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A Report to the 75th Texas Legislature from the Texas Education Agency


This report on the Accessibility of Information in Electronic Textbooks for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired was written in response to a mandate from the 74th Texas Legislature to conduct a study for the purpose of determining ways in which information contained in electronic textbooks may be made available to students who are blind or visually impaired. The report is based on the findings of an agency task force organized for the specific purpose of generating ideas and recommendations that reflect the interests of several communities including students who are blind or visually impaired, textbook publishers, media accessibility researchers, software and hardware developers and teachers of the visually impaired. Task force members are listed in Appendix A.

The report discusses the recent changes in the state textbook adoption program in Texas, and the move from reliance solely on traditional, print-based textbooks with comparable braille, large type or audiotape textbook copies provided to students who are blind or visually impaired to a wide variety of instructional media. These recently available formats include but are not limited to computer software, compact disks (CD-ROM), videotapes, interactive videodiscs, and instructional materials downloaded from the Internet or the various on-line services. These formats are not easily accessible to students who are blind or visually impaired in that they require additional adaptation beyond the braille, large type and audiotape versions currently supplied by the agency.

The most common components of electronic textbooks which should be made accessible to students and teachers who are blind or visually impaired are described in the report. The report also summarizes the types of information and delivery modes which must be made accessible and analyzes how these electronic textbooks can be made accessible to blind and visually impaired students as well as to students and teachers with other disabilities.

Specific recommendations are included in the report. These encompass design and implementation of demonstration projects to analyze potential costs, processes, and timelines for developing accessible electronic textbooks; and collaboration with experts in media accessibility research, textbook publishers, software and hardware developers and educators to develop minimum standards for new electronic textbook submissions in Texas.


In 1989, the 71st Texas Legislature amended the textbook adoption process to include electronic media. The expansion of the definition of "textbook" to include product configurations that encompassed new technology led to the submission of a variety of multimedia instructional materials for state adoption. In subsequent years, instructional materials were submitted in configurations that ranged from teacher components only to more traditional student and teacher components, in print or electronic format, or in electronic format with supplemental teacher and student material in print format. Electronic components in many state-adopted programs include computer diskettes, CD-ROM, audio and videocassettes, and laser discs. More recently, access to the Internet and on-line providers has expanded rapidly as have opportunities to receive educational programming and distance learning via satellite.

The Texas Education Agency has a long history of providing equal access to state-adopted instructional materials for students who are blind or visually impaired. Since 1955, the agency has worked with various organizations to acquire textbooks in braille. With emerging technology, the process of acquiring braille evolved from primarily manual production to electronic production using publisher-provided computer files specifically formatted for more rapid translation into braille textbooks.

In 1991, the 72nd Texas Legislature required publishers of textbooks adopted by the State Board of Education to furnish the agency with computerized textbook files for the production of braille textbooks. The Legislature also mandated formation of a commission to work with textbook publishers on developing processes for converting publisher textbook files into formats needed for speedy braille production. In March 1993, this commission made a series of recommendations for revisions to the process of braille textbook production. Subsequently, the agency expanded the list of content areas for which textbooks could be brailled electronically to include all literary subjects in English and other languages. Currently, music and mathematics are exempt from this list due to technical complications that arise in brailling these subjects. Files supplied by the publishers were standardized and the minimum standards for these file formats are reviewed regularly to ensure that they are consistent with changes in technology and improvements in the brailling process.

Also in 1991, a videodisc-based program called Windows on Science became the first state-adopted electronic textbook in the nation. It was followed in 1992 by three electronic programs from as many educational publishers in the area of computer literacy, a required, full-year course at grade seven or eight in Texas. Each of these three programs included computer diskettes for Apple, Macintosh, or MS-DOS computers, integrated commercial software, laser discs or videotapes, and printed ancillaries. Subsequent electronic programs have been adopted in chemistry, Science I and II, world geography, accounting, economics, and other subject areas.

While expanding the range of learning opportunities for students capable of using their visual and audio features, electronic textbooks present new challenges to educators of students with visual impairments or blindness. Articulation of the major challenges and a series of recommendations to address them comprise the body of this report.

Accessibility of Information

What does accessibility mean?

Accessibility refers to the freedom or ability of an individual to obtain or make full use of a product or environment. A product is accessible to an individual only if he or she is able to use it to carry out all of the same functions and to achieve the same results as individuals with similar skills and training who do not have disabilities.

The Need for Accessible Electronic Textbooks

Consider these common classroom uses of technology:

  • Elementary science students watch a videotape of an experiment being performed.
  • Middle school students manipulate commercial software applications, which prepares them to use rapidly changing technology in the workplace and in the society at large.
  • High schoolers learn about thermodynamics through a full-motion video segment recorded on a CD-ROM, then play interactive chemistry "games" that score their manipulation of chemical equations and formulas to solve real-life problems.

Now, focus on the students who are blind or visually impaired in these same classrooms:

  • A child who is blind cannot see the experiment being performed in the elementary science classroom. There are no audible descriptions to allow him or her to grasp the step-by-step procedures nor to see their results. He or she cannot participate in this portion of the instruction.
  • Middle school students who are visually impaired are unable to complete the assigned computer activities because the commercial software is not compatible with available adaptive devices which would permit the student to participate to some degree.
  • High school students who are visually impaired cannot make use of the full-motion video unit on thermodynamics because they cannot see the information which is presented. Thus, they are excluded from acquiring the information presented.

Each of these hypothetical scenarios demonstrates the need for accessible electronic textbooks for all students. Obvious benefits are that the students will:

  • Perceive the information for which they could be held accountable.
  • Respond to information in the textbooks and interact with the information on a variety of levels.
  • Learn from the information.

An accessible electronic textbook is one which allows students who have disabilities to use the textbook and achieve the same intended benefit as students who do not have disabilities. Moreover, they would be able to achieve the benefit with approximately the same amount of effort.

At a minimum, that means that the electronic textbooks should be:

  • Perceivable. That is, the information which is presented in the book must be available in a form which can be perceived by the student. For example, if the student is blind then all of the information which is presented visually in the book should be available in another form such as audiotape which the student can use.
  • Operable and Navigable. That is, students should be able to orient themselves and move within the electronic textbook. For example, if a student is blind and the electronic textbook uses controls or navigation aids which require eye-hand coordination, then an alternate means for navigating the control would need to be available, such as voice or keyboard control.
  • Functional. That is, the textbook should provide the same function or benefit to the individual with a disability as it would to other students.

Which Textbooks Should Be Made Accessible?

Not all electronic instructional media can or should be made accessible to students with visual impairments. However, the decision as to whether to make the materials accessible cannot be based on technological ease or cost. It should be based on a consideration of the intended learning that is to be achieved from the particular program, and a determination that the medium will support the same instructional goals for students who are blind.

