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A Guideline Document

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February, 1999

Maryland State Department of Education
Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services

in consultation with
Mid-South Regional Resource Center
University of Kentucky

Maryland State Department of Education
Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services

This document was prepared cooperatively by the Division of Special Education, Maryland State Department of Education/Early Intervention Services, and a statewide Advisory Panel.

Advisory Panel:

Betsy Burnham
Tactile Media Coordinator
Instructional Resource Center for Students with Visual Impairments

Nancy Smith
Instructional Support Teacher for Vision 
Anne Arundel County Public Schools

Cheryl Strong
Elementary Special Education Coordinator 
Washington County Public Schools 

Barbara Cheadle
National Federation of the Blind of Maryland 

Paula Wolflin 
Teacher of the Visually Impaired
Mid-Shore Special Education Consortium

Roxanne Constantino
Braille Technician 
Harford County Public Schools 

Ellen Croucher 
Educational Consultant 
Maryland School for the Blind  

Sharon Zervitz
Educational Associate 
Baltimore City Public Schools

MSDE Liaison
M. Loretta McGraw
Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services 

Bob Lazarewicz 
Executive Director of Operations  
Howard County Public Schools

Nancy Marth 
Instructional Assistant 
Charles County Public Schools

Carol B. Massanari Ph.D.
Mid-South regional Resource Center 
University of Kentucky

Table of Contents



In 1992 the Maryland Legislature set forth an expectation that all children with visual impairments will have available to them instruction in alternative media, specifically, but not limited to Braille. This legislation stipulates that the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) provide guidance and technical assistance to local school systems (LSS) on issues and matters related to (1) making decisions for determining when alternative media (e.g., Braille, large print) are appropriate for a student, (2) creating a statewide system for coordinating and sharing materials, and (3) establishing criteria for ensuring qualified personnel.

Since the passage of this legislation, MSDE has taken several steps to meet its obligation, including the following:

  1. development of a tool for selecting reading and writing media for students with visual impairments;
  2. establishment of a statewide Instructional Resource Center; and
  3. establishment of certification criteria for teachers of students with visual impairment that include development and maintenance of Braille skills

As LSSs have implemented these guidelines and recommendations, a fourth issue emerged. While many of the instructional materials (e.g., textbooks) can be obtained through the Maryland Instructional Resource Center MD-IRC), there remains a need for each LSS to produce day to day assignments, handouts, and other daily classroom materials. To meet this responsibility LSS have taken different approaches. In some counties, production of Braille material is the sole responsibility of teachers of the visually impaired. In other counties, this responsibility is shared with instructional assistants or other uncertified staff. Where instructional assistants or other uncertified staff are used, questions of quality, consistency, and qualifications have emerged. Essentially, the issue can be summarized as three fundamental questions:

  1. Do individuals who produce Braille need specialized skills?
  2. Do these individuals require differentiated compensation?
  3. How do we assure ongoing, quality support for these individuals?

To develop responses to these questions, MSDE formed a representative task force. The mission of this task force was to produce guidelines regarding the use of paraprofessionals to adapt instructional materials for Braille users. Since these guidelines are intended to be from MSDE for local school systems, recommendations include both steps LSS can implement as well as strategies for MSDE to provide support and technical assistance.

Vision of the Future

These guidelines were developed with an eye on the future. They are designed to guide the State toward a time when

  • all students with visual impairment have available quality materials, comparable to those available to other students, in a timely manner; and
  • staff assigned to produce Braille materials are skilled, valued and supported.

Rationale - The Need for Attending to Braille Production

Braille is the access to literacy for the blind child.

