Providing Information in Alternative Formats
Details on who needs large print, electronic text, audio cassette or Braille and how to create these alternative formats. Also resources and tips on making websites compliant with accessibility laws.
When a print or on-screen document or multimedia presentation is produced in an accessible, alternative format, it more fully meets the needs of people with sensory, physical, learning and other disabilities. This tipsheet focuses on the production of materials in alternative formats in order to convey information to international exchange participants.
- Assistive Technology
- Alternative Formats
- Who Needs Alternative Formats?
- Use of Alternative Formats in the U.S. and Abroad
- Knowing When to Convert Information to Alternative Formats
- Types of Information to Provide in Alternative Formats
- Guidelines for Alternative Formats
- Equipment, Skills and Training Requirements
For the purposes of this tipsheet, the definition of assistive technology is limited to any device that facilitates equal access to computers, software and information. Assistive technology empowers people with sensory, physical, learning and other disabilities, by increasing access to information in their personal and professional lives.
When designing documents for the general public, be aware that many consumers use assistive technology to access their computer and electronic information. Thanks to the explosive growth of personal computers, much of the wide variety of assistive technology available is computer compatible.
One of the most common assistive technologies used today is speech synthesis software, which converts computers into talking workstations. Software programs known as screen readers use speech synthesis to read aloud the contents of the computer screen. Dozens of commands allow the user to read information one character, word, line, sentence or paragraph at a time. Screen readers can be used with word processing, web browsing, data base management, spreadsheet and other software. Screen readers can also provide Braille output for people who prefer Braille over speech output. This requires that a Braille display be connected to the computer, and the screen reader configured appropriately to support the display. A Braille display uses mechanical pins that pop up and down under the control of the computer to generate refreshable Braille that can be read one line at a time. Together, a screen reader and Braille display allow persons to read text using Braille without having to physically print out the text.
Another useful form of assistive technology is video magnification software. Capable of providing magnification ranging from 1X to 20X, video magnification software allows individuals with low vision to magnify the contents of the computer screen, and to read documents, websites and other information. Video magnification software can be used on Windows, Macintosh and Linux computer platforms.
Another commonly used technology employed by persons with low vision is the electronic video magnifier, also known as a closed circuit television system (CCTV). CCTV systems are stand-alone devices that consist of a video camera, video display monitor and a mounting stand. These devices are essentially electronic magnification systems, allowing the user to read printed text and other material under magnification. The typical CCTV is relatively easy to operate and usually requires minimal user training. The video camera is aimed at the desired reading material and the image is then focused on the video display, which allows users with low vision to read the printed material in as large a typeface as necessary for clarity. A typical CCTV system is about the same size and weight as a small television system, but portable units are also on the market. Monitors range in size from four inches to twenty-one inches and come in color or black-and-white. There are also CCTV systems that are worn on the body, mounted on goggles that permit reading of printed materials.
Another powerful assistive technology is voice recognition, which allows users unable to use a standard keyboard to control their computers using spoken commands, bypassing the keyboard altogether. Voice recognition software requires a computer equipped with a sound card and a microphone, and requires training and a computer with sufficient CPU power and memory in order to be effective.
Several major types of alternative formats of print materials are in wide use throughout the United States and abroad. These formats include large print, audiocassette, audio files such as WAV and MP3, Braille and removable disk media. Removable disk media includes floppy disks, CDROM and DVD disks. The least expensive to produce is large print; the most expensive is Braille. Materials have also begun to be produced and distributed through the Internet via websites and email. For people who have hearing disabilities, alternative formats are required to access purely audio information. Specifically, it is important to provide captioning for video programming, as well as text transcripts of audio files. This applies to files on websites, ntranets and on local computers.
Captions are words displayed on a television or computer screen that describe the audio or sound portion of a program. Captions allow viewers with hearing disabilities to follow the dialogue and action of a program simultaneously. They can also provide information about who is speaking or about sound effects that may be important to understanding the content of the video. Captions are created from the transcript of a program. A captioner separates the dialogue into captions and makes sure that the words appear in sync with the audio they describe. A specially designed computer software program encodes the captioning information and combines it with the audio and video to create a new master tape or digital file of the program.