Textbooks that use graphic depictions and manipulation of the graphics to teach concepts may not be appropriate instructional methodology for someone without vision. For example, the electronic textbook might teach the concept of the piston engine by presenting a visual simulation of a model four-stroke engine where the user can manipulate the components by using a touchscreen or a mouse to grab the flywheel and turn it left and right in order to see how the pistons operate. One might think it would be sufficient to associate a tone with the position of the piston; as the individual used the arrow keys to rotate the flywheel, a rising tone would indicate the rising position of the piston. The individual could hear the piston going up until the sound of an explosion was heard at the same time that the simulation of the spark is given. The individual would then hear the piston tone going back down. In a four-cycle engine, they could hear the valves opening and the piston going up without an explosion, the exhaust valve opening and closing as the intake valve opens. The auditory sounds could be accompanied with a simple narration of the events as they were happening.

However, with this type of adaptation, the student who is blind would not achieve the same benefit as the other students. For him or her, the unintended learning might be that a flywheel is a left/right button. The noises would have no meaning unless they were the same as those coming from a real piston engine that the student has directly touched and manipulated. The student with a visual impairment; as well as the student with normal vision; cannot learn the concepts associated with a piston engine with noises and verbal descriptions, nor would participation in this activity reinforce learning that was achieved through other teaching strategies.

Selection of textbooks to be made accessible and the resulting adaptation should be determined for students with visual impairments only after careful analysis of the instructional goals of the program by experts in the education of students with visual impairments.

What must be made accessible?

It is useful to look at the different elements of electronic textbooks and to contrast them with the elements of traditional print textbooks, which are used as a point of reference.

The Texas Education Code defines electronic textbook as "computer software, interactive videodisc, magnetic media, CD-ROM, computer courseware, on-line services, an electronic medium, or other means of conveying information to the student or otherwise contributing to the learning process through electronic means." (Sec. 31.002 (1)) This definition defines only the physical delivery media (e.g., computer software, videodisc, and CD-ROM) which are often inaccessible to students with visual disabilities. However, if the electronic textbooks are not properly designed, it is possible to create electronic textbooks which are partially or completely inaccessible and unusable by students who are blind or have visual impairments.

In order to discuss accessibility, it is important to provide a common frame of reference. Many of the delivery media have common design and formatting elements that must be made accessible. The print textbook is an information delivery system with which most people are familiar and, therefore, is used as a point of reference in this section.

A print textbook is made up of the following formatting and design elements:

  • Text. The unformatted words and punctuation that make up the document.
  • Text Formatting. Text formatting includes all of the attributes of characters and words, such as bold, italics, underline, colored lettering, or size. These different attributes provide the reader with additional information, such as identifying words that are new terms or the name of an important person, so that the print textbook is not just a random collection of words. The words are structured into meaningful units, such as sentences, paragraphs, pages, sections, and chapters, as well as tables and lists.
  • Graphics. Graphics include photographs, maps, charts, illustrations, and diagrams. These may have text associated with them, as with captions, or contain text embedded within the graphic itself.
  • Navigation Systems. Print textbooks have methods of finding specific information within them, such as a table of contents, different levels of heads (chapter, section, subsection), indices, and page numbers. These navigation systems help the student find specific information (text or graphic) in a print textbook.

Electronic textbooks are made up of these same formatting and design elements as print textbooks-text, text formatting, graphics, and a navigation system. These formatting and design elements are enhanced because the information is provided electronically.

  • Text. Text in electronic textbooks may be resized, or the font may be changed to meet the reader's needs.
  • Text Formatting. In addition to all of the attributes of printed textbooks, text formatting in electronic textbooks may include hyperlinks which can move the reader to other parts of the page or book. A hyperlink is a segment of text (word or phrase), or an inline image (an image displayed as part of a document) which refers to another document (i.e., text, sound, image or movie) elsewhere on the World Wide Web. When a hyperlink is activated or selected, the referenced document is fetched from the World Wide Web and is displayed appropriately.
  • Graphics. The electronic versions of graphics may allow the image to be expanded to fill the entire screen, or sections of the image could be expanded to show detail.
  • Navigation System. Electronic textbooks use techniques for finding specific information within them, such as navigational maps, tables of contents with hyperlinks, heading levels, indices, and page numbers. The electronic textbook may also include a "search" feature to find a specific word or phrase anywhere in the book. These navigation systems help the student find specific information (text or graphic) in the electronic textbook.

Electronic textbooks may also include the following elements, which are not typical of print textbooks:

  • Expand and Collapse Features. Electronic textbooks also have the ability to expand or collapse their structure. For example, it is possible to produce a document which would collapse down to its major titles and subtitles. This makes it much easier to see the overall structure and to navigate to a particular level in the structure. Once that point is reached, it is possible to expand the structure exposing all of the paragraphs at that point. It is also possible to have a document which provides a cursory treatment of all of the material, but which allows the student to expand the information presented at any point in the document if he or she requires additional information.
  • Search Features. Search features provide users with the ability to search documents and to jump immediately to any particular word or phrase which is used. This capability also includes a "fuzzy" search capability, which allows an individual to search, for example, for the word "fish" and automatically find occurrences of the word "fish," "fishing," "mackerel," "trout," and "perch."
  • Sound. Electronic textbooks may include sound. Examples of this auditory information include warning music, spoken words and natural sounds such as a lion's roar.
  • Fixed Sequence Animation and Movies. Electronic textbooks may contain moving graphics. These may take the form of a simple diagrammatic animation or a full-color, high-resolution, graphic movie which may or may not be accompanied by sound.
  • Interactive Animation and Simulations. Electronic textbooks may contain visual graphic animation which can be controlled and manipulated by the user. In the example presented earlier, it is possible to show a four-stroke engine where the student can actually turn the flywheel on the engine and by moving it forward and backwards at different speeds, study all of the workings of the engine, including the timing of the various events and mechanisms. More sophisticated simulations even allow students to carry out chemistry experiments where beakers, flasks, burners, and other apparatuses are manipulated on screen and the chemical reactions (e.g., color changes, heating, and explosions) occur on screen as they would if the real items had been manipulated.
  • Video Conferencing. Through modern telecommunications, live people may be embedded in electronic textbooks. Touching an image in the electronic textbook would cause a communication link to be opened with a person - the teacher, or perhaps a resource person somewhere else in the country. The student would then be able to ask questions or interact with that individual. Essentially, a video teleconferencing session would be opened between the student and the teacher or resource person. In addition to face-to-face visual communication, the two individuals could also share a "white board" or area of the screen where they can draw, write, calculate, or otherwise work together on the same "piece of paper." An electronic textbook could be designed so that students would contact different people when they were studying different topics or were on different pages within the same book.
  • Virtual Reality Environments. An electronic textbook could allow a student to don a pair of glasses and headphones and perceive that they are in an alternate, virtual environment. Although the virtual reality environments look somewhat cartoon-like today in their simplicity, it will soon be possible to allow individuals to visually and auditorially simulate their location in almost any location on earth or any situation imaginable. This would include the ability to create three-dimensional simulations of an engine, as discussed above, in which the individual could move around and even travel as it operated. Individuals could become very large to study geography or very small to study biology. They could stand in an empty room and see an entire chemistry laboratory in which they could move about and carry out any type of experiment without the cost or danger of real equipment and rare or toxic chemicals.

