Hiring a Contractor
Since accessible documents may only need to be produced upon request, or when the print
publication is revised, we suggest you consider contracting out some parts of the process.
As you will see, it is relatively easy to use word processing software to modify a regular
print document and produce acceptable large print. Web masters or desktop publishing
staff who pay careful attention to detail can convert electronically generated text into a
format that a blind or visually impaired person can read.
But producing the other alternate formats, such as braille and audio file, requires some
specialized skill and financial outlay. An organization that chooses to record an audio
version of the text or emboss it in Braille will need to purchase and install braille embossing
equipment, become familiar with specialized software, need a cassette duplicator, and have
some audio production experience.
The American Council of the Blind maintains a number of resource lists that contain
helpful general information about blindness and visual impairment, or about companies
that provide products and services of interest. See the American Council of the Blind's
Helpful Resources page.
The American Foundation for the Blind offers a comprehensive database on its web site
that will guide you to local organizations that can assist with the production of alternate
format documents. See the AFB Directory of Services for Blind and Visually Impaired
Persons in the United States and Canada.
The American Printing House for the Blind has compiled a similar database which offers
information about Accessible Media Producers. See the Accessible Media Producers
the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped has recently
revised its resource publication, Sources of Custom-Produced Books: Braille, Audio
Recordings, and Large Print.
You can obtain the publication online, or it can be ordered in
braille or print by contacting the Reference Section at the National Library Service for the
Blind and Physically Handicapped, The Library of Congress, Washington, DC 20542.
All three of these comprehensive resources allow users to search with more or less
flexibility for local and regional organizations. Searches can be limited to organizations
that perform certain services, such as braille transcription and proofreading, or recording
of documents. Volunteers staff a number of the organizations listed in the resources
mentioned above, but we encourage you to hire contractors, especially due to the time
limitations under which volunteers may be working. As you would when making
arrangements with any contractor, we urge you to seek recommendations from consumers,
use this guide to prepare yourself to ask explicit questions, be able to describe the alternate
format product you expect to receive, and generally make sure that the contractor you
select has had experience providing what you need in a timely fashion.
II. HOW TO DESIGN WITH ACCESS IN
One of the most important steps you can take to simplify the process of creating accessible
documents is to make certain, during each phase of composition, that those who are
developing the document use word processing software properly. Assuring that this
happens may be difficult when several individuals work collaboratively on a project, so
designating someone to review a document for inconsistencies could be helpful. Clearly,
these concerns about correctly word-processed texts only apply to the creation of large
print, braille, and electronic documents.
Following the conventional techniques for formatting documents with a word processor is
important because doing so facilitates the production of these alternate formats. Software
used to translate text into braille, for example, is designed to find and utilize standard word
processing codes and to apply them to generate text formatted in the ways that are
common practice for the production of braille. When generating large print, often a text
must be reformatted, and this task is easier when proper coding in the word processor
makes the page numbering, margins, line spacing, tabs, etc. consistent.
A Word About Wizards
While software wizards that automatically format a text can be helpful in generating
documents, it is important to understand that they may not always facilitate a smooth
transition from regular print to another format. Often, these wizards add extraneous
coding to a document which web page designers must then later strip from it in order to
create a clean and accessible final product.
Dos and Don'ts of Word Processing
Do use tabs and hanging indents rather than using the spacebar.
Do always use numbers as appropriate. For example, use the number one rather than the
letter "L" and the number zero rather than the letter “O.”
Do insert hard page break codes at the proper locations rather than using the enter key
repeatedly in order to move to the next page.
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Do use page numbering codes, rather than simply typing in page numbers.
Do use style codes to generate passages of text, such as bold, italics, or underlining, but
remember that text for large print readers should already be in boldface type to improve
Don't use the enter key to end each line, as you would when using a typewriter. Rather,
only use the enter key when a new paragraph should begin or when blank lines are needed.
Don't use columns in the document.
Keep in mind that you or a contractor may need to reformat certain areas of documents,
such as tables or spreadsheets, to assure that blind people who use screen readers can
understand the text and the concepts that the visual presentation is meant to convey. When
information like this has been reformatted to make it more accessible to blind readers,
remember to update it when revising the document.