Captions may be open or closed. To view closed captions, viewers need a set-top decoder or a television with built-in decoder circuitry. Open captions appear on all television sets and can be viewed without a decoder. Video programming produced by international exchange organizations should be open captioned by a professional captioner in order to provide access for people with hearing disabilities. Many commercial vendors and some specialized software will allow individuals, organizations and schools to create captions. For more information on captioning, see the Resources section below.
Just as exchange participants’ disabilities may vary widely, so will their needs for information in alternative formats. People with visual, hearing, learning and cognitive disabilities use information in alternative formats. This tipsheet focuses primarily on the alternative formats required by people with visual impairments, but also provides information on alternative formats required by individuals with other disabilities. As always, ask the individual about his or her preferences for alternative formats to determine the best course of action.
Many people who are unable to read print in the United States do not require, or even prefer, Braille. Since only a small percentage of people with visual impairments in the United States read Braille proficiently enough to prefer information in this format, large scale documents in Braille are generally produced only upon request.
By contrast, people with visual impairments in many other countries use Braille to a greater extent than their U.S. counterparts. If possible, it is best to ask the person what type of alternative format he or she prefers. However, when preparing general materials in alternative formats for international participants, Braille should be considered along with other formats. Please see the Guidelines for Alternative Formats section of this chapter for information on producing Braille for speakers of languages other than English. For countries with less access to technology, personal readers and/or audiocassette tapes may be used more frequently than computer-based assistive technology.
An organization may choose to reproduce lengthy documents and documents that need to be updated frequently in Braille and on audiocassette only upon request due to the high cost of reproducing documents in these formats. Additionally, some types of information are so difficult to reproduce in alternative formats that they are generally not made available. These include items such as photographs of office staff or program participants, maps showing directions to the organization’s offices and charts depicting the organization’s managerial hierarchy or certain website pages. However, maps and charts can be described in a text (i.e. non-graphic) format.
Although it is possible to reproduce graphs and diagrams in Braille, and to describe complex charts verbally, the time and cost needed to achieve satisfactory results may not be worth the effort. For example, maps and/or pictorial material can be produced using a tactile Braille embosser, but these devices are prohibitively expensive for many small organizations. On the other hand, if the information is vital to the programs and/or services the organization provides (such as a city’s transit system), it becomes mandatory to provide the information in an alternative format that exchange participants can use independently.
During the production of any organizational video, open captioning should be incorporated into the process to assure access by individuals with hearing disabilities. Video description should also be provided to assist users who are blind or visually impaired. Please see the Multimedia Presentations section of this chapter for more information on video description.
All useful and/or necessary information provided to exchange program applicants and participants should be made available in a format they can access independently. This information includes, but is not necessarily limited to:
- All contact information for the organization in the form of business
cards or flyers.
- Descriptions of the types of programs and/or services provided by
the organization in the form of brochures, pamphlets and application
- Any legal documentation associated with the programs and/or
services provided by the organization.
- All forms that exchange participants must sign in order to be
eligible to participate in the exchange program and/or receive
services from the organization.
- Organizational policies, procedures and orientation processes
relevant to exchange participants’ participation and/or services.
- All auditory narration on video productions or websites.
Though there are no legal standards for producing information in alternative formats, the following guidelines may be helpful:
As the simplest of the alternative formats to produce, large print is widely used to convey information to people with low vision. This is especially true when a document is already in a word-processed form. If using a copier machine to enlarge a paper document, ensure that the paper upon which it will be printed is large enough to capture all of the information without cutting off the edges of the document or the ends of the lines on the document.
When producing large print using a personal computer, the document can often be quickly and easily converted to large type by changing the font size within the word processing program or other application being used.