Direct Accessibility Versus Compatibility with Assistive Technologies

In discussing access to electronic textbooks, it is useful to use the terminology and approach which has been adopted in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Public Law 104-104 (1996 Act). This Act refers to accessibility as the ability of individuals to directly use telecommunication products without requiring special assistive devices (i.e., devices designed to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities). The Act states that telecommunication products and services should be made accessible if this is readily achievable. The Act then goes on to state that if it is not readily achievable to make products accessible, the telecommunication products and services should be compatible with existing peripheral devices or specialized equipment commonly used by individuals with disabilities to achieve access, if readily achievable.

Because there is a close parallel between telecommunications software and electronic textbooks, parallel terminology is used here as follows.

  • Direct or Built-In Accessibility. The ability to use an electronic textbook without the use of separate assistive technologies. In essence, for a product to be directly accessible, the needed capabilities would have to be built into the product rather than relying on add-ons.
  • Compatibility With Assistive Technologies. The ability of an electronic textbook to be used in conjunction with standard assistive technologies used by people who have disabilities.

Unlike the Telecommunications Act of 1996, where a clear preference is shown for having direct or built-in accessibility for telecommunication products and services, it is not as clear at this time that direct accessibility for electronic textbooks would always be superior to access via assistive technologies. In fact, each approach has advantages.

Advantages of Direct or Built-In Accessibility

  • Cost. Direct accessibility has advantages in cost, availability, and inclusiveness. When products are directly accessible to a student, schools do not need to deal with the added expense of acquiring special assistive devices to access and use the electronic textbook. Given the rapid changes in technologies, this also means that schools would not need to continuously buy new assistive devices as electronic textbooks evolved.
  • Hardware Independence. When accessibility is built in, students do not need to worry about whether their assistive technology will work with a particular computer. Today, electronic textbooks are available in a limited number of formats. However, in the future, it is likely that electronic textbooks will be produced in a wide variety of hardware and software formats, making it difficult for a user to have all of the right assistive devices or adapters. Also, students may encounter electronic textbook technologies in the library, in laboratories, and in different classrooms, meaning they would have to always have their assistive devices with them and these devices would have to be compatible with the various hardware and software platforms encountered.
  • Inclusiveness. When students with a disability can directly use the electronic textbooks and equipment, it is easier for them to work side by side with their peers who do not have disabilities. Students could use any textbook or textbook viewer/work station at which they and their partners sit, rather than having to work at specially adapted stations which may not be in the same location or which may not be usable or usable at the same time by their peers without disabilities.
  • Intuitiveness. When access is built into electronic textbooks, it generally provides better and more intuitive learning experiences for the student who is blind. Once the textbook has been started, all of its functions should be usable without sighted assistance. This is particularly important for students who are blind and in grades K-5, where mastering the instructional goals of the textbooks and learning to use other adaptive devices simultaneously would present a much higher cognitive load.

Advantages of Access Via Assistive Technologies

Access via assistive technologies has advantages also. These are primarily in the areas of possible standardization and power.

  • Possible Standardization. If a single user interface (i.e., the parts of a computer program which can be seen or heard by users) is designated for access to all electronic textbooks, students with disabilities would benefit greatly. All electronic textbooks could then present information in a standard format which would be compatible with many popular assistive technology devices.
  • Power. At the present time, the most powerful and well-developed user interfaces for many disabilities, including blindness, are those which have been developed by assistive technology manufacturers. Some strategies are very powerful; but it would be difficult to build them directly into electronic textbooks. For example, use of dynamic braille displays (i.e., computer-driven electro-mechanical devices which display braille symbols with small prongs, pins or other means and allow the braille to be changed as each line of text is presented) or printed braille are very powerful access strategies for individuals who know braille. However, it is unlikely that it will ever be economically feasible to build braille printing capability into standard printers or dynamic braille displays into electronic textbooks. Individuals with multiple disabilities, such as those with visual and hearing impairments, would need to use interfaces.

For these reasons it is important that both direct accessibility and compatibility with assistive devices be considered in the design of electronic textbooks wherever it is feasible.

Strategies for Making Electronic Textbooks Accessible

Electronic textbooks can take many forms. Each has different advantages and poses different accessibility opportunities and issues. There are, however, some general strategies which apply across most electronic textbook formats. The following section describes some examples of the various formats of electronic textbooks, general accessibility guidelines pertaining to students with visual impairments, and issues related to compatibility between common assistive devices and electronic textbooks.

Variety of Formats And Media

Electronic textbooks may be produced in many different formats. For example, it is possible to deliver a standard movie either as a VHS videocassette, as a videodisc, in digital form on a new digital videodisc (DVD), or as a digital file which is downloaded from the Internet. When viewed, the users would have no idea whether they were looking at a videotape, a videodisc, or a file downloaded from the Internet. Similarly, an interactive textbook might be delivered to the school on a DVD disc, on a CD-ROM, or over the Internet or Internet-like communications link within a single school district (i.e., an intranet).

Regardless of the format in which an electronic textbook is produced, the basic considerations for making it accessible are the same. Some of the delivery formats lend themselves to including accessibility features more than others.

General Accessibility Guidelines For Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

  1. All important information which is presented visually should also be available to the user in both auditory and electronic text (e-text). Electronic text is text arranged in a digital form readable by computers and capable of being easily rendered as braille or enlarged text. The phrase "important information" is used to differentiate between visual information which is essential to the use of the electronic textbook and visual presentations which are merely decorative. It is not necessary nor even always desirable to present to the student who is blind all of the decorative aspects along with the more essential information. It can both slow access to the essential information and increase the cognitive load due to the need for the student to evaluate and filter the information.
  2. All controls should be operable without vision.
  3. Users should be able to zoom in to view portions of the screen in more detail. Where possible, they should also be able to adjust the size and type of font.
  4. There should be a way of operating all controls by using commands formatted as electronic text.