Special Kinds of Documents and Formats
When preparing a document for production in any of the accessible alternate formats, you
will want to pay special attention to certain information such as:
Tables of Contents
Footnotes and Endnotes
Glossaries and Indices
The contents of these areas of documents need to be transmitted accurately in large print,
braille, and electronic file. The information must also be explained clearly and concisely in
the audio presentation of the text.
With respect to tables of contents, indices, glossaries, and footnotes and endnotes, it is
critical that readers have flexibility in terms of page number references. Ideally, the
accessible final product will include page numbers that both reflect the formatting of that
product, as well as page numbering that refers to the regular print version. Such careful
attention to detail permits blind and sighted users to discuss a document together. Because
these portions of text typically contain unusual formatting, they must be carefully reviewed
when converting a word-processed file into another electronic file format. Providing a
complex document with content like this as a stand-alone HTML file, or posting it on the
World Wide Web, can be a helpful solution. Including internal links from a table of
contents to chapters, or from a term to its definition in a glossary, provides a pleasant
reading experience for blind and sighted readers alike.
Thinking About Images
If there are pictures in the document, be sure that they are clearly explained in the text.
Images that are to be posted on the World Wide Web require descriptions in order to be
understood. What is generally important to consider with respect to images is that for the
blind and visually impaired audience, text that refers to a picture of a product with an
arrow pointing to the "green button," for example, may be of little or no value to a blind
reader if the text does not also specifically describe the location of that green button, i.e. the
first button on the left in the top row. If the button is tactilely distinct from other buttons, it
is helpful to explain that it has a different shape or size to the touch. Note that clearly
written explanations benefit both sighted customers and customers with disabilities. After
all, many people learn best by having the choice to read text or look at a picture. Detailed
textual discussions enable many people to focus on the most relevant portions of a diagram
When a document is updated, the descriptions of visual information may need to be
revised, too. This detail may seem obvious, but if it is overlooked, confusion can arise for
III. PROVIDING LARGE PRINT
Generating large print documents for individuals who have low vision is a task that most
companies can accomplish in-house. Simply using a copy machine to enlarge and darken
the print, however, is not the best approach. Rather, documents in large print need to be
printed very clearly, reformatted to increase the size of the font, improve print contrast,
and generally make the text easier to track visually. A master document in large, dark
print may be copied if the machine will produce a very clean duplicate.
People who read large print may read with prescription lenses, special magnifiers, or
closed circuit television (CCTV) technology. A CCTV consists of a camera, under which
the user places the text, and then, the camera enlarges and projects the text image onto a
Deciding on the Number of Copies
Many individuals who are legally blind are able to read large print, so it is reasonable to
conclude that there are likely to be more requests for this format. As with other alternate
formats, it will be helpful to retain an electronic file of the large print version so that it can
be quickly printed, e-mailed, or refined upon request. For further details about the number
of copies to make available, see the section in "Getting Started" entitled "Quantity."
Formatting and Printing for Large Print Readers
When producing large print, it will be helpful to follow the general guidelines outlined in
the section called "How to Design with Access in Mind." In order to generate the most
legible large print documents, make an effort to implement the following specific
suggestions, unless a consumer specifies another type-size or font preference. The large
print version will consist of about three pages of large print for every page of 11-12 point
Many large print readers recommend printing text in 18-point type. Although 14-point
type is often mentioned as acceptable in regulations, such as those issued by the U.S. Postal
Service, using 18-point type will accommodate a wider audience.
Select a font that is plain, rather than one that is fine or fancy. There should be normal
white space between characters.
Bold the entire document so that the print will be dark enough to offer an additional level
of contrast between the print and the paper.
Left-justify the text so that the spacing between letters is consistent and easy to track
visually. Use the block style for paragraphs whenever possible. If the beginning of each
paragraph must be indented, use two spaces, instead of the usual five.
Left and right margins of one inch are ideal.
Number pages at the top or bottom left-hand side of the page.