When producing a document in large print, consider:
- Font size: While the standard large print is produced in 14-point type, most large-print readers consider this to be too small. Therefore most large print documents should be produced with the body text in 18-point type and major headings in 24-point type.
- Font type: People who have been readers of regular print in the past tend to prefer serif fonts such as Times New Roman or Helvetica. However, people who have always read large print tend to prefer sans-serif fonts such as Arial. (The official large print font of the Library of Congress is Times New Roman.) Therefore, large print documents may best meet most people’s needs if produced with major headings in Arial and with body text in Times New Roman. Italics should be avoided if possible; bolding and underlining can be substituted.
- Paper contrast: While most regular print is produced on paper with a gray or yellow cast because it is easier on the eyes than true white, many people with low vision find print on off-white paper difficult to read. Therefore, large print documents should be produced on true white paper with highly contrasting print. Again, when in doubt, it is always best to ask the participant for his or her specific preferences.
DIGITAL AUDIO FILES
Digital audio files are a growing segment of the market, and are popular with many individuals. These files can be read using a wide variety of equipment, and may be a good solution for persons unable to read regular printed text. They can be produced in several different audio formats, including mp3 and wmv files - two of the most common. Once created, these files can be played back using a desktop computer, notebook computer, personal digital assistant or portable MP3 player, and can be sent to consumers via e-mail if they are not too large. These files can also be burned to CDs and DVDs for easy, low-cost distribution. Audio file formats are also beneficial for individuals with disabilities who may be unable to read standard print due to a physical, learning or sensory related disability.
As is the case with producing audiocassettes, producing a digital sound file is relatively simple. A personal computer equipped with a sound card, microphone and sound recording software is required. A quiet room to make the recording is also necessary. As is the case with audiocassettes, the reader should have a clear, understandable voice, and should be familiar with the subject matter prior to making the recording. The recording should be monitored to provide quality assurance. The final product may require editing by someone with professional experience recording digital sound files in order to remove any mistakes from the end product.
Once one of the most commonly used alternative formats in the United States, after large print, the use of audio cassettes is declining due to new, less expensive and more prevalent audo recording technologies such as those mentioned above. Generally speaking, a document can be read out loud onto a standard cassette and duplicated for distribution to exchange participants at a fairly low cost.
When producing materials in audio, consider:
- Graphical content: Depending on the nature of the graphics in a document, it may or may not be possible (or practical) to include audio descriptions of them in the audio version of the document. A good rule is to include any information that is tabular and picture captions. However, maps and flow charts should generally be omitted because they are extremely difficult to convey with words. In this case, the reader should note any omission for the listener. Be aware that tactile versions of pictorial or graphical material can be produced separately to accompany the audiocassette.
- Four-tracking: While commercial cassette players can play a single track on each side of a cassette, the specially designed players developed for visually impaired people can play two tracks per side of a cassette. This means that each tape can actually contain four tracks of material, thus reducing the number of cassettes needed to produce a lengthy document on cassette. However, not all people with visual impairments possess or have access to a four-track player. The choice of producing an audio recording on four-track or commercial two-track player should be made with the intended audience specifically in mind. This will ensure that all exchange participants who wish to listen to the recording can actually do so.
- Speed: Just as important as the issue of four-tracking is the issue of tape speed. Many players today can record at a slower-than-normal speed. The Library of Congress standard recording speed is 15/16ths inches per second (ips), while the standard commercial recording speed is 1-7/8ths ips. If a player cannot play at 15/16ths, it cannot play a recording that was produced at that rate. Therefore, such a recording may not be accessible by all exchange participants wishing to listen to it. As with four-tracking versus two-tracking, the choice of recording at 15/16ths or 1-7/8ths should be made with the intended audience in mind to ensure that all exchange participants wishing to listen to the recording can do so.
- Type of producer: The clarity of the recording, proficiency of narrator and delivery of the content are critical to assure a usable product. Therefore, many organizations choose to outsource the recording of their documents. While numerous volunteer organizations around the country can record documents on demand, the quality of the finished product can vary widely (see the Resources section for suggestions). The choice of producer should be made based on the expected need of the exchange participant base.
