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Summer 2002 Table of Contents
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Accessible Books

By Holly Cooper, Technology Consultant, TSBVI Outreach

A couple of issues back, I wrote an article on electronic books, mainly focusing on books that are intended for mass market use, and can be modified to be made accessible for blind and visually impaired users.  For this issue, I was asked to write about etext, or electronic text.  Many schools and other agencies which transcribe books for blind and visually impaired readers wish to share the books so transcribers won’t waste time duplicating each other’s efforts.  There are several organizations that maintain databases of electronic files of books for blind and print disabled readers.  Because of the copyright laws, files are in formats only accessible with braille translation software, or users must document that they have a visual impairment (or other print disability), and complete a form to join the group of users.  Some organizations require a fee to join. Some only provide files by shipping hard copy such as floppy disks or CD ROM’s, but most allow users to download files through the internet directly into computers.

File formats

There are a variety of electronic formats, as those of you who access books for blind students know.  For a more complete discussion of various file types, see APH’s Louis at http://www.aph.org/louis/reposext.htm. In Texas we hear about some books in ASCII format because textbook publishers are required to submit books in this format.  Do not assume that ASCII files will be accessible to you.  While ASCII technically means plain text, such files may contain formatting characters that make the file unreadable; sometimes this formatting is for braille.  ASCII braille files usually have the file extension .brf.  In order to read these files, your computer must have braille translation software, such as Duxbury or Megadots.  Some sites have electronic braille files in .brl and .bfm, which also must be accessed in this way. 

Other sites have books in plain text, or .txt.  These do not require Braille translation software to read.  They can simply be loaded into a computer and read with screen reading software such as JAWS.  Both the braille files and plain text files can also be loaded into a notetaker such as Braille Lite or BrailleNote and read using voice output or refreshable braille.  Computers with braille translation software can provide voice, hard copy or refreshable braille output using these files.  If you have files in braille formats, the braille translators can also reverse the translation and convert them to print.  These can then be saved as plain text and used on computers that have screen reading or magnification software without braille translation.

Some sites have audio books stored in electronic format.  The new standard format for audio books is DAISY, for Digital Accessible Information System.  These books are stored on CD ROMs and played with a special player.  They can also be accessed with a computer, but require special reading software, available free with membership in Bookshare.org. 

Sources of Electronic Texts and Recordings

Accessible Book Collection


$49.95 per year membership fee , and documentation of disability

These books are in html format, and accessed using your web browser.



$25 sign up fee and $50 annual fee, individual membership; $200 dollars a year, organizational membership

Copyrighted books are in .brf and DAISY format; uncopyrighted material may also be available in text or html.


International Electronic Braille Book Library


Braille.org does not require a password or membership fee.

These files are in .brf format, and can be read on-line or by loading them in to devices such as Braille notetakers.  You can download individual parts of a book, an individual book, or an entire collection of books by a specific author simply by selecting the appropriate links on the specified pages.



American Printing House for the Blind (APH) has long provided braille and large print books.  Some of their books are also available as electronic files.  Users must set up an account with APH.  Quota funds can be used to pay for items.  Because files are donated from a variety of sources, there are several different formats used.

Daisy Consortium


DAISY, digital talking books consortium

Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic


DAISY formatted books

$75 membership fee and documentation of disability for individuals.  Agency memberships available; RFB&D is a leading supplier of taped textbooks in public schools.

TSBVI Downloadable Braille Materials


The TSBVI website requires a password to access files, users must have a disability or be working for an agency providing services to people with disabilities.  Books are in several formats including .meg extension for Megadots, .asc  and .brf files.

Web Braille

National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS)


To use this service you must apply, document disability and be a resident of the US or US citizen living outside the country.

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Last Revision: August 27, 2003