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Patrick Van Geem, TVI, Educational Consultant,
Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Outreach

Abstract: The author discusses standards and practices in tactile graphics, along with some related braille formatting including information relevant to the use of Duxbury and the Tiger embosser

Keywords: Braille Production, Tactile Graphic Production, BANA template, Duxbury, MathType

In 2011, the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) published a book titled Guidelines and Standards for Tactile Graphics, 2011 .  The publication can be downloaded as a PDF file for free from the tactile graphic section of the Braille Authority website at: .

Figure 1:  Front cover of the BANA Guidelines and Standards for Tactile Graphics, 2010 book.

The book explains the braille formatting style of elements on a worksheet or textbook page (headings, titles, list, directions, paragraphs, etc.) and their placement arrangement on a tactile graphic document.  The first seven units are of particular importance.  Following standards explained in these units could generate school-base tactile graphic documents similar to layout placements in textbooks and/or testing materials.

Responsibility to the Student

The production of school-based worksheets and reference materials have always included some formatting structure, however the tactile graphic layout and formatting styles have varied greatly.  The concern was that school-based tactile graphic document layout differed from testing material graphics and textbooks.  Teachers of students with visual impairment would teach students how to read and interpret tactile graphics that appear on state high-stakes testing materials while receiving worksheet documents from local production centers in a different format.  This situation could add to the cognitive load of the student.

Cognitive Load

Cognitive load is essentially how much thinking a person needs to do during a task or activity.  A student with a visual impairment has to develop skills in three areas in order for him to learn content within the instructional environment.  The skill set includes:

  • Knowledge of  Preferred Assistive Technology
  • Prerequisite Knowledge of Content
  • Clarity of Format and Layout Structure (readability)

Reduction of cognitive load of the student depends on how familiar he is with skills required in each of these areas to actually learn the content.

Braille and tactile graphic documents produced in a consistent format, regardless of the information content (textbook, high-stakes testing, or school-based documents), means that students only need to learn one formatting and style layout.  Since textbooks and high-stakes testing materials follow the guideline standards, it would also make sense to develop school-based instructional materials this way.  Predictable layout on all documents can reduce time spent searching, retrieving, skimming and reviewing information.  The student can spend more time learning the content instead of understanding the layout of a document.

The Document Elements

Regular print worksheets that include an illustration usually consist of a series of "document elements".  These elements make up the format of the worksheet.  In print versions, the layout of these elements varies greatly.  Some common elements used in printed worksheets are:

  • Running Headings
  • Titles
  • Headings
  • Paragraph Headings
  • Sidebar "special interest" textboxes
  • Captions
  • Content Information
  • Example Boxes
  • Illustrations
  • Legends (Keys)

Here is an example of a 6th grade math school-based worksheet:

Figure 2:  School-base Mathematics Worksheet that includes these elements:  title, question/information, a Cartesian graph, and four Scantron answer choices.

Tactile Graphic Document Arrangement

The first number in parentheses indicates the cell in the first line at which the characters begin, the second number in parentheses indicate the beginning cell if there is text run over on the following lines.

  • Title (Centered Heading)
  • Caption Information (1-3)
  • Directions (5-3)
  • *Questions(1-5)
  • Answers (3-5)
  • Transcriber's Notes Symbol (in cell 7)
  • Transcriber's Notes (7-5)
  • Key Symbol (7)
  • Blank Space
    • Title (3-3)
    • Key Information (6-8 text format)
  • Letter Label (2 lower case letters)
  • Tactile Graphic Illustration (close to left, aligned with inline text)

* If there were only questions without answers then the format number combination would be (1-3).

If there is room for all content on one page, the same 6th-grade math worksheet (displayed below) contents elements arranged according to the BANA Guidelines and Standards for Tactile Graphic, 2010.

Figure 3: School-based worksheet where the elements are rearranged. The order of the arrangement is listed below.

BANA Guideline Arrangement of Elements on a Tactile Graphic

  • The title is still centered.
  • The questions are still above the graphic.
  • The questions begin in cell 1 and runover in cell 5 (1-5).
  • The answere choices are still below the graphic.
  • The answer choices begin in cell 3 with runover in cell 5 (3-5).
  • The answer choices are listed as a, b, c, and d.
  • The graph illustration is below the question/answer section of the document and is left justified.
  • The x label is just to the right of the x-axis arrowhead
  • The y label is just above the y-axis arrowhead.
  • The y-axis identifier is above the y-axis line.
  • The x-axis identifier is below the x-axis numeric indicators and aligned with the left-most numeric indicator on the x-axis.