As a rule, producing a document in Braille is more expensive than other alternative formats. However, it is an option worth considering, especially when the intended audience may include persons who are Deaf Blind, since Braille may be their only means of accessing written materials. On the other hand, some individuals who are Deaf Blind use a computer or electronic note taker, and so may prefer material produced on removable disks. Braille is also a good option if the individual will need to refer to the document during a meeting, such as a meeting outline or agenda.
The Braille Authority of North America (BANA) recently announced a change in terminology to what has been traditionally known as “Grade I” and “Grade II” Braille. Grade I Braille is now known as Uncontracted Braille, and Grade II Braille is now known as Contracted Braille. This applies in the United States and Canada, but the traditional terms may still be in use in other parts of the world. In the United States, Grade II, or Contracted, Braille is the most widely accepted form of Braille. However, when documentation is converted into Braille for international individuals’ use and is in English, the Grade I (also known as Uncontracted Braille) equivalent of that language should be used since that is more common outside of the United States. When the documentation is translated into a particular language, Grade I or
Grade II Braille in that specific language may be used. The decision should be made based on the Braille skills of the exchange participant base, which can be estimated by consulting with blind schools or organizations in the country.
When producing a document in Braille, consider:
- Size of the document: It generally takes three to four Braille pages to equal one printed page. Braille may be inexpensive for a small document, but can be very expensive for a lengthy print document. Furthermore, a lengthy print document may fill several volumes when produced in Braille,making the finished product thick and unwieldy for practical use. Therefore, it may be more efficient to produce a lengthy document in Braille only upon request.
- Frequency of updating: If a document (especially a longer document)
tends to be updated frequently, it may not be practical to produce it in Braille due to the cost of Braille production. It may make more sense to produce such a document in Braille only upon request.
- Type of paper: There are several grades of Braille paper (including 24-pound, 100-pound, and Thermoform). While 24-pound paper is the cheapest option, it is also the least durable. Braille magazines tend to be produced with 24-pound paper, while hard-cover textbooks tend to be produced with 100-pound paper. Thermoform, a plastic paper, produces very durable Braille but is difficult to read, physically heavier and much more expensive. If the document is meant for long-term use and is unlikely to need updating, the best option is probably 100-pound paper; if the document is meant for short-term use and/or is likely to need frequent updating, 24-pound paper might serve best.
- Size of paper: Braille paper can measure 8.5 by 11 inches or 11 by 11.5 inches. For easier storage in file folders and mailing in standard envelopes, organizations may choose to select the 8.5 by 11 inch paper, unless the other size has been requested by an individual.
- Production costs: Braille is more expensive to produce than all the other alternative formats because it requires software, a computer and a Braille embosser, as well as a trained transcriber or producer to assure a quality product. Cost varies widely, depending on volume, size of document, type of paper and producer. In-house production may be cheaper in the long run, because the purchase of equipment and software, and the training of a staff member to do the work, are all one-time costs. The choice of in-house versus outsourcing should be made based on expected need.
- Type of producer: Many organizations choose to outsource Braille production. The major Braille publishing houses in the United States offer volume discounts and individual pricing. While independent small producers offer less expensive pricing, they may not have the resources to do the work as quickly or as professionally as a major publishing house. The choice of producer should therefore be made based on all the criteria mentioned above and can be located by reviewing the information provided in the Resources section at the end of this chapter.
Since most documents today are produced electronically before they are ever printed, it is generally a simple, inexpensive process to produce such a document on disk for distribution to exchange participants. The two most common choices for disk formats are CD and DVD. These disk formats have different storage capacities and some can be written over and used multiple times, an important consideration when providing information on removable disk.
Generally, CDs are capable of holding about 700 megabytes (Mb) of information. Single layer DVDs can hold roughly 4.7 gigabytes (Gb) of information while double layer DVDs can hold up to 8.5 Gb of information. Both the disk format and capacity should be taken into consideration when providing information this way. Be sure that the format chosen is capable of holding the amount of data necessary and ask which disk format is preferred by an individual consumer.