Implementation of these general guidelines would also provide access advantages to individuals with reading difficulties and other physical disabilities. They would also allow a greater flexibility of access for all users, including the ability for users to operate devices more easily in very noisy environments or in very quiet environments. For additional guidelines on making electronic textbooks accessible to individuals with a wide range of disabilities, see Appendix B.

Compatibility Guidelines

An electronic textbook without built-in accessibility should be compatible with common assistive devices and software used by people with disabilities. Three types of add-on access solutions are available to make electronic textbooks accessible to students who are blind or visually impaired. These include screen magnification, speech output and braille output.

  • Screen magnification results when special software enlarges a selected portion of the presentation to fill the entire screen. This software will enlarge text, graphics, and movies.
  • Speech output combines a speech synthesizer and screen review software. This software reads text displayed on the computer screen and sends it to the synthesizer in an intelligent fashion. The students can hear individual characters, lines, words, sentences, or paragraphs, as well as punctuation. Screen reading software also allows students to explore and navigate the text on screen.
  • Braille output combines screen review software with a dynamic braille display. That is, the software converts text on the screen into braille characters which are produced almost as quickly as the printed characters on the screen.

Since only approximately ten percent of the people who are legally blind know and use braille, it cannot be used as the only way to make information accessible. For those who do know braille (and a higher proportion of young people who are legally blind know braille), use of a dynamic braille display is a very powerful technique which has advantages over speech, particularly in dealing with spatially formatted information. Therefore, use of a dynamic braille display is an important and effective option.

Although there are a number of assistive technologies available in each of the above categories, the effectiveness of these assistive technologies in providing access to an electronic textbook is dependent upon the design of the electronic textbook. Information which is not available in text form, for example, cannot be displayed using speech or braille. Software which requires an individual to simultaneously monitor two events occurring at opposite edges of the screen would be difficult for someone to operate by using screen magnification. It is not necessary, however, to limit electronic textbooks to purely text presentation in order to make them accessible. Strategies exist for making even richly graphical systems accessible.

Accessibility of The Major Components of Electronic Textbooks

This section will look more closely at each of the major components of electronic textbooks presented earlier and discuss the implications of making each of these accessible.


There are four basic ways in which text is presented visually in electronic textbooks:

1. Standard Text Draw. The electronic textbook uses the standard text writing routines of the computer and its operating system to draw text to the screen.

2. Proprietary Text Draw. The electronic textbook uses a text drawing method which is copyrighted by a single company and is available for use only by purchasing the software from that company.

3. Bit-Mapped Image. The electronic textbook is copied to the screen as an image.

4. Animated Text. The text is presented as a moving object or scrolled like a marquee. Either standard or proprietary text drawing may be used to accomplish this.

The text may also be presented by speech.

If built-in access is provided, none of the four above-named strategies for writing text to the screen presents a problem. With built-in accessibility, the same program which writes the text to the screen would provide the information in auditory form. The program can provide a parallel presentation of the information in alternate form; such as, speech.

Built-in accessibility should also allow the individual to move about in the text by section, paragraph, sentence, and word, as well as allowing the words to be spelled.

Presentation of information in auditory form is usually appropriate for individuals who are blind or have low vision but who do not have any hearing impairment. For individuals with hearing impairments or deafness, however, this form of presentation is a problem, unless the information is also available in visual form. For individuals with visual and hearing impairments, the information would need to be available in electronic form so that it could be presented using dynamic braille displays, as described above.

Electronic textbooks, which use standard text drawing, are compatible with standard screen reading software. Care must be taken, however, to ensure that the information is written to the screen in such a way that the individual can make sense of it using a screen reader which typically scans horizontally across the screen. Simple text layout on the screen can be very helpful here; side by side paragraphs would not work.

Electronic textbooks which use proprietary text drawing, bit-mapped imaging, or animated text are not compatible with today's screen readers. Electronic textbooks which use these strategies must use either built-in accessibility methods or incorporate advanced object-oriented strategies which would make the text version of the information available to the screen reading software. It should be noted that some software packages use display techniques, standard text drawing, proprietary text drawing and bit-mapped imaging all intermixed when writing information to the screen. One such software package reads Postscript Data Files (PDF). PostScript is a popular computer language used to drive office printers and many graphics programs use PostScript. If the fonts are resident (i.e., ready and waiting), it will use the standard routines discussed above. If the fonts are not resident, it will use its proprietary screen drawing routines to simulate the appearance of the font. At yet other times, text from this software package may be drawn to the screen as part of a bit-mapped image. This results in accessibility to only part of the text and this is not acceptable.

With regard to screen enlargement software, all of the first three methods of writing text to the screen would be compatible. Care must be taken, however, in how the information is laid out or dynamically changed to ensure that it is comprehensible to someone who is only able to view a small portion of the screen at any point in time.

A useful quick analogy is to think about trying to operate the electronic textbook while looking at the screen through a soda straw (to simulate the portion of the screen available to a screen reader) or through a paper towel core (to simulate a screen magnifier), especially when dealing with spatially laid out text or material.

In addition to providing access to the information from within the electronic textbook, it is sometimes possible for publishers to provide techniques for extracting information and presenting it as separate or companion text files. This text file could then be used in conjunction with a word processor and screen reader or voice output text file reader.

An external representation of the text in an electronic textbook could be achieved in two ways:

1. From the publisher. The publisher of the electronic textbook could provide an alternate form of the electronic textbook as an ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) or other accessible text file.

2. Extraction. A special tool could be provided by the publisher of the electronic textbook or a third party that would allow users to extract the information from the electronic textbook and store it as an ASCII or other accessible text file.

This approach is a viable approach for simple, static electronic textbooks which are composed primarily of text and which have stored in the electronic textbook a text version of any graphically or auditorially presented information. When such an extraction tool is used, it is important that all of the information which is conveyed in layout and formatting (e.g., bold, italic, and titles) be preserved, along with navigational aids (table of contents, indices, page references, and hyperlinks).

This strategy does not work for documents which have information presented in graphic or auditory form where an alternate text version of the information is not embedded in the document.

Additionally, this strategy works only for documents which are linear in nature (e.g., like a book or novel). For example, it does not work on material where the user can take any one of a large number of paths through the material.

Moreover, this strategy also does not work for materials which are in any way interactive.

Text Formatting And Hierarchy

Access to text formatting and hierarchy is important because it provides information about the structure of the information and to additional layers of information such as emphasis and key words. Text formats identify relationships between one text element and another (as in a definition), highlight key words, identify a sequence of presentation (as in a table of contents or headings in a chapter), provide information about the hierarchy of information (as with paragraph indentation) and provide other secondary levels of information to the reader. Making information about text formatting and text hierarchy available can be done in several ways, including:

  • Verbal tags: For example, "begin bold," "end bold," "Level 1 title," and "Chapter header," which are embedded in the text and/or spoken when the formatting is encountered in the text.
  • Some type of tonal cues could be provided when various formatting occurs. This could take the form of beeps or tones immediately preceding the words.
  • Background noise which is played while the specially formatted text is being presented or read.
  • Change in intonation or voice: for example, italicized words could be spoken with a different voice or at a different pitch or at a different volume.

