About Alternative Formats

What are alternative formats?

The term alternative format refers to print, audio, or video materials that have been converted into a different format to be accessible by people who cannot use or understand the original material. They are ways of presenting materials so that everyone has equal access to the information. Alternative formats are required for people using assistive technology; however, they can benefit anyone with a temporary, permanent, or situational disability.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) section 12 mandates alternative format availability. Whether a disability is physical or cognitive, there are different types of alternative formats that are appropriate and necessary to allow inclusion.

Why alternative formats?

Imagine for a moment, you’re a heavy machine operator who has recently been injured and is returning to school to find a new career. Your dominant hand is not able to hold more than two pounds and sitting for more than 20 minutes causes your back to spasm. You take daily handfuls of prescription medication which help your condition a bit, but also causes your mind to feel muddy.

Now imagine a physical hardcover textbook that is 8 ½ by 10 inches in size, 1 inch thick, 1200+ pages, and weighs over 5 pounds. Inside, you find thin glossy pages with colour illustrations and small text.

Having a textbook like this, in an alternative format would be a game changer.

Types of Alternative Formats

Digital audio

Audio recordings provide an alternate option for text-based material. Audio recordings are either generated using text-to-speech software or read aloud by a human. These recordings are typically saved in a DAISY format which allows users to navigate through the recording. They can also be obtained as an audiobook.


Braille is a system of writing that uses a tactile alphabet, contractions, and patterns made of raised dots that can be read with fingers. Print text can be converted to braille using simple or contracted braille. Braille can also be generated electronically from digital text which can then be read by touch using a digital braille display connected to an electronic device.


Captions are an on-screen text display of the audio portion of a video. They are usually displayed at the bottom of the video and translates the video’s dialogue, identifies speakers, and describes other relevant sounds. Captions are synchronized with the video image and are either always in view and cannot be turned off (open) or can be turned on and off by the viewer (closed).

Descriptive video

A descriptive video includes a voice over narration that describes important actions happening in a video. This allows those who cannot see the screen to understand what’s happening in the video. (Example: a blue car enters the scene from the right.)

Digital text

Digital text is printed text converted into electronic formats, primarily in the form of text documents (e.g., Microsoft Word, or PDFs), accessible eBook (e.g., ePUB), or accessible webpages/HTML. Digital text can be magnified, reformatted, and read aloud by specialized software. This can be helpful for people with a large variety of disabilities including vision, cognitive, and physical.

Large print

Large print is text printed in an accessible font size of 18 points or more and implements other accessible vision base formatting techniques. Large print books typically have a larger physical format.


Creating alternative formats can take some time. Preparing materials in an accessible manner can reduce the time and effort required to convert them into alternative formats. The following articles provide guidance on how to create accessible materials:


Is this page useful?

Back to Top