When producing a document on disk, there are many file formats from which to choose. Always ask the end users which file format they prefer. While Microsoft Word is commonly used in the United States for word processing, not all exchange participants possess or have access to this particular software.
ASCII is the one file format that is truly universal, but this universality comes with some drawbacks. The ASCII text file format produces a plain text document, with no boldfacing, italic, underlining, font sizes, etc. Be aware that converting to ASCII text removes complex formatting such as tables, columns and other structures. However, ASCII text files do have the advantage of being readable by virtually all word processing software. Rich text format (RTF) is another popular file format recognized by most word processing software. RTF documents preserve the original document’s format, which makes them appear similar to Microsoft Word, PDF and HTML. RTF documents are also compatible with screen readers and other assistive technology.
HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) files are another popular file format. HTML files can include complex information, such as tables, columns, images, sounds, graphics and videos. It is important to construct HTML files according to guidelines for accessibility, found on the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative website and at the Access Board website. See the Resources section below for contact information for these organizations.
- Organization of files: Depending on the size and nature of a document, it may be practical to organize the document into smaller, more manageable, pieces. This is especially true when the document contains several sections or chapters. Generally speaking, a CD or DVD should contain a file called “contents,” containing the document’s table of contents, as well as a file called “cover” or “contact,” containing the cover page or contact information for the organization.
- Graphics: Screen reading programs cannot yet interpret graphical content, including pictures and flow charts, and screen-enlarging programs may have difficulty in sizing graphical content. When a document containing graphics is converted into ASCII, those graphics are lost. Therefore, depending on how the exchange participant base will be accessing the document, it may be more practical to remove the graphics from the document altogether before converting the document into ASCII text files. Another option might be to include the graphics associated with the document in separate files or to describe the information from the graphics in words only, if the graphics are not summarized or described elsewhere in the text.
ACCESSIBLE WEBSITE DESIGN
Today, much of the information about and generated by organizations is available over the Internet. While this is a fast, usually inexpensive means of achieving a wide distribution, website designers need to incorporate accessibility features in the development of websites. Technology for computer screen-readers is rapidly changing, so it is important to check with website access resources such as the World Wide Web Consortium and other free tools to check your website for compliance. Go to: Website Accessibility Resources.
When designing a website for universal access, consider:
- Graphics and sound: Graphics and animation abound on websites, but they often present barriers to disabled visitors. This is largely because screen-reading programs cannot yet verbalize graphical content such as pictures or animations. Designers can accommodate users with disabilities, however, by doing a few simple things. These include adding textual labels (known as alt-tags) to website links so that a screen reader can speak these links properly. Links that lack alt-tags are inaccessible to individuals with many disabilities, and should be avoided. Likewise, a text transcript can be provided for any sound files on the web page so that users with hearing impairments can have access to that information. It is also important to add video description in an accessible format to any video content to support users with vision related disabilities.
- Forms: Online forms are documents found on websites that ask users to fill in specific information, such as name, address, phone number, etc. Online forms can be problematic for users with disabilities, in particular for people using screen readers. Designers often place field names above fields, making it impossible for screen reading programs to decipher what to read. Screen reading programs can access forms on websites more successfully if the field names for the forms are arranged on the same line as the fields. Online forms should be designed in compliance with the recognized standards for web accessibility. Please see the Resources section below for more information on website access resources.
To make a video presentation fully accessible to the widest possible audience, it should include captions and audio descriptions. Please see the Alternative Formats section above for more information on captioning. Audio description and video description are synonymous terms used to describe the descriptive narration of key visual elements in a video or multimedia product. This process allows individuals with visual impairments to access content that is not otherwise accessible simply by listening to the audio. In audio description, narrators typically describe actions, gestures, scene changes and other visual information. They also describe titles, speaker names and other text that may appear on the screen.