The value of literacy in today's world is well documented and accepted. For the child who is blind, Braille provides an opportunity to develop literacy skills just as print materials provide such an experience for the child with sight. However, Braille has unique differences that bring with them challenges for providing quality literacy opportunities. Just as accurate production of print material is critical to the development of high standards of literacy skills for the child with sight, developing the same high standards of literacy skills for the child who is blind likewise requires production of accurate Braille materials. Poorly Brailled materials or inconsistency in Braille formats will cause confusion and slow reading, impeding the child's ability to grasp concepts or keep up with classmates. Poorly prepared materials can sabotage the best instruction by producing confusion, frustration, acquisition of incomplete concepts or acquisition of poor reading strategies, all of which result in producing a poor, reluctant reader. Just as there are nuances to learning to read print material, there are nuances and complexities to learning the Braille system. It is essential that students have access to materials that have been produced by individuals knowledgeable in Braille and tactile graphic production and that these materials are checked for accuracy.

Beginning readers often need a text that is unavailable for purchase.

Some students, especially early readers, will require a text that uses grade I Braille or a combination of grade I and II. Others may need a text that has been double spaced. Currently most Brailled materials purchased from producers use grade II Braille. Therefore, it is often necessary that a LSS will need to have a process for producing Brailled texts locally or through the MD-IRC.

Braille usage is less prevalent and there are fewer opportunities for incidental learning or quality control.

The child who is blind has few sources of Braille materials so it is especially important that the materials s/he uses are high quality materials. Because of the limited number of Braille materials available in the home or at school, the child will not have many incidental opportunities to experience written material. This will limit the child's ability to make comparisons between various formats and ways of expression. Additionally, because of these limits, the child may not question the materials s/he has been provided if a problem is suspected. The child may not associate any difficulty s/he experiences with poorly prepared materials.

The Braille system is different from the print system and has unique considerations essential to quality production.

People who do not read Braille often do not realize the amount of space Braille materials take as compared to print, i.e., a rule of thumb is that one print page may equal as many as three pages in Braille. Braille formats are different from print formats and often adaptations need to be made to convey the concept being taught. Transcribers need to be aware of what to omit from the print format, i.e., material that has been included simply to please the sighted reader but could unnecessarily slow down or confuse the Braille reader. Accommodations for using the hands and fingers efficiently and consolidating content as much as possible are additional, very important considerations in preparing Braille materials. All of these unique format concerns need to be considered by those who produce the Braille materials. Since it is very important that the child learn the Braille conventions and how they relate to print, it is critical that the transcribed Braille materials consistently follow these conventions.

There are a limited number of people who know and can produce Braille.

Every print paper/handout produced by a teacher is subject to the scrutiny of peers, supervisors, parents and students. This is not true with Braille materials. Very few people will read or review the Braille produced for a student. This eliminates the incidental, indirect source of quality control so widely available for print material produced in a school. Therefore careful thought, planning and routine monitoring will be required to ensure consistent Braille quality. Also, those who produce Braille generally are not daily, personal users of Braille. They are sighted individuals who are accustomed to print for their own use and simply produce Braille as part of their job. This in and of itself is not a problem, but it is a source of potential problems. To decrease these problems, special and deliberate measures must be taken to ensure a consistent level of quality Braille production over time.

Recommendations Summary

Given the fundamental questions, vision and rationale, the committee developed recommendations to guide LSS decisions related to the production of Braille materials. These recommendations comprise the remainder of this report and are grouped under the following areas:

  1. Considerations for determining quality Braille,
  2. Personnel considerations,
  3. Support for personnel who produce Braille,
  4. Ideas for ongoing quality assurance, and 
  5. Considerations for skill development

Characteristics of Quality Braille

In general, the quality assurance principle to follow is a zero tolerance level for Braille usage and formatting errors. However, there are times when this principle will need to be applied with flexibility. For example, when time is short, i.e., a handout or instructional material is given to the Braille transcriber close to the time it is needed, there will be a corresponding number of errors possible due to the rushed nature of the production. Generally, however, the following quality guidelines can be applied:

  1. Uncorrected Braille errors (including detectable erasures) are limited to no more than one (1) errors per standard Braille page.
  2. There are no omissions of a complete sentence.
  3. Erasures are thorough and leave no tactile impression.
  4. Braille dots are crisp, clear and legible.
  5. Materials (paper or Thermoform plastic) are appropriate for competency, skill level and tactile level of the student for whom they are prepared.
  6. All deviations from standard Braille (Grade II) usage and formatting are documented and justified in the student's Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

There will be times when modifications or adaptations will be necessary. For example, beginning readers or beginning Braille students may need a transition time during which a combination of Grade I and Grade II Braille is used. Also, simplified formatting - i.e., double spacing between lines, extra space between Braille cells within a word, etc. - may be used with beginning readers in the same manner that simplified print formats are used with beginning print readers. These are directly related, however, to instructional issues and must be addressed in the IEP. This highlights the importance of the Braille transcriber's need to be familiar with the IEP or to attend IEP meetings to ensure full partnership of the transcriber in meeting the needs of the student

For other tactile materials, i.e., visual images, the following additional points should be considered:

  1. Simple is best.
  2. Information should be kept together as much as possible (e.g., a map and key are kept on the same page whenever possible).
  3. The purpose of the material should be given careful consideration. For example, if students are learning about landforms, then the student who is blind does not need the exact map used by peers because such a map will probably include additional extraneous material or information that may be unnecessary or confusing for the blind student. Another example arises when the student is needing to learn the concept of map reading and the exact map that peers are using is not available in tactile graphic form. but another map is available.

Personnel For Producing Braille Material

Currently within Maryland, there are only a few specialized positions dedicated solely to the production of Braille materials. In many situations, Braille production is assigned to an instructional assistant, or even a secretary. The recommendation is to move toward the designation of a specialized function as described below. Ideally, a LSS would have a dedicated staff position to carry out this function. More realistically, it is probable that a LSS will continue to use other staff positions (e.g., instructional assistant) with the added function of Brailling materials. Regardless of job title or position, the expectations and minimum qualifications for carrying out this added function apply and are set forth below.

Job Function

Braille Production of Instructional Materials

Level I

  • Function Description
    • Works closely with and under the direction of a teacher of the visually impaired. Adapts materials, develops Braille materials for students who use Braille.
  • Expectations
    • Be willing to complete training or course work to acquire knowledge of Grade II Braille and beginning Nemeth Code and textbook format within the first year of employment.
    • Acquire knowledge related to the impact of blindness and visual impairment, whether congenital or adventitious.
    • Acquire knowledge of technology for the blind and visually impaired (e.g., synthesized speech, Braille translation programs, and Braille printers) as needed.
    • Acquire knowledge related to the production of tactile graphics (e.g., charts, graphs, tables, etc.).
    • Become familiar with sources for Brailled materials.
    • Has awareness of music and foreign language Braille requirements and seeks assistance when music and foreign language materials are required in Braille.
  • Minimum Qualifications
    • High school graduate, some college preferred
    • Demonstration of interest in working with students with disabilities
    • Willingness to learn special competencies as related to students using Braille or adapted materials
    • Willingness to learn Braille code (Literary and Nemeth) as well as strategies for adapting materials
    • Ability to communicate and cooperate with a variety of school related staff
    • Knowledge of basic computer skills

Level II

  • Function Description
    • Produces and coordinates the production of Braille materials in consultation with the teacher of the visually impaired.
  • Expectations
    • Has knowledge and skills necessary to determine most appropriate methods for adapting materials and producing Braille, including textbooks.
    • Acquires knowledge and skills related to technology for students who are blind or visually impaired.
    • Demonstrates knowledge of Nemeth Code as used in elementary math skills.
    • Demonstrates application of knowledge related to technology for students who are blind or visually impaired as needed.
    • Demonstrates ability to adapt materials related to tactile graphics to include more detailed areas, such as diagrams, flow charts, maps, etc.
    • In collaboration with the teacher of the visually impaired, provides training in adapting materials and producing Braille, as required, for volunteers, staff and family. Makes decisions about describing pictures or other visuals.
    • Seeks and uses technical assistance available within the state and beyond for specialty areas such as Braille music.
  • Minimum Qualifications
    • meets minimum qualifications listed in Entry Level I and demonstrates Level I expectations
    • has obtained National Library Service (NLS) certification (see definitions)
    • is competent in Grade II Braille as measured by ongoing evaluation from the teacher of the visually impaired.
    • demonstrates competency in textbook format