Use 8-1/2 by 11-inch, non-glossy, off-white paper whenever possible. White paper can
create glare, and colored paper lessens the contrast between the print and paper. Also,
choose paper that does not permit the letters to bleed through to the other side of the page
when printing on both sides.
Make sure that the ink in the printer is generating clean copy without lines or smudges.
Eliminate the automatic hyphenation of words.
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Do not center text.
Do not double-space the document, but rather, set line spacing to 1.5.
Areas within the document that are not straight text, such as pictures, tables, graphs,
charts, and information in columns, will require some modification. Graphs, diagrams, and
pictures should be removed and described instead, or they may be enlarged and included
on separate pages for those readers who find them useful. Information in tables, columns,
and charts needs to be arranged so that it can easily be tracked with the eye. Column
formatting should be removed. Data in tables and charts should be explained in the text, or
if the information can be made to fit on the page, adding dot leaders can help the reader
follow the presentation.
Labeling and Binding Large Print Documents
Just as with documents provided in regular print, the presentation of the final product is
important. In fact, binding or stapling the large print version may be even more important
since there are many additional pages. Selecting a binding method that will permit readers
to use magnifying equipment is especially helpful. For example, putting several staples
along the vertical edge of the pages is not recommended because doing so often makes the
pages difficult to flatten entirely and may obscure the print close to the binding. Using
spiral binding would be preferable since the book can either be opened flat or folded in
half, making it easier to maneuver while reading.
IV. PROVIDING BRAILLE
Braille is a system of raised-dot combinations that represent print letters both to blind and
deaf-blind readers. National Braille Press makes a representation of the braille alphabet
available online for interested print readers.
Braille does not consist of dot formations that correspond precisely to print. Rather, most
of those who read braille are accustomed to reading a sort of shorthand, called Grade II
braille, in which many contractions are used. Because readers expect to see these
contractions and various other common format modifications, braille translation software
is a necessary part of the process of providing braille.
Though the population of braille readers may be comparatively small, it is important that
this format be offered to those who need it. If a braille reader is attending a meeting where
printed documents are being reviewed, and the blind person has nothing to review, he or
she cannot participate fully in the activity.
If a company intends to produce braille texts in-house, the company must purchase a
braille embosser, the appropriate paper, and software to translate electronic files into
braille. Although a method for electronically embossing braille onto paper is in widespread
use today, one never knows when a new method may become inexpensive enough to be
adopted as the accepted technology. The Duxbury Braille Translator
is one of the leading
software packages currently in use in the Microsoft® Windows® environment. A few free
braille translators are available and are listed in Appendix C, but these free packages may
not offer the support or flexibility that other packages do.
Several assistive technology companies manufacture and support braille embossers. A list
of these companies may be found by visiting Duxbury Systems' Resources On or Off the
The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped provides
another list entitled Braille Embossers.
While an electronic file can be translated into braille and embossed on paper, if the
document is complex, a proofreader's assistance will be valuable. A proofreader can assure
that braille readers receive error-free documents. Braille proofreaders are listed in some of
the sites gathered in Appendix C.
Braille Translation Software and Word Processing
Major software packages for braille translation are able to handle many file types. For
example, the Duxbury Braille Translator is flexible and can translate files produced in
word processing programs such as Microsoft Word® and Corel WordPerfect®. Duxbury's
software can also translate HTML documents prepared for the World Wide Web and
information generated by spreadsheet packages. It is important to keep in mind that braille
translation software cannot currently translate documents produced using graphical
desktop publishing packages such as QuarkXPress™, Adobe® PageMaker®, or an Adobe
product that generates Portable Document Format® (PDF) files. Braille translation must
be performed on text-based characters, rather than graphical images of those characters. If
a software package is not supported, it will be necessary to convert files to a format
supported by the braille translation software first.
Principles of proper word processing are important to observe when producing braille
documents because braille translation software takes word processing styles and other
specialized indicators into account. For example, a tab stop beginning a paragraph in print
is translated into the two blank spaces that denote the beginning of a paragraph in braille.
