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American Foundation for the Blind Textbooks and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum

A critical project from the Electronic Files and Research and Development Work Group is the Joint Technology Task Force (JTTF). The JTTF began on June 15, 2000 in Washington, D.C. when AFB, Association of American Publishers (AAP), and Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D) brought publishers and the technology specialists in the field of blindness together to discuss new technologies and the capabilities for advanced electronic file conversion that allows greater accessibility to both the visually impaired community and general user of eBooks. At this historic meeting, topics discussed included the development of a cross_platform standard for electronic files, dual stream publishing (both print and eBook), synchronized audio and text, and how organizations serving people with disabilities can work together with innovative publishers.

There are two main goals of the JTTF:

  1. To analyze the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) Extensible Markup Language (XML) file format to determine its suitability for converting textbook content into braille and other accessible formats.
  2. To promote and demonstrate to accessible book producers and Braille transcribers the efficiency and benefits of using publisher files in DAISY/NISO XML format. 
Stakeholders in this effort have expertise in Extensible Markup Language (XML), which is used for all modern IT systems. The Digital Audio-Based Information System (DAISY) Consortium and the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) both use the XML notation. The DAISY/NISO XML 3.0 Document Type Definition (DTD) is used to define markup for textbooks. The structure guidelines of DAISY clarifies the usage for Braille applications and for Digital Talking Books (DTB). In addition, expertise is from Braille software developers, expert users of Braille translation software with publishers' electronic files and publishers of textbooks.

Stake holders include American Foundation for the Blind; American Printing House for the Blind; Association of American Publishers (with Harcourt, Houghton Mifflin, McGraw Hill, Pearson, and Scholastic); Braille Authority of North America; Duxbury, Inc.; Ed-IT PC; National Braille Association; National Library Service; Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic; Texas Education Agency's producers of alternate formats; and educators of children with visual impairments. 

A listserv was established and meetings were held in September 2000 and during the AAP School Division’s Annual Meeting on January 17, 2001 in Austin, Texas. The group will continue to meet quarterly to share the progress made with the various objectives. 

AFB Textbook and Instructional Materials Solution Forum 
Research and Development Workgroup

by Steve Noble

The need for this information was identified during workgroup discussion focusing on the "readability" of specialized media using audio and tactile means to relate information typically displayed in visual form. The premise of the workgroup’s understanding is that there may have been some research done to define the limits of audio--and in a more limited since tactile—information cognition. This report examines some of the major research areas of the past as well as some current projects in the field.

Sensory Substitution

A significant amount of psychophysics research along these lines was done during the 1950s, 60s and early 70s. These studies examined how that the auditory and tactile sensory channels could be used to relate visual information, especially for persons who are blind. Larry Scadden (now at the National Science Foundation) and other researchers designed and tested experimental tactile image systems which converted optical images produced by television cameras into a dynamic tactile display, typically by way of vibrator pin array technology. Studies found that blind individuals could recognize common objects and describe their arrangements in physical space. The conclusion of these studies was that concerns over "sensory overload" were unfounded and that problems generally stemmed from the limitations of the system rather than the limitations of the perceiver.

Similar applications of substituting auditory analogs and cues for visual information have been formulated. As early as the 1940s research was conducted which showed that human subjects had the ability to perceive the location of solid objects by interpreting changes in ambient sound patterns as a person moves in proximity of the object. Still other studies confirmed that blind individuals could interpret binaural auditory information to such an extent as to be able to gauge the relative proximity of multiple solid objects within a controlled environment. Some extended applications of these findings have resulted in the creation of a number of binaural assistive navigation devices intended for blind users, although these devices have been found to have limited practical value.

More recent work has been done to utilize auditory analogs of two-dimensional printed information, such as mathematical equations and graphs. One experimental application developed by Dr. T. V. Raman (called ASTER) allows users to listen to a synthetic speech output where changes in speech pitch are used to depict vertical locations of equation components. For example, when reading algebraic equations superscript information is read in a higher pitch, while subscript information is read in a lower pitch. By using a variety of pitch encoding routines, a wealth of positional information can be communicated to the listener thus allowing independent reader access to higher level mathematical equations.

Other work has focused on the production of auditory analogs to communicate line graphs. Once again, this technique utilizes pitch encoding to produce an analog of visual information. In this instance, a constant tone is produces which rises in pitch as the graph line ascends the vertical axis, and lowers in pitch as the line descends.