When producing a video with audio description, consider:
- Stepping over dialogue: Audio descriptions should be kept succinct, and should occur only where there are gaps in dialogue so as not to disturb the fabric of the video itself. Sometimes this means that the audio description will be a short phrase or a word instead of a sentence.
- Choice of narrator: The narrator of the audio description should be unobtrusive to the main presentation of the video. It is important to consider the narrator’s gender, the volume of the voice and the tone in which narration is delivered. For sensitive content, the narrator’s gender may be critical to assure a comfortable experience for the viewer. Volume and tone should reflect the mood of the video. If the volume or tone of the narration is markedly different than that of the main characters in the video, audio description can be intrusive rather than useful. Generally speaking, the narrator should use minimal inflection but should avoid sounding mechanical or robotic.
- Choice of text: Considering the limited time in which narration must take place, word choice is key to successful communication of nonverbal information. It is impossible to verbalize every piece of visual information being presented. Therefore, the video should be scrutinized carefully to determine what information is critical to convey. Ambiguous descriptions (like “a big man”) should be avoided, but analogies to nonvisual objects (like “as big as a horse”) can be helpful. Most important, references to color or words like “see” should not be avoided. The CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media has numerous resources on its website to help organizations and individuals produce accessible multimedia content. See the Resources section at the end of this chapter.
In deciding whether to acquire equipment for producing materials on audiocassette or in Braille, an organization should consider several factors, including what equipment to buy, who will operate, maintain and update the equipment, and how duplication and distribution of the materials will be handled.
The following are considerations for decisions regarding in-house production of alternative formats:
For large print: Most commercial printers are capable of producing large print, and most word processors can be used to format a document for large print. Therefore, equipment and costs for this alternative format are usually minimal. Operation and maintenance of the software and printer is no different than standard printing, so any member of the staff familiar with printing from a word processor should be able to handle it.
For audiocassette recording: As stated above in Types of Formats, a decision has to be made whether to record on a commercial cassette recorder or on a specially adapted recorder, which can record up to four tracks and record at 15/16ths ips. The cost of commercial machines varies greatly from inexpensive models found at the nearest discount store to professional-quality models found only in specialty stores. Specially adapted tape recorders are available from many of the organizations that sell adaptive equipment. Preferred machines for heavy use include several models from the American Printing House for the Blind.
It should be noted that, although not all exchange participants may possess or have access to specially adapted cassette players, the Library of Congress can make such players available to any print-impaired person in the U.S. upon request with documentation. People should contact local public libraries or regional Talking Book libraries for information on how to obtain these players.Operation and maintenance of tape recorders - whether commercial or adapted ones - is basic. Nevertheless, a staff member should be designated to be responsible for knowing how to operate it, when to clean it and where to send it for repair. Generally, maintenance involves cleaning the heads from time to time, and repairs can usually be handled by the manufacturer.
For Braille: Braille embossers are costly, noisy and can require high maintenance. Their prices range according to quality of Braille and speed – with low-end models costing around $2,000 to high-end embossers costing in the $10,000 range. Some embossers can produce Braille on only one side of the page; others can produce interpoint Braille (that is, Braille on both sides of the page). While interpoint Braille is clearly more economical, embossers that can produce it tend to be more expensive. There is no getting around it: embossers are noisy. Even a “quietizer,” a cabinet intended to soften the sound of the printer at work, cannot significantly reduce the noise made by an embosser. If an organization chooses to have a Braille embosser on site, it should be prepared to set aside a room (sometimes a storeroom or seldom-used conference room) to house the unit, so as not to interfere with the work environment.
Paper for the embosser is an issue as well. Some embossers can work only with 8.5 by 11-inch paper while others can accommodate 11 by 11.5-inch paper. The quality of the Braille differs on different weights of paper and different embossers, so decisions about paper should be made depending on the volume the organization expects to generate, the lengths of documents and the process of distributing them.