Level III

  • Function Description
    • Same as for Level II.
  • Expectations
    • Same as for Level II.
  • Minimum Qualifications
    • Same as for Level II with the addition of:
      Nemeth code certification (required for higher levels of math and science)

Personnel Support System

Salary & Incentives

  • Local School Systems are encouraged to develop a salary schedule, separate from one used for existing staff positions, recognizing the additional knowledge and skills needed to carry out the added function.
  • The salary schedule should recognize the different level of skills required for Levels I, II and III.
  • The skills and qualifications an individual presents at the time of hiring should determine entry level salary.
  • For samples of the range of salaries for Braillists across the US, contact the MD-IRC.
  • In addition to salary consideration, provision should be made for professional growth and development opportunities such as the following:
    • Local school system support for participation in conferences, workshops and networking opportunities;
    • Local school system support for course-work related to the field of visual impairment;
    • The provision of resources, such as publications, reference and instructional materials, etc.
    • Provision of administrative leave to allow time for the pursuit of relevant resources such as The Maryland School for the Blind, Maryland's Instructional Resource Center for Students with Visual Impairments (IRC), Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind and other school systems to allow for professional growth.
    • For Level II & III, release time to serve as trainer or mentor to Level I.

Evaluation or Quality Assurance

  • Performance evaluation should be conducted in accordance with LSS performance evaluation procedures. Best practice will include input from the teacher of the visually impaired.
  • An evaluation should include a component related to quality Braille production conducted by an individual who meets the following requirements:
    • Holds NLS certification
    • Is knowledgeable in textbook format
    • Is knowledgeable about Nemeth code for elementary levels of math
    • Is Nemeth certified where advanced math and science are produced


The following are suggested as appropriate resources to be provided for and used by any individual who is producing Braille:

  • Braille reference materials and other professional materials related to visual impairment (see Appendix A).
  • Adequate workspace and equipment.
  • Planning time with teachers.

Strategies and Ideas for Implementing Quality Assurance Processes

It is recognized that some of the implementation strategies will require more specific procedures (e.g., how plans get developed and included in the monitoring process). MSDE will work with the appropriate people to develop and disseminate procedures as needed.


Each Local School System should have an updated plan that demonstrates how they meet the requirements for providing quality Braille materials to all students who need them. If some of the requirements are not completely implemented, the LSS must indicate how they are moving toward complete implementation. These plans will be used by the state monitoring team to ensure compliance with the provision of Braille as noted in state and federal regulations.

Local districts are advised to develop policies or procedures that help communicate expectations relative to the provision and use of quality Braille materials. Such policies might include guidelines for monitoring Braille materials, suggestions for including the Braillist in the IEP process, and procedures for developing or ordering Braille materials in a timely manner.

MD Instructional Resource Center (MD IRC) as a TA Support System

Textbooks and most Braille materials obtained outside of a district will be ordered through the MD IRC. To ensure timely and accurate acquisition of materials, it is important for districts to follow the IRC procedures (see Appendix B). Whenever requesting materials, it will be important to communicate the need for special considerations, such as adapting visual images or modifications needed in accordance with the IEP. When materials (e.g., textbooks) arrive at the District, they should be checked to determine if the visual images have been included or if these will need to be developed. Likewise, it will be important to verify that all adaptations needed were included and to determine if there will be a need for further adaptations to be produced. Because of the additional challenges associated with Braille math, careful scrutiny should be made in reviewing these materials. In addition, the IRC will maintain a recommended list of Braille producers (in state, out of state, non-profit, volunteer, for-profit), including textbook, Nemeth code, music and foreign language production.