Preparing the Tactile Graphic Document Illustration

Below is a typical mathematics worksheet from a 6th grade class.  When a braille production center receives this worksheet via email or hardcopy several decisions are considered before producing it as a tactile graphic document. 

Figure 4: School-based Mathematics Worksheet that contains from top to bottom: title, name and date blanks, double bar graph, directions , seven questions and source information.

According to the Guidelines and Standards for Tactile Graphics book Unit 3, Section 3-3, here are some questions to consider:

  • What text needs to be included on the graphic?
  • What text or illustration can be eliminated?
  • What needs to be resized?
  • What can be distorted or consolidated?
  • How to separate the document components if needed?
  • Are transcriber's notes needed (explaining changes in format or description to support graphics)?

Elements to consider for production are identified as these 11 on this particular print document.  

illustrated chart
Figure 5:  School-based Math Worksheet; 1-11 numbers are positioned next to or over particular style elements contained within the document.
  1. Running Heading:  This may be eliminated but the math teacher needs to be consulted first before this is done.  This not a decision the braille production personnel should make.  It is the decision of the teacher of record.
  2. Name and Date fill-in-the -blank:  This can be (and should be eliminated) without requesting consent of the teacher.
  3. Title:  The title of the tactile graphic is the print title of the bar graph.  This is centered as the first element on the tactile graphic.  The braille text is styled as a centered title.
  4. The illustration is placed in the same position as textbook example or in high-stakes state-wide test problem. The illustration as a tactile graphic will be a larger scale then the print version.  It is also left justified.
  5. The y-axis information is never vertically displayed on a bar graph document.  It is positioned above the y-axis line, in line with the vertical line numeric place marker labels,
  6. The text-based x-axis place maker labels may need abbreviated two letter labels in order for it to fit on the appropriate place maker.
  7. The legend just to the right of the illustration will be part of a key on the tactile graphic document.  Never use the word "legend". It is always "key" on a tactile graphic.
  8. On the tactile graphic document the x-axis label needs to align with left-most x-axis place maker label.
  9. This is a direction on the activity the worksheet offers (answer questions on this worksheet). It is styled as in the braille document as starting in cell 5 with run over in cell 5 (blocked).  In a Nemeth (math) document the first word in the sentence starts in cell 5 with runover in cell 3
  10. The questions are considered a list of items.  It is a level 1 list  (has no sub list).  It is styled in braille with the first left character beginning in cell 1 with run overs beginning in cell 3.  If there are questions with answers, these are considered level 2 lists.  The question starts in cell 1 with runover in cell 5 while the answers start in cell 3 with runover in cell 5.
  11. This is a source.  This is usually information about the publisher. It can be eliminated from the braille (tactile graphic) worksheet.

This document is basically divided into three sections:

  • Content
  • Transcribers note (if needed)
  • Tactile Graphic

Putting It All Together

A tactile graphic document can be divided into sections; the content information section, transcriber's note and key section, and the tactile graphic illustration section. A document containing these sections will usually consist of multiple pages, especially if there is a transcriber's note with a key.  A tactile graphic (same for textbooks and high-stakes testing materials) will always list the sections with the content component first at the top of the document, followed by a transcriber note and key, and ending with the actual tactile graphic illustration.

Content Page

Figure 6:  Screen Shot of a Word Document.  The Styles task pane is activated with an arrow dash line starting at the Title style and pointing on the Word layout at a line of text that is changed to that particular style.

The content section consists of text information that can be translated into braille.  Titles, headings, directions, captions, questions and answers are a few examples where braille text is directly entered on a Word. Each text elements is then assigned a BANA template style. It is now saved in Word and closed.  Be sure to save it as a .doc (Word 97-2003) document instead of the default .docx (Word) document. 

Next it is opened in Duxbury 11.2. At this point the text is translated into braille.  Be sure to include at least one MathType number in the text or else it will not translate numbers to the questions in the Nemeth numbering format style.

Figure 7:  Screen shot of a Duxbury layout window with text translated into a braille font.

Check again for braille formatting as well as braille text errors within the document.  Corrections may have to be entered manually by the six-key entry method that include the use of these keys s-d-f-j-k-l.  Cells 1,2,3 are keys f, d, s and cells 4,5,6 are keys j, k, l. 

Formatting the Tiger Way

On documents prepared for Tiger translation and embossing, all braille styles need to be formatted manually. One way to format manually is to activate the gridline and set vertical and horizontal spacing at .25".  This width is somewhat similar to the width of a braille cell. Doing it this way makes it easier to count blocks to the correct placement of each braille format element.  Configure and activate the gridlines by first opening the "Drawing Grid" dialog window in Word.

Figure 8:  Screen Shot of the Drawing Grid Dialog Window.

