The Alternative Format Suite: supporting students by removing barriers

All students – all people – come across barriers in life and need guidance, a pointer or a tool to help them get over the hurdle and back on track. Student Services provide this help in a number of different ways.

Part of their role is to provide support for students who declare a disability both at entry to their course and while on the course. The Disability Team has specialists who advise students with physical disabilities, sensory impairment, unseen medical conditions, long standing health or medical conditions, mental health difficulties, Autistic Spectrum disorders and Specific Learning Difficulties.

In 2005, the University set up and equipped a state-of-the-art Alternative Format Suite (AFS) to scan and record books in audio and to print out learning materials in Braille format to support students with special needs and learning difficulties

The AFS operates thanks to the help of around 50 volunteers including local residents, University staff and students, and is managed by Paresh Raval.

Here is the first of three stories about students who have used the services of the AFS.


Paresh Raval describes the experience of Rian MacAllister (MA 2015).

“Rian MacAllister was registered blind and had very little vision. He came to the University of St Andrews in 2011 to study for an MA Honours in Mediaeval History and Middle East Studies.

“Rian had four years’ support from us in the AFS and he graduated in June 2015. We helped him with his reading materials and he was very happy studying here. During his time here he always had kind words to say about me and the volunteers who helped him to achieve his degree.

“We all grieved when Rian passed away in August, two months after his graduation, due to a medical condition that we were not aware of. I attended his funeral in Oban and met his family and friends there and have kept in touch with them ever since.

“Because they were so grateful for the support we gave Rian during his time here, the MacAllister family decided to donate the £1,000 collected at the church funeral to the Alternative Format Suite. The following year, in 2016, the family also chose to donate the funds raised by the Oban Masonic Lodge at a Family Fun Day and Ceilidh in Oban as a way of giving back.

“Their support is Rian’s legacy to future students who, like him, need the specialist services provided by the AFS.”


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