Intelligibility and "Auditory Vigilance"

Psychoacoustical studies in auditory intelligibility include early work done by Dr. Emerson Foulke to explore increased reading speed with recorded materials. His work led to the development of TSM, Time Scale Modification, where recorded information can be played back at a faster rate without causing pitch-shift distortion which commonly happens when recorded materials are sped up.

Along similar studies to examine intelligibility issues, research in Auditory Vigilance during the 1960s and 70s focused on the ability of blind subjects to sort and interpret multiple auditory cues within both controlled and uncontrolled ambient environments. Results of these studies indicated that blind subjects were typically more aware of auditory environments and more adept at interpreting auditory information.

Virtual Reality

Most current research in psychoacoustics is driven by the desire to produce virtual reality environments. A significant amount of work is now being done in attempt to understand how the brain interprets subtle changes in auditory environments, and thus be able to create more "realistic" models of virtual reality.

Additional information and a selected biography is presented below.

**other titles suggested by the author**

Harris, J. Donald (John Donald), 1914-
Title: Psychoacoustics [by] J. Donald Harris.
Publisher: Indianapolis, Bobbs-Merrill [1974]

Luce, R. Duncan (Robert Duncan)
Title: Sound & hearing : a conceptual introduction / R. Duncan Luce.
Publisher: Hillsdale, N.J. : L. Erlbaum Associates, 1993.

Warren, Richard M.
Title: Auditory perception : a new synthesis / Richard M. Warren.
Publisher: New York : Pergamon Press, c1982.

Thinking in sound : the cognitive psychology of human audition / edited by Stephen McAdams and Emmanuel Bigand.
Publisher: Oxford [England] ; New York : Clarendon Press, 1993.

Information below this point does not originate with the author

From U. C. Berkeley, Dept. of Psychology,  Auditory Perception Lab

The research currently being conducted in the Auditory Lab is concerned primarily with issues involved in the higher-order processing of auditory information, especially as it impacts listening in real world situations.

The first half of our research program concerns the localization of sounds in space. This includes the ability to integrate information collected from both ears, the phenomenon of "visual capture", the ability to suppress echoes, and the grouping of sounds into perceptual objects.

Related to this is the second half of our research program, which involves the various types of attentional mechanisms available to listeners. These include the ability of listeners to focus attention on different auditory dimensions, the role this plays in distinguishing relations between elements in those dimensions, and once again the ability to group sounds into objects (this time attentionally rather than via spatial location).

Associations and Laboratories from UCB Hearing Sciences

Books from UCB Hearing Sciences

  • Blauert, J. (1997) "Spatial Hearing". Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Bregman, A.S. (1990)"Auditory Scene Analysis". Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Gilkey, R.H. and Anderson, T.R. (eds.), (1997) "Binaural and Spatial Hearing in Real and Virtual Environments". New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Green, D. and Swets, J. (1966) "Signal Detection Theory and Psychophysics". New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
  • Green, D. (1988)"Profile Analysis: Auditory Intensity Discrimination" New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Hartmann, W.M. (1997)"Signals, Sound and Sensation". Woodbury: AIP Press.
  • Macmillan, N.A. and Creelman, C.D. (1991)"Detection Theory: A user's guide". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Moore, B.C.J. (1997)"An Introduction To The Psychology Of Hearing". New York: Academic Press.
  • Parasuraman, R. and Davies, D.R. (1984)"Varieties of Attention". New York: Academic Press.
  • Pashler, H.E. (1998)"The Psychology of Attention". Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Popper, A.N. and Fay, R.R. (1994)"Mammalian Auditory Pathway: Neurophysiology". New York: Springer-Verlag.
  • Yost, W., Popper, A.N. and Fay, R.R. (1994)"Human Psychophysics". New York: Springer-Verlag.

Copyright 1999 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved.
Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, October 1999, pp. 670-675

This report, the first in a series discussing each of the five AFB Solutions Forum Work Groups, describes the activities of the Electronic Files and Research and Development (EF/RD) Work Group. Two purposes define activities of this Work Group:

  1. Exploring and defining issues related to the creation, production, and distribution of electronic files provided by textbook publishers for the production of textbooks in braille and other special media.
  2. Identifying new trends, technologies and research that may affect production, accessibility and delivery of textbooks.

