, braille, and other formats explained below.  Advantages to receiving Alt Media from the college in comparison to sourcing materials from many audio and digital resellers are that our formats include page numbers and heading levels are added for ease of navigation.  Students with a verified print-related disability are eligible to receive alt media as an accommodation.  Just like all other disability related accommodations, you are required to meet with a DSPS counselor in order to arrange for your alternate media for each semester you are enrolled at the college.  You are also required to submit proof of ownership for the texts that are altered.



This is probably the most popular alternate format.  E-text is a general term that denotes some sort of digital or electronic (e) document containing “text” such as a Microsoft Word document, *PDF, RTF, plain/ASCII text, DAISY or Braille formatted file (BRF) and EPUB.  There are many more less common e-text formats but these are the ones which often provide the most flexibility for students.  Students with a physical or dexterity disability often prefer e-text since it can be easier to use than flipping pages in the actual book.  Typically, a student requiring e-text can use a program or app on a computer, laptop, tablet, or smart phone to:

  • have the content read out loud via synthetic speech such as with Kurzweil or a screen reader,
  • enlarge the text or read it on a personal data assistant (PDA),
  • read with Kurzweil or read in braille on their braille display


The following paragraphs provide more detail about some of these E-text formats.


PDF (Portable Document Format)

A PDF is generally a printer-ready document that often looks exactly like or similar to the printed textbook.  A PDF must be a searchable text-based document in order that it qualifies as Etext, whereas an image-based PDF that was likely generated from a scan is not Etext. Therefore, most text-to-speech software is unable to deal with image-based PDFs.  PDF documents that are distributed to you from the Office of Alternate Media will be text-based.  Kurzweil 3000 and Balabolka generally do a good job with PDF files for students with learning disabilities.



DOC or DOCX are proprietary Microsoft Word® files that have the most flexibility for students.  The Office of Alternate Media provides this format with heading level markup for ease of navigation using screen readers.  Graphics are preserved and generally tagged with a description.  Tactile graphics can also be requested.


DAISY – (Digital Accessible Information System)

DAISY is a marked-up format which can be a talking book, computerized text, or a synchronized presentation of text and audio together. This is a format that is growing in popularity and has a lot of flexibility with regards to document navigation and conversion possibilities. DAISY can mean text, audio, or ideally, both text and audio. Typically a specialized DAISY player or software program is required in order to utilize DAISY.  Learning Ally and Bookshare are probably the most popular sources of DAISY materials.  (See below for DAISY playback options.)



Audio that is distributed to you from the college will be narrated from Learning Ally.  Narrated audio is the playback of recordings made from actual human beings reading the material.  Narrated audio will require a specialized player which can also be an application (app) that can be installed on your smart phone, tablet or computer.


If the material you need is available from Learning Ally, the college can create a student account with Learning Ally on your behalf, an account which will also provide you with listening options.  However, if the material is not available from Learning Ally, then we will resort to e-text and work with you to ensure that you can effectively use the e-text to generate your own text-to-speech audio.


Audio Playback

Playback is of most concern for students requiring audio or e-text/DAISY.  Most of the narrated audio is specially encoded and encrypted for the purpose of compression and for preventing unauthorized reproduction and distribution.  As such, specialized hardware or computer software is required in order to access these materials.  With the popularity of iOS and Android devices, many students prefer to use a free or low-cost app that can be installed and used for narrated audio playback on their devices.  The Alternate Media staff will either create your student account or advise you how to arrange for your own personal account.  Students can access a significant amount of narrated audio from Learning Ally for free as long as you are enrolled at the college.  In addition to iOS and Android devices, a few of the popular stand-alone players which you may consider purchasing on your own include the Philips GoGear Vibe, Victor Stream, PlexTalk, BookPort, and BookSense.  BCC has a small collection of National Library Service (NLS) digital playback units that we can loan to students for the duration of the semester on a first-come-first-served basis.  However, we encourage students to seek out their own method if they can afford to purchase a device since having your own will most likely be useful even after you complete your studies at the college.


Braille and Tactile Graphics

Blind students enrolled in math or science classes who know braille are encouraged to request it. Braille production is not only costly, but it can also be very time consuming to produce depending on the nature and complexity of the material.  As such, an absolute minimum of four weeks in advance of the semester start is required in order to ready the request in time for the start of the semester.  (Six to eight weeks advance will greatly help in the timeliness of delivery.  It is also worth noting that we can produce braille formatted files which amounts to e-text.  These files can be loaded onto a Braille-display-equipped PDA or computer and read electronically, eliminating the need to emboss on paper in bulky Braille volumes.  So, if you prefer to read your Brailled texts on your notetaker or computer, then you will want to request e-text.  Otherwise, if you want hardcopy braille and/or graphics, then you will want to request braille.


Large Print

Large Print means printing large font text on large pieces of paper.  Although we can produce large print materials on 11 by 17 inch paper at extremely large font sizes, many low-vision students can actually work effectively with E-Text.  This is because PDF files can readily be enlarged and are typically more manageable for students in comparison to working with 11 by 17 inch paper.  Choose e-text on the Alt Media Request form rather than large print if you will be using screen magnification on your computer or tablet.  Otherwise, if you prefer enlarged print on paper, then please select Large Print on the Alt Media Request form.


Media Delivery

Our intentions are to deliver alternate formats to students in a timely and effective manner.  However, for a variety of reasons, it may be the case that materials are delivered in installments throughout the semester in time for the assigned readings.  Students who have officially submitted an Alt Media Request form in consultation with a DSPS counselor should expect to receive an email message of acknowledgement from the Alt Media office which often includes specific actions for you to take in order to move forward in the process such as providing a copy of your book, receipt, syllabus, etc.


We have a variety of methods in which to deliver your alternate media materials.  Depending on the content, space required, and means by which the student can access the material, the Alternate Media Specialist will work with you to provide material on a flash drive, e-mailed, or downloaded from a cloud-based service.  In some cases, students may benefit from having access to more than one of the above alternate formats depending on the subject matter and your learning style.  You may explore this with your DSPS counselor and Alt Media Specialist.


Contacting the Alt Media Staff

You may contact the Office of Alternate Media staff at (510) 981-2826 or find them in room 244. A complete list of staff and counselor contact information including email is listed at