Bibliographic Management | Factfile


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Accessible formats

People with sensory and physical impairments either cannot use or have difficulty in using the formats that are used to carry intellectual or cultural information. Accessible formats are designed to overcome this problem. Mainstream publishers do not generally publish in this way, so items are transcribed into accessible formats by a few small specialist publishers, and a larger number of charitable bodies set up for this purpose.

Large print formats

The main characteristic of these formats is the use of a point size larger than 12pt.

Large Print

Although distinguished by its larger point size, other characteristics affect legibility - weight and thickness of letter, space between letters, space between lines and contrast between print and background. As a general rule RNIB recommends a sans serif typeface (Ariel, Univers or Helvetica) with a medium or bold weight of letter. The minimum recommended point size is 14pt. Generally a matt surface is preferred with black text on a white or yellow background.

Most large print books are produced commercially, around 2,000 titles in 1999. Type sizes are usually 16pt - 20pt.

In the UK around 36% of blind people and 75% of visually impaired people are able to read large print to some extent.

Big or Giant Print

Text printed in point sizes greater than large print. Because of the print size - up to 24pt - a limited number of words can be printed on a page and consequently books can be large and cumbersome.

Magnified Print

Magnification equipment allows pages of a standard print book to be enlarged and projected onto a screen for reading. Print enlarged in this way retains the attributes of the original copy; consequently it may not be as legible as large print (for example, it may be in a less legible type face).

Spoken word formats

Spoken text is recorded onto a variety of formats. In addition, musical scores can also be produced - they are known as talking scores.

Audio cassette

Spoken text recorded onto audio cassette tapes; these can be produced in a variety of formats. Disadvantages are the number of cassettes required, and the need to identify cassettes so the user can play them in the correct sequence. Ideally there will be a verbal announcement of the cassette number at the beginning of the tape, in addition to any tactile or large print labelling on the outside.

Standard (2 track) cassettes are used by commercial producers. They need no special equipment but a recording of the full text can require large numbers of cassettes.

Four-track cassettes are produced by specialist providers. These reduce the number of cassettes per title, but require a cassette player that can handle both 2 track and 4 track cassettes.

RNIB Talking Book service uses an 8 track cassette which requires special equipment for recording and playback. Increased playing time per cassette means that only one or two cassettes are required per title. As RNIB moves to re-issuing these titles in Digital Talking Book format, this service will be phased out.

Compact discs

Spoken text can also be recorded in CD format. This can hold larger amounts of information than cassettes, but finding tracks and the design of the controls of CD players are a problem for many visually impaired users.

DVD Audio

Spoken text can be recorded in DVD Audio format. This can hold larger amounts of information than CD-Roms but few players are yet available or widely used. Once they are in widespread use, recording will be produced in this format.

Digital audio

Digital Talking Books (DTBs) are a multi-media representation of a print publication. The audio component is a human voice. Digital talking books use the DAISY (Digital Accessible Information SYstem) standard.

Embossed print and tactiles

Touch is used to convey information.


Braille is a method of reading by touch, using sets of 6 raised dots, displayed in different combinations to indicate different letters of the alphabet, numbers and punctuation. Grade 1 Braille spells out the words letter by letter, including punctuation. Grade 2 uses combinations of letters to represent some words (e.g. one or two letters representing a whole word); this enables faster reading and makes transcribed texts less bulky (a normal paperback requires 5 or more volumes in Braille).

Separate codes have been devised for mathematical and scientific Braille, computer Braille and music Braille. Additionally, in some languages pronunciation marks or diacritics are required (e.g. acute and grave accents in French) and so there are different Braille codes for individual languages.

Louis Braille, a blind Frenchman, invented Braille in 1829. In the UK it is used by around 3% of visually impaired people (RNIB 1991 survey estimate: 19,000 people).


Moon is similar to Braille and is another way of reading by touch. The letters of the alphabet, numbers and punctuation marks are depicted as simplified outlines of the standard shapes.

Not as widely used as Braille, Moon is often preferred by people who have lost their sight later in life or have other disabilities which make it difficult to learn Braille. An estimated 500 - 600 people in the UK use Moon.

Tactile maps, plans and diagrams

One way to produce these is by either photocopying or printing onto heat sensitive 'swell paper'. When the paper is passed though a Tactile Image Enhancer, the dark lines absorb the heat more quickly and swell up. Some tactile graphics are produced using the collage method of mounting shapes onto a backing board.Tactile images need careful storage to ensure the raised surfaces are not flattened or damaged.

Audio description

Audio described video

Videos that include additional spoken narration that augments the words spoken by the actors. Such additional narration includes descriptions of action sequences and the expressions on actor's faces. RNIB produces a number of videos with this additional narration.

Electronic formats

Information is stored in an electronic format and either displayed as text (using screen magnification if required) or as spoken word using speech synthesis software. Electronic texts can be held as a file on a computer or stored on a floppy disk.


Commercial production of e-books in proprietary formats may restrict the user to certain playback equipment. Non-commercial providers are more likely to use formats that can be used with standard equipment and some concentrate on materials which are out of copyright.

Electronic newspapers and serials

Several newspapers are now available on the Internet, together with a number of academic and research periodicals and subject focused electronic magazines. Screen magnification or speech synthesis software can be used to access these. However, the design of some sites may prevent easy use.

Digital files

Many documents are now being created in digital format (e.g. Word); to access these screen magnification or speech synthesis software can be used. Simple files with minimal formatting (e.g. ASCII files) work best.

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Content by: Ann Chapman of UKOLN.
Page last revised on: 26-May-2005
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