The EF/RD Work Group has divided its work into 3 main tasks:

  1. Sharing of resources

  2. Tracking existing technologies

  3. Research and Development


The group is interested in providing additional information and materials for professionals in the field. The Electronic Files and Research Development Work Group has assembled or developed a number of resources related to the production of textbooks in specialized media. These resources are available for public use and comment on two web sites: and Resources on the sites include:

  • A list of textbook publishers who create electronic files for braille textbook production.
  • A collection of fact sheets about the development and production of quality tactile graphics.
  • A link to the American Association of Publishers web site that has their conference schedule and topics posted.


The AFB Solutions Forum is one of many national initiatives which focuses on some aspect of textbooks and educational materials productions. The EF/RD group is tracking other initiatives and sharing information. Some of the initiatives are listed below:

  • Recording for the Blind and Dyslexics development of an Electronic Data Management System for the production of electronic books.
  • American Printing House for the Blinds development of an electronic files management system.
  • The development of the Digital Talking Book standard by the Daisy Consortium and the National Library Service division of the U.S. Library of Congress.

Research and Development:

The final task of the EF/RD Work Group is conducting research and developing resources related to textbook production, delivery and accessibility. The group will complete the tasks listed below:

  • Conduct a survey of multimedia textbooks used by students with visual impairments. Information gathered from this survey will be used to promote the use of an accessible version of multimedia (sometimes called CD-ROM) textbooks by all students. If you receive this survey, please take the time to complete it. The information collected is very important. Results of the survey will be discussed at the Josephine L. Leadership Institute, which will be held March 3-5, 2000, in Dallas, Texas.
  • Develop a flow chart and related information on how publishers create electronic files for braille textbook production.
  • Develop a flow chart and related information on how braille textbook producers create braille textbooks from the electronic files.
  • With textbooks publishers, develop a business case for the use of accessible practices and tools for the creation and distribution of print, CD-ROM, and internet based textbooks.
  • Developing a position paper about why ASCII text files should not be used for the storage and distribution of electronic files and describing the alternatives.

The EF/RD Workgroup would like to hear from professionals in the blindness field who have information to share. Contact: Jim Allan, technology specialist and Webmaster, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, 1100 West45th Street, Austin, TX 78756; E-mail: . For information about the AFB Solutions Forum, contact project coordinators Mary Ann Siller or Susan Jay Spungin at   or .

(Instructional Materials Accessibility Act & Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)

Contact the Capitol Switch Board at 202-224-3121 or 202-225-3121


Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), Chairman

Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT)

Tom Harkin (D-IA)

Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD)

James Jeffords (I-VT)

Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)

Paul David Wellstone (D-MN)


Judd Gregg (R-NH), Ranking

Bill Frist (R-TN)

Michael B. Enzi (R-WY)

Tim Hutchinson (R-AR)

John W. Warner (R-VA)

Christopher S. Bond (R-MO)

Pat Roberts (R-KS)

Susan M. Collins (R-ME)

Jeff Sessions (R-AL)

Mike DeWine (R-OH)

All listed states adopt K-12 unless otherwise noted

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • California-adopts only K-8
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana-adopts only 1-12
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

Adoption periods and subject schedules vary by state and may be specify subjects and/or grades for each year.

The AFB Textbooks and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum has five work groups with specific goals and objectives.  The focus of the Production Work Group is to identify the processes involved in the production and dissemination of textbooks  and instructional materials in specialized media needed by students who are visually impaired.  This work group will recommend  guidelines and strategies for acceptable quality braille transcriptions; appropriate adaptations of materials for producing  textbooks to ensure they are educationally sound for visually impaired students; and eliminating duplication of efforts.

The Production Work Group identified the need for a national review of the issues associated with the production of accessible materials.   The production survey will assist in long-range planning recommendations to improve production and acquisition of specialized textbooks and instructional materials for students with visual impairments.  The survey has six areas:   general information, organizational structure, current sources of textbooks and instructional materials, production of textbooks and instructional materials, dissemination, and evaluation of services.   In the final report, we will not be identifying individual states and their responses, but rather encourage new thinking of how states can create better policies and processes for the future as it relates to the production of textbooks and materials.

A final report will be developed in October, 2000.  The report will supply general information to encourage states to create better policies and processes for producing textbooks and other instructional materials in accessible media.