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Cambridge LibGuides

Find out more about our library services, facilities and resources

Accessibility and inclusivity: Cambridge libraries toolkit

Supporting a diverse range of needs

The provision of resources that are accessible to all is a key responsibility for librarians. Legislation means that as an institution the University of Cambridge is legally obligated to provide access to content and resources to all its members.

This can lead to a stressful experience for librarians, who are often seen as responsible for providing students and other users with alternative format documents. This can be easier said than done, due to the inaccessibility of printed and electronic resources, as well as the technical knowledge and time commitment the provision of accessible formats demands. We hope the guidance and links below will alleviate some of this stress for library staff, and allow us to better support and provide for our users. 

Cambridge University Libraries (CUL): Policy on the purchase of accessible ebooks

Cambridge University Libraries' ebooks team have developed a policy on ebook purchasing, to ensure that purchased ebooks are accessible for as many users as possible. The policy is intended for use by staff at Cambridge University Libraries involved in the purchasing of ebooks. The information may also be useful for staff at other libraries working to ensure that ebooks they purchase are as accessible as possible.

The policy was last updated September 26th 2020. Download the policy as a pdf document using the link below.


Sensus Access logo reading Sensus Access alternate media made easy


The SensusAccess service is designed to allow disabled students and staff (or those supporting them) to create accessible alternative formats of inaccessible digital documents. It is a free self-service facility for students and staff at the University of Cambridge. Free e-training on how to use this service is available from

Use the web-form hosted on the University of Cambridge Disability Resource Centre webpages to convert PDFs, JPEGs and other files into an e-book, text file, audio or braille:

Click here to access the SensusAccess web-form

RNIB Bookshare and the Internet Archive

Bookshare is a UK-hosted website online resource offered by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), which provides a UK education collection for print-disabled learners including those with dyslexia, or who are blind and partially sighted.  RNIB Bookshare logo

Textbooks, academic monographs, and other materials to support the UK higher and further education curriculum are available via Bookshare, and there are currently over 200,000 titles to choose from. A range of accessible formats are offered via the website, these can be read electronically or adapted to suit the personal reading needs of learners. 

UK Higher Education institutions can sign up to use Bookshare on behalf of their print-disabled users. Librarians can add PDF titles held in Bookshare to reading lists for individual students, who can then download the PDF in a variety of formats (such as PDF, ePUB, DAISY, audio files).

If the title needed is not available on Bookshare and if a publisher is registered with Bookshare, a librarian or disability officer can request that the title be added. The Bookshare website includes a list of contact details for publishers that are not registered with Bookshare.

Click here to access the RNIB Bookshare website.

It is also possible to upload scans of material to Bookshare. When a title cannot be sourced via Bookshare an email is received to confirm this, alongside permission from the publisher to scan a print version of the required title. Such scans can be submitted to Bookshare so that they can be shared with members of other UK institutions. RTF, PDF and ePUB files are all accepted. Adding the ePUB or RTF file will make the book available in all accessible download formats, if you add a PDF file, it will only be available to download as a PDF. 

The Accessibility Services team (Raven protected intranet site) at Cambridge University Libraries can advise on aspects of using Bookshare and is able to provide Cambridge librarians with access to the service. The team can be contacted using the following options:


Phone: 01223 (3)33000


The Internet Archive can be a good source for older reading material. At the time of writing the Archive holds close to 2 million texts, which can be made available to people with qualifying disabilities.


Click here to access the Internet Archive.

Scanning services for students

If it is not possible to acquire electronic files directly from a publisher, from RNIB Bookshare or to purchase an ebook, librarians can scan whole books or chapters as needed for individual print-disabled students. Students may prefer for the librarian to apply OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to the PDF, or to do this themselves (this will depend on the software the student uses and the compatibility with their screen reader).

  • When scanning, make sure to manually change the page dimensions (scan size à custom) and to select ‘2-sided’.
  • To apply OCR, you will need to use a tool such as Adobe Acrobat DC or ABBYY FineReader. 

If using Adobe Acrobat DC:


1.      Open the PDF file containing the scan in Acrobat.


2.      Click on Tools in the top left-hand corner and select Edit PDF.


3.      Acrobat will then apply OCR to your document and convert it to a fully editable copy of your PDF.


4.      Save and send the editable version to the student. 


The Disability Resource Centre is able to pay Non-Medical Helpers (NMHs) to scan materials for print-disabled students. More information can be found here:

To arrange a NMH for a student, email:

Guidance from the Disability Resource Centre (DRC)

The Disability Resource Centre have created a dedicated web page advising on accessible materials. As well as guidance on creating accessible documents for use in situations such as teaching, the page contains instructions on how to convert inaccessible pdf documents, and how specific technologies interact with document formats.

Click here to access the Disability Resource Centre Accessible Materials webpage.

Electronic Legal Deposit resources

Electronic resources received by Cambridge University Libraries through the Legal Deposit Act must be consulted on dedicated PC terminals within the University Libraries. This is due to legislation restricting the way these resources are accessed.

The implications of this for accessibility are less than ideal. As more and more material is received this way, it is important to promote this aspect of service to library users, and guide on the use of resources restricted in this way. 

Copyright and legislation

Section 31 of the UK's Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (1988) details exceptions to copyright for the benefit of disabled persons. This enables you to make an accessible copy of a work available to a disabled person if:
a) the disabled person has lawful access to a copy of the whole or part of the work; and
b) the person's disability prevents the person from enjoying the work to the same degree as a person who does not have that disability

For full details of this section of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act please click on the link below:

The Marrakesh Treaty is an international legal instrument which aims to make published content more accessible to people with disabilities. Prior to the Treaty, copyright exceptions only applied to situations where accessible copies could not be obtained under reasonable commercial terms. Following a change to UK legislation in October 2018, when the Treaty came into force, accessible copies can now be made regardless of whether a work is commercially available in an accessible form.

Copies should made available for the exclusive use of a disabled person (or person acting on behalf of the disabled person), and should not be copied again. Any copy produced should include a statement to this effect, i.e. that is only for the use of the disabled person.

The UK Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) Higher Education license terms and conditions will be updated in August 2019 to mirror these changes in legislation.
Accessible digital copies made available for the exclusive use of disabled persons do not need to be included on the digital copies report submitted to the CLA.

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