Braille Formatting Process Using the Tiger Software Suite for Translation

  • Set the grid setting spacing to .25" for both horizontal and vertical.
  • Set the margins at 1" then check "Use margins".
  • Enter the information (all information) first at the left margin (left justified).
  • Translate using the Tiger Software Suite.
  • Activate the gridlines.
  • By using the spacebar and Enter keys, properly place content according to the
  • braille format guidelines.

Take a question and answer combination like the example below.  Since this combination is really a level 2 list, the question is formatted 1-5 while the answer choices are formatted 3-5.  The first character of the question is in "block" 1(left side of the document) with runover starting in block 5.  The answer choices start in block 3 with runover in block 5.

Figure 9: Part of a Word Document with the Gridline Activated.  The information on the display contains the words: question at 1-5, answer at 3-5, count 4 spaces to start text in cell 5, count 2 spaces to start text in cell 3 and set margins to 1".  Braille text is also on the Word document with the first line starting in cell 1, the second line starting in cell 5 and the third through fifth line starting in cell 3.

If mistakes were noticed on a page translated by the Tiger Software Suite, braille can be type in using the regular letter keyboard except for contractions and special symbols.

Entering these symbols requires a working knowledge of ASCII.  Usually shift plus a number key represents certain contractions or symbol in braille, such as ! representing "the" or < representing gh. Number keys also represent contractions:   1 is "ea", 2 is "be", 3 is "con", 4 is "dd" or "dis" or ".", 5 is "en", 6 is "!" or "to" or "ff", 7 is "were" or "gg",  8 is "?" or "his", 9 is "in",  0 is "was" or "by".

This chart displays the special character key symbol and its braille contraction equivalent.

ascii chart
Figure 10:  Screen shot of a Braille ASCII Chart

Transcriber's Note Section

If a transcriber's note is needed to explain the key, this section is followed by the content (directions, questions, answers, and other information) and comes before the actual tactile graphic illustration. A transcriber's note begins in cell 7 with the transcriber's note symbol.  Wording on a transcriber's note needs to be in the vocabulary understood by the student (i.e., second-grade vocabulary for a second grader).

The ending transcriber's note symbol (same symbol as the opening) is entered right after the last word in the key. There is neither a blank space following the beginning symbol nor before the ending symbol. The symbol consist of dot 6 in the first cell and dot 3 in the next cell.

Figure 11: Screen Shot of the Transcriber's Note Symbol.  The first cell has a dot 6 and the second cell contains a dot 3.

The word "Key:" (k is capitalized and a colon is included) must follow the transcriber's note on the next line (no space) starting in cell 7. Key information follows after a blank line space. If the key contains tactile graphics such a line, point, or area fill patterns, then the text content starts in cell 6 with runover in cell 8. Area fill pattern need to be at least one inch in length.

Example of the Transcriber's Note and Key Page

Figure 12:  Screen Shot of a Braille Transcriber's Note Section Document.

Tactile Graphic Section

On the tactile graphic page, all text and labels are positioned manually.  It is best to "float" the text in textboxes.

The title of the document is repeated on all pages of the worksheet. They are a centered heading.

The number sign is used for the y-axis information if is not "understood" that only numbers are placed at each tick marker (because the x-axis information are not numbers)

The illustration is aligned left justified with left-side labels set on the left margin.  The X identifier is below the first numerical (or letter) tick marker on the left while the y identifier is just above the y axis line aligned with the numbers (or letters) just left of the y axis line.

All key information (lines, points, letter combinations, area fills) have to match the content on the tactile graphic.

Example of the Tactile Graphic Page

Figure 13:  Screen shot of a tactile graphic section document that is translated into braille.

Braille Formats Commonly Seen on a Tactile Graphic Worksheet

The following is a list of the braille formatting styles that you typically use on a document containing tactile graphics. The first number in parentheses indicates the cell in the first line at which the characters begin, the second number in parentheses indicate the beginning cell if there is text run over on the following lines.

Style Task PaneListed in the Word BANA 2014 Template Style
Heading Centered H1
Cell 5 Heading Heading H2 (5-5)
Cell 7 Heading Heading H3 (7-7)
Paragraph 3-1
Paragraph-Blocked 1-1
List (no sub-levels) 1-3
List (1 sub-level) 1-5, 3-5
List (2 sub-levels) 1-7, 3-7, 5-7
List (3 sub-levels) 1-9, 3-9, 5-9, 7-9
Transcriber's Note 7-5
Select All (or Word) Uncontracted (blue color lettering)
Directions (not in Nemeth) Directions (5-5)
Directions (Nemeth) Directions Nemeth (5-3)
Spanish Spanish (red color lettering)