In addition to the embosser, Braille translation software is needed to convert word-processed documents into properly formatted Braille. There are several such programs on the market, but most producers use the Duxbury Braille Translator from Duxbury Systems. The Duxbury Braille Translator can format most word-processed documents into readable Braille, usually with appropriate Braille formatting. However, when documents have complex layouts, fine-tuning should be done to assure a quality Braille document.
Finally, the Duxbury Braille Translator can accommodate Braille graphics and foreign language Braille, so this software is especially effective for organizations that need to produce documents for international use. For removable disks: Floppy, CD-ROM and DVD: The cost of equipment here is minimal since floppy, CD-ROM and DVD disks are widely available in commercial computer stores. A staff member should be made responsible for knowing how to convert documents into the various file formats, how to verify each document’s accessibility, and how to reorganize the document into manageable files if necessary.
For multimedia presentations: The cost of the equipment and technical skills involved in producing video with captioning or audio description is expensive. Outsourcing is more practical during the video production process.
The following are some things to consider in training staff:
For audio recording: In addition to obtaining the right recorder for the organization’s recording needs, a staff member should be trained in how to correctly narrate documentation on tape. Considerations that untrained readers may not be aware of include:
- Reading speed should be well-paced to accommodate people who may be hearing-impaired as well as print-impaired.
- Proper names and locations, as well as acronyms and unusual abbreviations, should always be spelled the first time they are read in a document.
- Sections of the document should be indicated by a pause or a tone to make it easier for the listener to find distinct areas of the document.
- Background noise should be minimal or removed from a recording to avoid distractions that may make the document difficult for the listener to absorb.
For Braille: In addition to obtaining the right Braille embosser, Braille translation software and paper for an organization’s Brailling needs, a staff member should be trained to operate the Braille translator and perform quality control on documents before Brailling. Braille translation software allows a non-Braille reader to visually proofread a document that has been run through the translator on the screen; however, to assure quality results, a proficient Braille reader should review the printed document.
For websites: Although special equipment is not needed for development of accessible websites, it is advisable to use a knowledgeable website designer who is familiar with accessibility guidelines. The process of ensuring that a website is accessible is costly only if accessibility is considered after development. When access is integrated into the website development process, adding accessibility features is time- and cost-effective. Learn more at Website Accessibility Resources.
PDF Files: Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) files remain one of the most popular file formats in use today. To make an accessible PDF file, the file must contain real text. Image files are only pictures of text, and cannot be read by screen readers. PDF files should be properly tagged and marked up for accessibility so that each file can be read in its correct and logical order by a screen reader. This is of particular importance for files containing complex layouts, charts, graphs, forms, tables, images, headings and other imbedded objects. Tagging documents allows the creator of a document to specify text descriptions of images. Tagging also allows a PDF file to be converted to other file formats without losing content or formatting information. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, most PDF documents found on the web are not tagged, usually because the creator was unfamiliar with how to tag PDF files, the document was created using software that did not support tagging or the document was created with an earlier version of Adobe Acrobat.
It is important to verify that PDF files follow guidelines for access. Adobe Systems has provided two useful utilities to automatically check the accessibility of PDF files in Acrobat 6.0 Professional. These can be found by clicking on the Advanced Menu, and then on Accessibility. This will bring up a menu with three choices: Quick Check, Full Check or Add Tags to documents. Be sure to use the Quick Check and Full Check utilities on any newly created PDF files.
While most accessibility problems associated with PDF files affect blind users, other people with disabilities are also affected by inaccessibility. The following are considerations for creating online documents that are fully accessible to people with physical, hearing and cognitive disabilities. PDF files can contain links or hot spots, similar to documents found on the World Wide Web, allowing the user to quickly jump from one document to another by clicking on the hot spot with the mouse. Hot spots or links should be sufficiently large to enable people with limited muscle control to correctly position the mouse pointer to select the link. PDF files can include rich content including text, images and sounds. Synchronized captions for imbedded video content and a text transcript for any spoken content should be included to make documents accessible to people with hearing disabilities.