Braille translation software also renders bulleted points, italics, bolding, underlining, and
other similar styles into specialized configurations recognizable to braille readers.
Making Visual Information Accessible to Braille Readers
Pictures, diagrams, tables, charts, and graphs may be more difficult to render in braille
than basic textual documents are. Pictures cannot be translated, so including text
descriptions of them, and making sure that captions are descriptive and translate correctly,
will be helpful. Diagrams and graphs also require attention so that the information
contained in them is adequately conveyed. Again, notes inserted into the text can be
valuable, and depending upon the purpose of the diagram or graph, it may be worthwhile
to have tactile graphic representations produced. Finding a contractor with previous
experience in developing tactile graphics is advisable, and several of the resource
collections in Appendix C can guide you to such contractors.
Tables and spreadsheets can be translated into braille. When working with spreadsheets
and tables, a semblance of their layout must be retained so that all headings and data are
accurate and placed correctly. Often, the intervention of a proofreader is necessary for
complicated documents like these.
Embossing, Binding, and Labeling Braille Documents
When the document is ready to be translated into braille, you will need to make some
decisions about the presentation of the final product.
Will the document be embossed on one side of the paper or on two? The braille printer you
have may only allow for the embossing of single-sided pages, but if you have a choice,
consider using both sides of the page. Embossing on both sides of the page is an especially
good idea if the document is long. Clearly, double-sided pages save paper, and the braille
version becomes less bulky to carry and store. If you are embossing several different items
at the same time, such as pieces of a packet, be careful to check that each new document
begins on the front side of a page since doing so makes each piece easier to locate quickly.
Which size paper will be used? There are two basic sizes of braille paper from which to
choose. Standard 8-1/2 by 11-inch paper is easier to carry and is often the best choice for
short documents. On the other hand, larger paper, measuring 11 by 11-1/2 inches, may be
more suitable for books.
Braille translation software allows users to set margins and indicate whether the document
will be single-sided or double-sided so that pages will be numbered in sequence.
Unfortunately, if top and bottom margins are not set properly, text can be embossed on the
perforations between the fan-fold pages, and when this happens, the braille becomes
impossible to read. Running a test copy permits the producer to make any necessary
Be sure to purchase fan-fold paper that can be loaded into the printer. Also, selecting paper
with pre-punched holes in it may be helpful if it is appropriate to bind the text in a three-
hole binder or with a 19-hole comb binding.
After the text has been embossed in braille, consider whether the document needs simply to
have the pages stapled together, whether it needs to be bound with covers on front and
back, and whether it needs a braille label on it and perhaps also a print one. Without print
labels on them, a large collection of braille documents can become difficult for sighted
people to identify and distribute. Stapling, binding, and labeling are often neglected, but
extra touches like these demonstrate to blind readers that companies care about the image
conveyed by the braille product. Even if you choose not to staple the pages, always be sure
to separate the fan-fold braille pages, just as you would if the document were in print.
Additional copies of the document can be generated from the electronic file. For
suggestions about the number of copies, see "Quantity" in the section entitled "Getting
V. PROVIDING AN AUDIO VERSION OF
Since many people who are blind or visually impaired have become accustomed to listening
to recorded texts, this alternate format is certainly one that should be considered. In fact,
depending upon the circumstances in which reading will be done, this medium may be the
best "one size fits all" choice. Offering an audio-based publication is especially necessary if
there is a need to reach the widest range of blind or visually impaired readers who may not
have access to computers or the Internet. Because they must frequently rely upon cassette-
based publications, blind or visually impaired people are likely to have access to audio
cassette players. It is also worth noting that people who have learning disabilities may also
benefit from listening to information on tape. In this section, several aspects of the
production process will be discussed including selecting a reader, choosing the recording
medium, describing visual information, and labeling and packaging the final product.
Selecting a Reader
The person who records the text should be someone who has a clear, pleasant reading
voice. In most cases, a dramatic reading is not necessary and may sometimes even be
distracting. Professionals with specific experience reading for blind people may be hired,
but doing so is not always essential. What is important is that the information be made
available and be fully comprehensible to the intended audience.
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