Is this a document that is likely only to be read once and then discarded?
Are you producing text that will need to be searched?
Are readers likely to be technologically sophisticated?
Is this information that must be retained and reviewed over a number of years?
Will someone need to interact with others while reading the document?
Will customers need to complete and return the document to you?
The need to read a document only once suggests that all four formats should be considered,
and appropriate ones should be made available depending on where the information will be
read. If someone needs to read an agenda during a meeting, for example, an audio tape is
not ideal, unless the tape is distributed ahead of time. In this situation, braille or large print
may be the best choices, or if the agenda is available beforehand, the person may prefer to
download the electronic file into a portable reading device for review during the meeting.
Like sighted people, blind individuals want to follow along with the text and fully
participate. Understandably, handouts may continue to change until close to the time of the
meeting, so time pressure may become a concern. But good planning and communicating in
advance with blind or visually impaired attendees will result in a better experience for
If sighted people would like to review the text periodically and refer to it over time,
allowing blind people to choose among large print, braille, audio, and electronic file is best.
If the information needs to be searched, electronic files may be the best way to make
If the document needs to be carried from place to place, such as a conference program, and
it is a long document, it may be unwieldy to carry in braille and to store for future
reference. Readers might appreciate the option of having a shorter calendar portion in
braille, and then being able to load an electronic file of the full program into a portable
note-taking device so that it can be quickly searched and reviewed.
Ideally, forms will be generated so that individuals can complete them independently.
Distributing a form as a text file makes working with the form effortless for blind or
visually impaired users in comparison to other alternatives. People can enter their
responses, print out the document, and submit the form, though retaining formatting is
difficult. Since interactive forms are increasingly offered in HTML on the World Wide
Web for everyone, this is certainly another option, assuming that the interactive form has
been created according to accessible web page design principles. Offering a form on a web
page for everyone to complete using a specialized format requiring a specific plug-in to
allow users to complete the form can present problems. Although the ability to provide
accessible forms is progressing, the completion of automated forms like these still has some
limitations. Today, completing them often requires the installation of a plug-in and a
commitment to a particular computer operating system. Also, blind and visually impaired
computer users need, but may not have, the most up-to-date specialized technology
available. If the text in such forms is not generated properly, it can become jumbled and
difficult to interpret even when converted by an accessibility plug-in.