While the provision of Braille materials is ultimately the responsibility of the LSS, the Maryland State Department of Education is committed to providing technical assistance and resource support. To this end, the MSDE will:

  1. Maintain and disseminate guidelines for making a determination of the need for Braille instruction and for identifying ways to obtain or adapt instructional materials.
  2. Develop and disseminate guidelines for producing tactile graphics, diagrams or other visuals.

The MSDE may contract with the MD-IRC and or other consultants to provide technical assistance.

As part of its responsibility to support compliance with the requirement that the LSS provide Braille materials, MSDE will

  1. Support the capacity of the MD IRC to provide technical assistance to all local school systems in the area of Braille production.
  2. Support the capacity of the MD IRC to coordinate a pool of shared resources that includes the following:
    1. technology
    2. equipment
    3. personnel (Braillists)
    4. Braille production
    5. technical assistance, i.e., professional expertise, training, appropriateness of level of Braille instruction
    6. list of personnel able to provide technical assistance and expertise
  3. Support a mentorship program or resource for Braillists that provides assistance and support as needed across the state.
  4. Include questions related to the provision of quality Braille materials as part of the ongoing compliance process.

Strategies for Ongoing Skill Development

Braillists are a unique group of individuals within the various school districts who provide support to the instructional program of Braille readers. In order to enhance that role, consideration must be given to the need to provide quality supervision, networking and training.

While MSDE must retain the general oversight responsibility, the MD IRC provides a natural in-state vehicle for developing and providing training and technical assistance for skill development. MSDE can provide support for identifying training needs and for coordinating training efforts while the MD IRC can provide curriculum development and training opportunities. (See Appendix C for a draft outline of a training proposal developed by the MD­IRC.) While training should not be the sole responsibility of any one entity, there is a need to ensure that consistent statewide, regional and local training opportunities are available. While the MD IRC should be primarily responsible for designing and providing statewide and regional training opportunities, MSDE could continue to provide consultation and advice relative to these opportunities and local training initiatives.

When designing training, it is best to consider various training modalities. Some suggestions for consideration include the following:

  • conferences, 
  • distance learning, 
  • course-work completed via mail or on-line, 
  • inservice or workshops (local districts, regional, state-wide), 
  • newsletters, and 
  • mentorships.

To help facilitate networking and communication activities, a statewide roster of Braillists should be maintained by the MD IRC. The roster should include the following:

  • Name - Phone number
  • Mailing address
  • e-mail address
  • School district location
  • Description of job function (i.e. technologist-Braillist, direct student services ­Braillist, etc.)

This listing should be updated and disseminated periodically to allow Braillists to communicate with peers statewide. Additionally, this listing will facilitate the ability to contact individuals quickly to gather specific information about individual training needs or to disseminate information about upcoming training opportunities or the latest news in the Braille world.

An additional opportunity for training and networking is that provided by conferences. ln collaboration with others, e.g., National Federation of the Blind, International Braille & Technology Center for the Blind, MSDE and MD IRC might sponsor an annual conference devoted specifically to the production of Braille material. This would provide time and space for Braillists to meet face-to-face for idea exchange and collegial support.

While the specific content of training and information to be disseminated should be determined using a needs assessment process, there are some areas that could always be considered. These include the following:

  • technology usage and research,
  • Braille skills, educational approaches and priorities,
  • Braille formatting,
  • Networking,
  • strategies for working with Braille users,
  • tactile graphics,
  • Nemeth code,
  • music notation,
  • foreign language, and
  • implications of statewide and standardized testing.