Of these approaches, only the verbal tag approach would work with information which is exported to a dynamic braille display. For spoken output, the other approaches may be less disruptive, but will become more effective as techniques which relate specific auditory cues to specific text formatting features are developed.

As discussed under Text, systems with built-in accessibility have the advantage in that they are aware of any special formatting which is built into the text being presented and can take measures to present this information. Systems which are relying on external assistive technologies for providing access to the formatting information must use the standard system tools for formatting text so that they will be compatible with the screen readers. Some types of formatting and text hierarchy, however, may be difficult to present in a fashion that screen readers would be able to use or recognize and convey.


Graphic information within electronic textbooks falls into three general categories:

1. Information which is purely decorative and does not convey any particular information.

2. Information which is presented graphically but which is also presented in text form.

3. Information which is presented only in graphic form.

The challenges in making electronic textbook graphics accessible are:

1. Differentiating between important and decorative information.

2. Indicating the presence of information presented graphically.

3. Where appropriate, providing descriptions of the graphic images.

4. Where appropriate, providing alternate presentation of any important information which is presented graphically via description, tactile, or other appropriate means.

Text descriptions of graphic information may be either presented in parallel with the graphics for all users to see, or hidden in such a manner that it can be called up on request. Increasingly, accessibility researchers are finding that when information is hidden and available to be called up on request, it is requested by many users who are not blind. This feature adds to the comprehension of the graphic information by individuals with perfect vision.

There is great value in the redundant presentation (i.e., the repetitive display of the information in multiple formats, such as audio, closed captioning, descriptive video, braille and enlarged type) of information. For individuals who are blind or have visual impairments, it is often desirable to have supplemental methods or materials available in addition to any verbal descriptions to help in the presentation and interpretation of graphic information. Tactile models, raised line drawings, braille and audio tracks help provide orientation and information that enhance comprehension of graphic images.

Navigational Systems

In order to move about effectively within an electronic textbook, students must be able to independently and efficiently operate and navigate the textbook. Electronic textbooks use many methods to convey the structure of the content, such as simple outlines, expanding outlines, tab folders, and image maps. Electronic textbooks also draw upon a variety of methods to allow users to navigate the contents. These include menus, sub-menus, buttons, tab folders, outlines, scroll bars, icons, graphics, hyperlinks, and search functions. It is important for the student who is blind or visually impaired to understand what is contained within the textbook, how the textbook is organized, and what navigation options are available.

In general, these navigation methods can be made accessible to individuals with visual impairments. Some methods for achieving this include:

  • Ensuring that all navigation can be accomplished through the use of a keyboard, speech or electronic text rather than by using a mouse.
  • Providing a capability for collapsing a document down to its major titles or components along with some indication of the size of the material beneath each title or in each component.
  • Providing a capability for presenting information which is distributed around the screen in a linear fashion whenever possible.


There is nothing inherently inaccessible about hyperlinks. The two major problems faced are (a) identifying when something is a link, and (b) having some idea of the context when one gets to the other end of the hyperjump. Hyperlinks are generally indicated through text formatting (e.g., the text is a different color or the text is underlined or italicized). If all of the formatting information is available to the user, the existence and location of hyperlinks is generally available as well. When an individual has executed a hyperlink jump, some type of a verbal announcement that a jump has taken place is useful as a cue to the individual that the "world around their soda straw view" has changed, so that they look around and reorient themselves to the place to which they have jumped.

Expand And Collapse Features

In some cases, expand and collapse features may already be accessible. Problems arise, however, depending on how they are implemented in a given system. All expand and collapse features should be executable from the keyboard with speech or electronic text. All non-text visual cues that are provided in conjunction with the expand and collapse features should be available via built-in accessibility or revealed to the screen reader.

A subset of the expand and collapse feature would be a zoom feature. Such a feature allows individuals who are sighted to get a bird's-eye view of the general layout of the document or landscape. They can then zoom in for detail. The equivalent for those who cannot see would be the ability to provide an image which they could feel tactually. In addition, auditory cues could be provided to indicate white space, text and numbers. This would allow them to get a sense for the global layout of the page in the same way as a sighted individual.

Search Features

In addition to the ability to search for words or phrases, it is also very useful to search for character formatting or for structural items in the document. For example, the ability to search for the next title is very helpful for stepping through a document. If structure information is not available, the ability to search for the next bold or underlined text can be useful.


As with graphics, audio information in an electronic textbook can convey important information, or it can be purely supplemental or decorative. For individuals who have visual impairments and perfect hearing, presentation of audio information presents no barriers. If the individual has a visual and hearing impairment, then any information which is presented auditorially would need to be available in amplified form or, if they had severe hearing impairments or deafness, in electronic form so that it could be presented via braille. The pace at which the auditory information is presented should be controllable to allow for different levels of comprehension. For example, it should be possible to speedup, slowdown, terminate, pause or replay speech.

Fixed Sequence Animation And Movies

Electronic textbooks may contain full-motion video in color or black and white, with or without sound. The audio portions of the movies would be accessible to students who have low vision or blindness; however, the students may have limited or no information regarding the visual information which is displayed on the screen. In order to make animation and movies accessible, the electronic textbook should provide:

  • Audio descriptions of the visual contents.
  • The ability to turn the descriptions on and off at will.
  • The ability to back up and replay some or all of the information.
  • An electronic text version of the audio caption for individuals with visual and hearing impairments.

For some electronic textbooks, it may be helpful to include supplemental materials such as tactile models, raised line drawings, braille or audio material which can provide orientation and information which would assist students who are blind or visually impaired to understand the graphic information or auditory descriptions.

Interactive Animation And Simulations

This is one of the more difficult areas. Often, simulations where the user can manipulate the components rely on eye-hand coordination. An example of this is the model four-stroke engine described earlier in this document. In that example, the user could use a touchscreen or a mouse to grab the flywheel and turn it left and right in order to see how the pistons operate. Two strategies that can be used to make these systems accessible are:

1. Allowing all of the manipulations on the screen to be accomplished from the keyboard. This would also be useful for individuals with physical disabilities.

2. Providing auditory cueing of the status or change in status of the various components. Such auditory enhancement of the visual picture is usually beneficial to students with low vision as well as all students, including those without disabilities.

