I had to figure out how to get digital textbooks in college quickly, because otherwise I would have to drop the class. This is because I have a print disability that makes reading standard print impossible, and I’m not even a textbook case on how someone reads a textbook. I need to use a screen reader, large print, magnification, and high contrast displays to be able to read materials, and I need to make sure my textbooks support this.
There are many options for digital textbooks that not only contain all of the same things the print copies do, but also can be enlarged clearly, highlighted, annotated, and more. I’m lucky to go to a college that embraces digital textbooks and technology in the classroom for everyone, regardless of their level of sight, as digital textbooks become the wave of the future. Just make sure you will get the same access codes and other material as the people who buy print textbooks do. Here are the digital textbook services I have used in college so far.
This app is at the top because it is my most used app. It’s easy to find digital textbooks at reasonable prices here, and even large textbooks can be downloaded in under a minute. The images are clear and the book itself can be navigated quickly. Annotations are also easy to search, and the user can create flash cards to help study the material. It also responds flawlessly to display accommodations and zoom on the iPad, and integrates well with VoiceOver.
Barnes and Noble Nook
I have purchased digital textbooks from here and order books from the Nook store when they aren’t available elsewhere. The fonts can be customized, as well as their size. In addition, line spacing, background color, margins, and brightness can be adjusted. However, pictures tend to look a little funny if they are small, and the pages take longer to load compared to the Amazon app. It’s easier to read on this app for prolonged periods of time because the user can increase font size and contrast higher, so eye strain is reduced. I also have a Nook eReader that I use for reading normal books.
Chegg is a textbook service that allows users to rent or buy textbooks and eTextbooks. The built in dictionary and Wikipedia features are great, but the spacing of the display seems awkward as it only displays a quarter of the page at the most. For pages with more than three pictures or graphs, VoiceOver seemed to get a bit confused and skip around. However, the images were high resolution and adapted well to my display accommodations. I always read them on my iPad or computer.
While I haven’t personally used them in college, a lot of my friends swear by iBooks. With videos, animations, and easily enlarged pictures and graphs, it’s very easy to read. Text is clear to read, and it is flawless with VoiceOver. I don’t use it because I am sensitive to flashing lights and flickering effects, and was worried the videos and animations might use those.
Two of my professors publish their textbooks on this platform. It was hard to read text on this app because it was scanned in from a print copy so it was lower resolution than an ePub file. It’s easy to pages or take a screenshot to import into Notability, but the images were lower resolution than screenshots from any other app. VoiceOver was impossible to use.
I have used digital textbooks from Pearson for classes where the teacher had their own website on the Pearson SuccessNet platform. There was no application to view the textbooks on my iPad, as it was Adobe Flash based, so I had to use the computer. However, it is easy to read for long periods on the computer, and there is a large amount of study materials available.
If a textbook is only available in print, I will use a CCTV to access it or utilize my school assistive technology services to convert the book to a digital format. My school requires a receipt for book purchase and my Office of Disability file in order to convert the book.
Summary of popular digital textbook retailers
- Amazon Kindle
- Apple iBooks
- VitalSource Bookshelf
- DIsability Services/Assist Technology