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Many universities have service bureaus where one can obtain media in alternative formats (e.g. see the University of Colorado). These offices can transform books and articles into different formats such as large print, audiobook, or Braille editions. Generally speaking, if one of these services has been used to access sources in preparation for an academic paper, is it necessary to cite or acknowledge this?

Way back when I was young, I was taught to always disclose the media format that I was actually using to write the paper. For example, if I was writing a Freshman paper on Hamlet and used the audio CD edition from College Shortcuts Audiobooks, Inc., I was expected to explicitly cite the CD version in my bibliography. Two reasons were given: first, that this was an exercise in honesty when so many students wanted to use shortcuts like Cliff's Notes and audiobooks (in other words, citing your actual source was an "admission" that you hadn't actually read the book), and second, that different editions of the same work sometimes included textual differences, errors, or even censorship (e.g. if the instructor knew that you were using the "for kids" edition of a literary work that omitted all of the sex jokes, they would understand why you never referenced any of them in your paper). These rationales may not be relevant when dealing with university-level alternative format media that are intended for persons with disabilities and presumably adhere to academic-grade high standards in accuracy.

So, if I use my institution's disability services office to obtain an audiobook, large-print, Braille, or otherwise alternative edition of some article, am I expected to:

  • Explicitly cite the alternative format (e.g. "Smith, R. (2021) "An Analysis of Free Radicals Under Macroscopic Hypercube Regression Special Large Print Anti-Dyslexia Font Ed.. Podunk U Disabilities Office (2021), orig. printed in Advanced J. of Advancements in Advancing Science Stuff (2019, pp. 433-464)")?

  • Cite the "original" source material that the disabilities office used to produce my alternative format medium, but add an acknowledgment to my paper (e.g. "Thanks to the Podunk U Disabilities Office for making Smith R.'s (2019) paper available to me in a large print, dyslexia-friendly edition.")?

  • Just cite the original paper, omitting any mention of disability accommodations?

Yes, I'm aware that there may be institution or journal-specific policies. I'm asking about general practices. Is this kind of citation or acknowledgment even a thing?

If this differs between fields, that can be an answer. For example, "Yeah, nobody cares about how you accessed a mathematics, physics, or sociology paper, but Film Studies experts frequently hold that watching a movie with closed captions on is a different experience and needs to be disclosed, though of course you don't have to disclose whether you had them on because you have a disability or whether it was for some other reason.".

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    If you're a BibTeX user, this sounds like the sort of thing that might go nicely in a note field, e.g. note="Converted to large print and to anti-dyslexia font by Herbert Helpful of Podunk University Disabilities Office" - then the journal's/institution's style file can decide whether or not the contents of the note field get printed. Sep 5, 2021 at 15:00
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    Related: if you've only read the work you're citing in translation, it's almost certainly a good idea to say so. Sep 5, 2021 at 18:41

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Citing the alternative format is going to be a disservice to both your readers and to the authors of the original paper. For the readers you are adding an extra complication in figuring out the original source (even if it is just disregarding half of the information in the reference). For the authors the problem is that citation data bases probably won't be able to identified that their paper was indeed cited, and will thus not count it. Maybe citing counts shouldn't matter, but in practise they do.

You should be mindful of potential discrepancies though. A common issue would be page numbers. Don't give wrong paper numbers. Either omit them altogether, or better, get someone to figure out the page numbers in the original of whatever specific points you are making.

When to comes to acknowledgements: If you want to highlight the importance of accessibility, you should feel free to include this. If you don't want to draw attention to a disability, you should feel equally free to not mention this.

(This is from a math/CS perspective.)

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    Instead of saying "Citing the alternative format is going to be a disservice", I think you mean to write "Not citing the original format is going to be a disservice"?
    – usul
    Sep 5, 2021 at 1:33
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    Cite section numbers (or any other sort of internal structure that is likely to remain unchanged under format changes; e.g., theorem numbers in math papers) instead of page numbers! Don't just omit them. Sep 5, 2021 at 2:56
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    I am torn on this. On one hand, the citation count may be messed up, but the special format citation may have modifications/updates and therefore readers may not be able to match the relevant content in the new format, e.g. because it was re-edited. I personally think the source used should be mentioned to permit reconstruction if relevant. Sep 5, 2021 at 13:24
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    @CaptainEmacs If I'm told that something is on Page 7 of the Braille version of a paper created by the disability department of the University of Hintertupfing, that information doesn't help me at all in finding this. I'll either have to search in the paper for a relevant keyword or skim it to find the correct place in the primary version.
    – Arno
    Sep 5, 2021 at 18:48
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    @Arno I wasn't clear. I believe that the version used should be cited. (possibly one could also mention the original to track it back). Sep 6, 2021 at 0:20
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As you alluded to in your question, following particular journal or institutional practices is a good first step.

As for a more general answer, you should cite the media to be as 1) accurate as possible and as 2) helpful to other scholars as possible.

A few examples:

  1. If you were using a different edition of a text (perhaps a 3rd edition with a new introduction by X scholar), you should indicate this in your citation to be as accurate as possible.

  2. If a special print version (with larger text, for example) was used, the page numbers might be different. To be as helpful to other researchers, you should indicate this alternate version.

If all text is the same and all page numbers line up in a special printing of a book, say a Braille edition, then the normal citation is probably accurate and helpful to scholars. However, it could be nice to indicate an acknowledgement of the accessibility service’s effort in obtaining a special volume for your work.

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