Caution must be used when designing modifications of interactive animation and simulations to ensure that the result does in fact provide the same quality of information to the student who is blind as it does to other students. In the example of the piston engine, the purpose of the program was to teach a child a specific concept. Even with the adaptations, the student who is blind would not have sufficient access to the information on the screen to learn that concept.

Other programs could be modified successfully. For example, a program might provide an animated story which periodically stops until the child responds to specific directions or answers questions by using the mouse or touchscreen. If there were a verbal (sound or tactual) narration of the story, and the student responses could be provided through the keyboard, then the child who is blind would have adequate accessibility to the content and could achieve the same results as other students.

Another opportunity for successful adaptation is the example where simulations allow students to carry out chemistry experiments. The beakers, flasks, burners, and other apparatuses are manipulated on screen and the chemical reactions (e.g., color changes, heating, and explosions) occur on screen as they would if the real items had been manipulated. If the interaction of the chemistry equipment can be manipulated through the keyboard, and the results of the manipulations are manifested by appropriate sound and descriptive narrative, the student would have information similar to that which is available in the chemistry lab.

Video Conferencing

Video conferencing is again inherently no less accessible than face-to-face communication. It is up to the individual communicating with the individual who is blind or who has low vision to make sure that information is not presented visually as a part of their interaction.

Where white boards or shared areas of the screen are used for drawing, writing, or otherwise working together, it is important that the white board area be implemented in such a way that it has either built-in voicing or works in conjunction with the screen reader for textual information. It should also be possible to print out the contents of the white board so that it could be converted into a raised line drawing using special adaptive equipment.

Controls for the video conference should be completely operable without vision. Providing keyboard access to all of the video conferencing controls is the easiest and most reliable way to achieve this.

Virtual Reality Environments

Virtual reality environments can be divided into two general categories as follows:

The first is where the individual is experiencing a visual immersion. One example is a virtual reality environment that is used to allow an individual to walk through an art gallery. The second is the use of virtual reality as a metaphor for something which is not inherently visual. For example, there are a number of virtual reality tools being used to navigate databases and knowledge bases.

In the first case, the virtual reality simply represents another way of presenting information to which the individual who is blind did not previously have access. By making it electronic, it is possible that some additional access may be provided through the use of techniques and technologies for image enhancement and edge identification. These could be used in conjunction with tactile printers (e.g., braille printers) and raised-line drawings.

In the second case, it is important for any visualization tools which are created to navigate around in information space to be constructed in such a way that the nonvisual (e.g., verbal/textual) interface is preserved for those individuals who cannot use the visualization interface.

Media-specific Strategies


The most common form of classroom videotape is 1/2" VHS. For classrooms that include students who are blind or visually impaired, videotapes with verbal descriptions of the visual information are needed. Since there currently is no technical way to hide or embed these verbal descriptions in the videotape and turn them on when needed, as is possible with captions, the verbal descriptions would need to be a part of the standard audio track on the tape. These verbal descriptions take the form of narration which is added between the normal audio information on the videotape. These added narrations describe what is occurring visually on the screen.

One approach for providing verbal descriptions on a videotape would be to have two versions of the tape; one with the verbal descriptions and one without the verbal descriptions.

A second strategy would be to record descriptive video and sound information on one track and sound information only on the second track. Users could then select either the left or right channel to get the material with or without the verbal descriptions. Individuals would be able to turn the audio descriptions on or off as desired.

Neither of these techniques is optimal, but both do work within the constraints of current videotape technology.


When produced in a non-interactive manner, videodiscs can be treated much the same as videotapes, with one important difference. Videodiscs have the capacity to include an additional sound track for descriptions. As a result, both stereo channels can be used for the regular audio, with the verbal descriptions on yet another channel which can be turned on and off as needed by the students.

For disks that are produced with a higher degree of interactivity, and which may be attached to and controlled by a computer, not only do the moving images on the disk need to be described, but the visuals and text on the computer screen need description and translation into digitized speech, braille display, or enlarged type. Although this may sound very difficult, when taken one element at a time, access to many types of interactive videodiscs is possible. The guidance for such access can be taken from the means for making standard linear video accessible and for making multimedia software accessible. In general, this type of accessibility also has benefits for individuals without visual impairments.

Multimedia Software

The same principles which apply to videotapes and videodiscs apply to multimedia software. By its very nature, multimedia software allows even more flexibility than videodiscs in terms of the opportunity for multiple channels of video and audio information, all of which can be turned on and off at the user's discretion. In most cases, however, accessibility to multimedia software must be built in. The capability of external agents such as screen readers to track and interpret what is happening in a multimedia environment is very limited. Both digitized audio, digitally recorded human voice, or synthesized audio computer-generated voices, can be used to describe essential visual elements to students who are blind or visually impaired. As discussed previously, the ability to access and use the system without eye-hand coordination is very important. Keyboard control of the program is an excellent strategy here. In addition, the use of supplemental materials such as braille, raised line drawings, or audio information can be very effective.

On-line Services And The Internet

It is becoming increasingly clear that in the near future, classroom instruction may be enhanced through the Internet, in particular through educational World Wide Web sites. There are form and content challenges inherent in such delivery. Fundamentally, however, the Internet simply represents a different way of delivering information and programs into the hands of the student and teacher. It allows for collaboration among parties who are widely dispersed. All of the same issues and all of the same solution strategies that were discussed for multimedia software apply here.

Today, the Internet uses very nicely structured Hypertext Mark-up Language (HTML) files which provide fairly accessible and structured information formats. However, current trends are moving away from this type of structured information and back into the wide variety of formats which exist in printed documents and complex multimedia video productions.


Some media accessibility experts estimate that publisher investment required to develop and market accessible electronic textbooks could result in the unit prices of initially adopted accessible electronic textbooks being 25 to 35% higher than the unit prices of currently adopted electronic textbooks. However, after publishers have learned how to develop accessible electronic textbooks, the costs of individual units are estimated to be only 3 to 5% higher than the costs of electronic textbooks which are not accessible.

It should be emphasized that these are estimates only and that costs of producing and using electronic textbooks are factors to be studied and analyzed further.


Much of the knowledge and technology needed to expand the accessibility of electronic textbooks for students who are blind or visually impaired exists already. For example, speech input/output and tactile input/output devices as well as special software which can enhance the accessibility of electronic textbooks are commercially available today even though they are often very costly. However, ensuring that most currently-adopted electronic textbooks and those likely to be adopted in the future are made accessible to students in the most logical and cost-effective manner will require further detailed analysis and planning. Perhaps most importantly, it will require collaboration among several communities including textbook publishers, media accessibility researchers, software and hardware developers, teachers of the visually impaired, consumer advocates, Internet and on-line service providers and state government. Only with this level of collaboration can accessibility be provided in the most logical and cost-effective manner.

