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Accessible PracticesBest PracticesElectronic Documents
Braille symbol.

Print materials of any length, including reports, minutes of meetings, articles, and newsletters, often are most readily available in electronic formats. Many individuals who are blind or have low vision have computer software programs called speech readers and voice synthesizers that "read" the electronic documents aloud. It is crucial that you provide your electronic documents in a format that is compatible with a wide variety of computer software to ensure access to your print materials.

We begin with instructions on how you can convert materials into a widely accessible format and follow with information about transcription service vendors.


How to Create an Accessible Electronic Document Yourself

Follow the instructions below to convert your print materials into accessible electronic documents. Examples are interspersed to help clarify the instructions.

In developing these instructions, we relied on the leaflet Options for Producing Documents in Accessible Formats written by the American Foundation for the Blind. Moreover, we asked people familiar with this format to review our efforts and suggest improvements.

  1. Save all files in ASCII for PC, also referred to as "text-only" format. This format is readable by any word processor and thus minimizes the likelihood that users will be unable to read the file because of software incompatibility. This format does not allow many text formatting options, such as boldface, italics, or bullets.

    When you name the file or file folder, keep the name to eight characters or less and (if possible) use names that are words rather than abbreviations. Some speech reader software cannot read file names of more than eight characters, which would make it difficult for users to identify files. If you have fewer than 10 files and the order in which they are read is important, start each file name with a number indicating the order in which it should be read. For example, if you want the person to read a summary document first, you might name it "1summary.txt." The computer will add the ".txt" ending to the file name. After saving a file in text-only format, close the document and reopen it to make sure that the document is legible.

  2. Create a "readme.txt" file. The readme file is an annotated table of contents. The readme file should also be in text-only format. Each of the points below is accompanied by an example from a readme file. You can read the complete readme file to see how the various components fit together. The readme file should

    • Explain how the materials are structured and how that is similar to or different from the way they were structured in the original print materials.

      "This readme contains an annotated list of documents contained on this disk. These documents are part of a notebook of information provided to participants in the Accessible Practices Workshops run by the Association of Science-Technology Centers Incorporated (ASTC). This disk contains most of the materials included in the notebook, although some documents were unavailable to be put on disk. For a complete listing of notebook materials, go to the file entitled 'Contents.txt' in the '0–Intro' folder."

    • List the names of the files and give the reader some idea of what each file contains.

      "Synlaw.txt provides synopses of national accessibility laws pertinent to museums."

      "Statelaw.txt lists contact information for technical assistance on each state's accessibility codes."

    • Name any file folders and explain what is contained in each folder.

      "4–PR. The folder about public relations and marketing strategies contains advice from parents of children with disabilities, a checklist for outreach and promotion, and an article on writing an access guide."

      "5–Resrce. The resource folder contains information about ASTC's Accessible Practices Web Page and Annual Conference sessions, a suggested reading list, lists of regional and national resources, and a list of contact information for regional Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers (DBTACs)."

  3. If you are providing the electronic documents on a disk, the readme file should not be saved within a folder. It should be very easy to find when the user accesses the disk (see below).
    Windows Explorer listing of files on a computer disk, showing that readme file is readily visible when the disk contents are listed.

  4. Separate headings and subheadings from text with two carriage returns or a period so that speech readers stop at the heading and don't integrate it into the next sentence.


    "By inviting people with disabilities from diverse racial and ethnic groups, backgrounds, and age groups to act as advisors, you open your science centers and museums to wider audiences."

  5. Put a carriage return at the end of each paragraph and one in between paragraphs.

    "By involving people with disabilities from diverse racial and ethnic groups, backgrounds, and age groups to act as advisors, you open your science centers and museums to wider audiences.

    "Specifically, having people with disabilities act as advisors can help you conduct facility access reviews and help you think about what makes for excellence in..."

  6. Replace bullets with an asterisk (*) or a hyphen (-).

  7. Information from tables should be taken out of column format and clearly explained. Speech readers read from left to right and do not handle tables well.

    Print version: Phrases used to describe persons with disabilities

    Affirmative Phrases Negative Phrases
    Person with a disability The disabled; handicapped; crippled; suffers from a disability
    Person who is blind; Person with a visual impairment The blind
    Person who is deaf; Person with a hearing impairment The deaf; deaf and dumb; suffers a hearing loss

    Disk version:
    Phrases used to describe persons with disabilities.
    Affirmative Phrases:
    * Person with a disability
    * Person who is blind; person with a visual impairment
    * Person who is deaf; person with a hearing impairment

    Negative Phrases:
    * The disabled; handicapped; crippled; suffers from a disability
    * The blind
    * The deaf; deaf and dumb; suffers a hearing loss

  8. Explain graphics. The length of the description should reflect the importance of the graphic to the overall document. If the graphic is crucial to understanding the text, the description can go in the text. If the graphic is not as important to the content, our reviewees said they preferred to have the explanation at the end of the document. When you are deciding where to put these descriptions, remember that descriptions of graphics will interrupt the flow of the text.

  9. Keep in mind how potential users will access the electronic documents, especially if you make them available through the Internet or other media. If the web site where files are available is largely graphics based, people who use speech readers will have difficulty reaching the files you have put there. In that case, it might be wise to investigate alternative means of distributing the files.

  10. Label disks so that people who are blind or have low vision can read the labels. Print disk labels in large print (an 18-point, sans serif font, such as Arial). Adhere a clear plastic label in Braille to the disk as well. You can purchase a Braille labeler through Maxi-Aids ( Braille labels should be aligned so that the top of the label is adjacent to the metal sliding door on the disk.

Where to Find Transcription Service Vendors

Many vendors who transcribe print materials into Braille will also convert documents into an accessible electronic format.

National Federation of the Blind (NFB)
The NFB provides a nationwide listing of vendors who convert print materials into Braille for documents and for signs. This listing includes approximate costs, turnaround time, and types of materials each vendor transcribes.

What Vendors Will Need to Convert Your Materials to Accessible Electronic Documents

You should provide vendors with a printed version of documents to illustrate layout and format. Note that the cost may be less if you provide documents in an electronic format.


This web site is not intended to offer legal, architectural, engineering, or similar professional advice. Refer specific questions to an attorney or an ADA authority.

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