There are several resources online that can help with creating accessible PDF files. For more information, see http://access.adobe.com, the official Adobe Systems accessibility site, which contains links to resources for making Adobe PDF and other products more accessible. Adobe Systems also provides a free online booklet on how to make PDF content accessible at www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/access_booklet.html. Another useful site for tips and tricks to make PDF, web and other content more accessible is www.webaim.org.
In summary, accessibility should be incorporated into the design stages of any service, product or document in order to ensure an accessible end product. As always, it is important to ask the individual for his or her preferences before providing services in order to ensure that the consumer’s needs are met and that resources are not expended providing an inappropriate format.
The following is a select listing of resources for assistive technology, Braille embossing services, website accessibility guidelines, audio description and captioning. This list is intended as a representative sampling of what is available. Most manufacturers and producers have websites that provide detailed information about their products and services. Also consider checking with the local Commission for the Blind office, rehabilitation center or independent living center for local service providers. An Internet search engine, such as Google.com, can be used to locate specific resources.
American Foundation for the Blind
11 Penn Plaza, Suite 300, New York, NY 10001
Tel: (212) 502-7600
American Printing House for the Blind
1839 Frankfort Ave., Louisville, KY 40206
Tel: (502) 895-2405
Associated Services for the Blind
919 Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19107
Tel: (215) 627-0600
11800 31st Court North, St. Petersburg, FL 33716-1805
Tel: (800) 444-4443
Duxbury Systems, Inc.
270 Littleton Rd., Unit 6, Westford, MA 01886-3523
Tel: (978) 692-3000
1601 Northeast Braille Pl., Jensen Beach, FL 34957
Tel: (772) 225-3687
National Braille Press
88 St. Stephen St., Boston, MA 02115
Tel: (617) 266-6160
National Captioning Institute
1900 Gallows Road, Suite 3000, Vienna, VA 22182
Tel: (703) 917-7600
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
Library of Congress, Washington, DC 20542
Tel: (202) 707-9275
Potomac Talking Books Services, Inc.
4940 Hampden Lane, Suite 300, Bethesda, MD 20814
Tel: (301) 907-3822
Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic
20 Roszel Rd., Princeton, NJ 08540
Tel: (800) 221-4792
W3C Web Accessibility Initiative
MIT/CSAIL, Building 32-G530
77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139
Tel: (617) 253-2613
The Access Board
1331 F Street, NW, Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20004-1111
Tel: (202) 272-0080
CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media
125 Western Avenue, Boston, MA 02134
Tel: (617) 300-3400
Center for Persons with Disabilities
6800 Old Main Hill, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322-6800
Tel: (435) 797-8284
EASI - Equal Access to Software & Information
P.O. Box 818, Lake Forest, CA 92609
Tel: (949) 916-2837
8630 Fenton Street, Suite 930, Silver Spring, MD 20910
Tel: (800) 227-0216
American Thermoform Corporation
1758 Brackett Street, La Verne, CA 91750
Tel: (909) 593-6711
Department of Television, Film, and Photography
800 Florida Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20002
Tel: (202) 651-5115
League for the Hard of Hearing
50 Broadway, New York, NY 10004
Tel: (917) 305-7700
National Association of the Deaf
814 Thayer Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20910-4500
Tel: (301) 587-1788
This tipsheet is a chapter excerpted from Builiding Bridges: A Manual on Including People with Disabilities in International Exchange Programs. It was originally written by Olga Espinola, consultant for the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange. In August 2004, the chapter was updated by Joseph Lazzaro, author of Adaptive Technologies for Learning and Work Environments, Second Edition, published by the American Library Association, a guide describing how to integrate assistive technology with information technology for people with disabilities. He can be contacted via his website at www.JoeLazzaro.com.
Although efforts have been made to ensure accuracy, MIUSA/NCDE cannot be held liable for inaccuracy, misinterpretation or complaints arising from these listings. Mention of an organization, company, service or resource should not be construed as an endorsement by MIUSA/NCDE. Please advise NCDE of any inaccuracies you may find.