Future efforts to expand accessibility must address the need for standards and development guidelines that facilitate access in newly developed electronic textbooks. Specifications for new programs must also include features that allow for redundancy in the presentation of their materials.

Providing accessible electronic textbooks to schools could have benefits for students with other disabilities as well as for students with no obvious disabilities. For example, electronic textbooks could be designed in a flexible manner to accommodate the varied learning needs of students who are blind and hearing impaired.

  • On-screen text that is spoken not only helps visually impaired, reading disabled, dyslexic, and other students with disabilities, but also students who learn better by receiving multimodal input rather than by relying on one sense.
  • Printed text that is spoken impacts two sensesûauditory and visual. Many studies have shown that multisensory impact enhances comprehension for all students.
  • Visually presented materials that are closed-captioned or which have descriptive audio tracks also provide multisensory input, enhancing comprehension. Captioning also provides students with the ability to search and find audio text with a computerized search engine.

When that flexibility is designed into the textbook itself, learning activities can be customizedùnot just for students with disabilities, but for all students. Thus, the learning benefits accrue not just to those who most urgently need these accommodations but to mainstream learners as well.


I. The Legislature should authorize the agency to establish up to three demonstration projects to investigate the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of developing accessible electronic textbooks in the priority shown:

A. First Priority:

1. A directly accessible CD-ROM textbook which could be used without assistive technology by students who are blind or who have visual or other disabilities.

2. Educational materials on the World Wide Web, the Internet, or other on-line services which are fully accessible to students who are blind or who have visual or other disabilities.

B. Second Priority: A CD-ROM textbook which could be used along with assistive technology to provide important information to students who are blind or who have visual or other disabilities.

II. The Legislature should authorize the agency to establish a consortium of textbook publishers, media accessibility researchers, consumer advocates, software and hardware developers, Internet and on-line service providers, educators, community members and representatives of the Texas Education Agency to:

A. Review the progress of the demonstration projects and provide feedback to the Agency. Upon completion of the demonstration projects, the consortium would make recommendations to the Agency on how to expand the availability of accessible electronic textbooks in future textbook adoptions.

B. Study the need for standards for the selection, modification and development of electronic textbooks to make them accessible to students with visual impairment or blindness.

C. Make specific recommendations on standards if needed.

Demonstration projects would enable the Agency to document, monitor, and analyze the various stages of production prior to making recommendations for publisher, agency or legislative action. Several variables and unknowns exist, including the time frame needed to provide the redundancy and accessibility features described in this report and the development and production costs required to develop these features. A study of the extent to which accessible electronic textbooks would actually be used could be part of a cost benefit analysis.

Demonstration projects could provide the agency with an assessment of procedures, adaptations, costs, and benefits associated with producing electronic textbooks accessible to students with visual impairment or blindness.

Appendix A: Texas Task Force on Electronic Textbook Accessibility

Joanne Miller Rodriguez
Task Force Chairperson
President, Pinnacle Education Associates, Inc.
Grapevine, Texas

Gregg C. Vanderheiden, Ph.D.
Director, Trace Research and Development Center, and Professor, Human Factors, Industrial Engineering
University of Wisconsin
Madison, Wisconsin

James W. Thatcher, Ph.D., Manager, Interaction Technology
IBM Research
Austin, Texas

Christy Shepard
Teacher of the Visually Impaired
Cypress-Fairbanks ISD
Houston, Texas

Anne Schreiber, Director of Technology for the Reading/Language Arts Group
Scholastic Publishing, Inc.
New York, New York

Anne Meyer, Ph.D., Co-Executive Director
Center for Applied Special Technology
Peabody, Massachusetts

Richard Leffingwell, Group Vice-President of Program Development
Optical Data Corporation,
Warren, New Jersey

Larry Goldberg, Director
National Center for Accessible Media
Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Public Broadcaster WGBH
Boston, Massachusetts

George Kerscher, Research Fellow
Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic
Missoula, Montana

Deborah Kaplan, Vice-President of West Coast Operations
Issue Dynamics, Inc.
San Francisco, California

Nolan Crabb, Consumer Advocate
American Council of the Blind
Washington, DC

Curtis Chong, Consumer Advocate
National Federation of the Blind
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Karen Billings, Ph.D., K-12 Marketing Manager
Microsoft Corporation
Redmond, Washington

James Allan, Ph.D., Teacher of the Visually Impaired
Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Austin, Texas

Agency Textbook Accessibility Project Managers:

Robert Leos, Ph.D., Senior Director
Textbook Administration Division

Charles E. Mayo, Director
Textbooks for the Visually Impaired Program

Appendix B: Additional Guidelines for Making Electronic Textbooks Accessible to Individuals with a Wide Range of Disabilities

1. All important information which is presented auditorially should also be available in visual form.

2. All speech output should be presented redundantly as text or in the form of captions.

3. Important emphasis delivered auditorially must be captured and presented either as a part of the text caption or through visual presentation.

4. All other auditory signals, including natural sounds from the electronic textbook which are important to its operation, must be provided in a visual form.

5. Electronic textbooks should have the capability for increasing or reducing the speed of presentation, or pausing the presentation, to allow for different levels of comprehension.

6. For movies, a transcript of spoken information and an indication of environmental sounds should be provided.

7. Additionally, movies should contain a sign language track which could be implemented through modern electronic movie formats such as QuickTime, which feature multiple video tracks.

Source: Texas Task Force on Electronic Textbook Accessibility

Appendix C: Resources

Vanderheiden, Gregg (1992). Making software more accessible for people with disabilities: A white paper on the design of software application programs to increase their accessibility for people with disabilities.

Trace Research and Development Center

University of Wisconsin

Waisman Center

1500 Highland Avenue

Madison, Wisconsin 53705-2280


Mazaik, Cheryl (1993). Guidelines for Producing Accessible Multimedia for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students.

WGBH Educational Foundation

124 Western Avenue

Boston, Massachusetts 02134


For general information on the federal regulations regarding computer accessibility, contact:

Clearinghouse On Computer Accommodation (COCA)

General Services Administration

18th and F Streets NW, Room 2022, KGDO

Washington, DC 20405

For information on efforts of other applications software companies

working on accessibility issues, contact:

Information Technology Foundation

(formerly ADAPSO)

1616 N. Fort Myer Drive, Suite 1300

Arlington, Virginia 22209-9998

703-522-5055 (voice)

703-525-2279 (fax)

For assistance in translating and formatting documentation into

accessible ASCII text files, contact:

George Kerscher, Director

R&D Division

Recording for the Blind

PO Box 7068

Missoula, Montana 59802

For information on "Bobby," CAST's free web disability access test page, contact:

Chuck Hitchcock

Director, Universal Design Lab

Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST)

39 Cross Street

Peabody, Massachusetts 01960

508-531-8555 (voice)

508-531-0192 (fax)

508-538-3310 (TTY)

For information on resource centers for special needs students and teachers, contact:

Alliance for Technology Access

Jackie Brand

2175 E. Francisco Blvd., Suite L

San Rafael, California 94901



For additional information on accessibility issues, contact:

Television Station WGBH (multimedia access center, including Descriptive Video and Captioning)

The CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media

Trace Research and Development Center:Designing an Accessible World

Universal DesignùPrincipals and Guidelines

Microsoft Corporation Accessibility Information


Applications Program: Any computer program that enables the user to accomplish some task, but not a task relevant only to the computer's operation. For instance, a word processing program would be an applications program because it enables the user to create, edit and print text.

ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange): A standardized system which assigns letters, numbers, and various other characters each their own code. This allows information to be transferred successfully from one computer to another via various interfaces.

Assistive Technology Device: Any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.

Bit Map: A set of numerical values specifying the colors of pixels on an output device.

Braille: A system of writing and reading used by individuals who are blind. This system is based on characters made up of raised dots.

Browser: Also called a Web Browser. A program that enables you to explore the World Wide Web.

CD-ROM (Compact Disk--Read Only Memory): A form of storage like a floppy disk except that it is usually permanent (read only) and has a high storage capacity (typically 650 megabytes). A CD-ROM disk looks like an ordinary stereo CD, however, a CD-ROM is used to store computer data rather than music.

Device: Any identifiable subsystem of a computer. Identifiable to the computer. Drives, video circuitry, printers, the keyboard, the mouse, and ports are devices.

Digital: Operating in discrete units or steps. Not continuous. Since microcomputers operate using discrete voltages and timing pulses, they are said to be digital. Usually contrasted with analog.

DVD (Digital Videodisc): A hardware technology designed to replace audio and information CDs, laserdiscs, and even videotapes. Each DVD can hold the equivalent of seven times a regular CD (more than 120 minutes of video).

Dynamic Braille Display: A computerized electro-mechanical device which displays braille using pins or other means that permit the braille to be changed as each line is read. An electronic code sent to the system raises and lowers the pins to form braille characters which the user can sense by placing the fingers on top of the display. When the display is full, the first cell recomposes itself and the display fills up again.

Electronic Mail (E-Mail): A system whereby a computer user can exchange messages with other computer users (or groups of users) via a communications network. Electronic mail is one of the most popular features of the Internet.

Electronic Text: Textual information stored in a digital form that can be presented on a computer screen. Normally this can also be presented in braille or as enlarged characters on a computer screen.

GUI (Graphical User Interface): A way for humans to communicate with a computer that typically uses graphics mode instead of character mode. Usually involves the use of a mouse.

Hardware: Any component of an electronic system which is tangible (e.g., a computer, a monitor, a disk drive, or a printer). This category contrasts with software, which describes those components which consist only of electronic signals (e.g., programs, text files, and other quantities of information that can be stored on a disk or in a computer's memory).

Homepage: The first page you see when you activate a Web browser.

Hypertext: A collection of graphical and textual data organized in such a way as to facilitate easy access to all of the information it contains. Hypertext may be thought of as a precursor to multimedia, or simply as an extension of it.

Hypertext Markup Language (HTML): The language used to create pages for the World Wide Web. Computer commands enable users to specify different fonts, graphics, hypertext links and more.

Internet: The name given to a large network of computers that are connected by high-speed information or data lines. The Internet also refers to the different services you can use on the Internet. Some of these activities include electronic mail and the World Wide Web.

Java: Java is a computer programming language. It has gained a lot of popularity because of its cross-computer support. That is, Java programs written for one computer operating system will also work on other computer operating systems, which saves the programmer from having to re-write the program to get it to work on several types of computers.

Modem: Short for modulator-demodulator. A device that enables a computer to communicate with other computers over telephone lines.

Multimedia: Combining static media (such as text and pictures) with dynamic media (such as sound, video, and animation) on the same system.

Object-Oriented: Generally used to describe an illustration or font file as being created by mathematical equations.

On-Line Service: A commercial service that provides capabilities such as e-mail, discussion forums, technical support, software libraries, news, weather reports, stock prices, plane reservations or electronic shopping malls. To access one, you need a modem.

Operating System: The program that allows the various parts of a computer system to "talk" to each other. The operating system is usually the first thing "loaded" after a computer is turned on, as most other programs require it in order to run.

Optical Character Reader (OCR): A device which can optically analyze a printed text, recognize the letters or other characters, and store this information as a computer text file. OCRs are usually limited to recognizing the styles and sizes of type for which they are programmed.

Platform: Specific computer hardware, as in the phrase "platform-independent."

PostScript: A computer language for describing a printed page commonly used to drive office printers. Many fonts, graphics programs, screen drivers, and printer drivers use PostScript.

QuickTime (QTM): A method of storing audio and motion picture video information on an Apple Macintosh computer. It is used to record and play back multimedia information and store the data on magnetic or optical media. QuickTime is also a collection of tools which allows movies to be modified (edit, cut, copy, and paste) just as a word processor is capable of modifying ordinary text.

Screen Reader: A program which speaks the contents of the computer's screen via a speech synthesizer. Such a program is usually also equipped with a system that allows the user to "navigate," or find his or her way around the screen, without the necessity of seeing the screen.

Search Engine: A program on a remote machine that allows keyword searches on the Internet.

Software: The part of a computer system which is not tangible; that is, the programs of information that are processed by a computer or stored in memory. Commercially available software is usually sold in the form of a program or programs stored on a disk.

Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML): A system for describing structural divisions in text (i.e., title-page, chapter, scene, and stanza), typographical elements (changes in typeface, and special characters), and other textual features (grammatical structure, location of illustrations, and variant forms).

Tags: Formatting codes used in the Hypertext Mark-up Language (HTML) documents. These tags indicate how the parts of a document will appear when displayed by a Web client program.

URL (Uniform Resource Locator): A code which provides the exact location of a resource on the internet, and describes the type of resource.

User Interface: The aspects of a computer system or program which can be seen (or heard or otherwise perceived) by the human user.

VHS: Video recording format and medium in wide use in conjunction with television technology, offering horizontal resolution of 240 lines. Not considered broadcast quality.

Web Browser: A program which enables an individual to explore the World Wide Web.

Word Processor: A type of applications software that is used to enter, edit, manipulate, and format text. In order to be considered a word processing program rather than a simple text entry and editing program, a program should have fairly sophisticated capabilities.

World Wide Web (WWW) or W3: A graphics-rich hypermedia document presentation system that can be accessed over the Internet using software called a Web browser.