Tactile reading system used to present text to a reader who has a visual impairment. This system is based on a cell of six raised dots providing for 64 possible combinations. The dots that compose the cells are dome-shaped and are about one sixth, or 16 thousandths (.016) of an inch. They are spaced nearly one tenth (.090) inch apart and each takes up one quarter inch (.250) of horizontal line space. Braille lines are spaced four tenths (.400) of an inch apart, providing about two and one half lines per inch. (Source: New Programmed Instruction in Braille, Ashcroft, Henderson, Sanford and Koenig, SCALARS Publishing. Copyright: 1991)
Braille Format
Specific arrangement of a Braille page as determined by the Braille Authority of North America (BANA).
Braille Paper
Paper of a higher density and thickness enabling the stylus of an embosser to emboss  without perforating the paper.
Braille Printer (Embosser)
Braille equivalent of an electric printer. When connected to a computer, a Braille file is embossed onto braille paper.
Braille Translation Program
Computer software that, with the interaction of a Braille Transcriber, translates a print word-processing computer file into braille.
Plastic paper used primarily to reproduce tactile graphics.
Grade 1 Braille
Braille Code using one Braille cell for each print letter or punctuation mark
Grade 2 Braille
Braille Code using 180 different contractions to present words and /or parts of words with one or two Braille cells. .
National Library Service (NLS) Certification
The only recognized certification for Braille transcribing. Awarded after completing required coursework through the Library of Congress. Allows the Braillist to train others for NLS certification.
Nemeth Code
Mathematical and scientific Braille code for use in scientific notation and in performing computation and problem solving at all levels of mathematics.
Music Notation
Braille code used to present musical scores.
Speech Synthesizer
Electronic device which interprets the images on a computer screen or within a reading device into verbal output.
Tactile Graphic
Tactile representation of visual/pictorial information.
Textbook Format
Arrangement of Braille materials according to their nature. Format rules are contained in the Code of Braille Textbook Formats and Techniques, which provides guidelines for transcribers.
Machine utilizing heat and a vacuum to reproduce a Braille page of text or a tactile graphic onto brailon paper. Braille equivalent of a photocopier. )


Castellano, Carol & Kosman, Dawn. (1977) The Bridge To Braille: Reading & School Success for the Young Blind Child. Baltimore, MD: National Organization of Parents of Blind Children

Rex, E,J.; Koenig, A.J.; Wormsley, D.P.; & Baker, R. L. (1995) Foundations of Braille Literacy. New York: AFB Press

Wormsley, D.P. & D'Andrea M. (EDS.) (1997) Instructional Strategies for Braille Literacy. New York AFB Press

Appendix A

Essential Books for Braille Production

English Braille, American. Edition, 1994
American Printing House for the Blind #7-35931-00 
Louisville, KY 40206-0085

Instruction Manualfor Braille Transcribing - Third Edition, 1984  
American Printing House for the Blind #759890-00 
Louisville, KY 40206-0085

Braille Formats: Principles of Print to Braille Transcription, 1998  
American Printing House for the Blind #7-09652-00 
Louisville, KY 40206-0085

The Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics and Science Notation - 1972 Revision
American Printing House for the Blind #7-87430-00 
Louisville, KY 40206-0085

Learning the Nemeth Braille Code: A Manual for Teachers and Students, 1987
American Printing House for the Blind #7-68653-00 
Louisville, KY 40206-0085

Braille Code For Columned Materials and Tables - 1995  
American Printing House for the Blind #7-04771-00 
Louisville, KY 40206-0085

The Braille Enthusiast's Dictionary
Scalars Publishing 
P.O. Box 158123 
Nashville, TN 37215-8123 
ISBN 0-9634229-7-9

Manual of Braille Music Notation: American Edition-1998  
American Printing House for the Blind #7-77000-00 
Louisville, KY 40206-0085

Appendix B

MD-IRC Procedures for Timely and Accurate Acquisition of Materials

  • Items for a new school year should be requested by May of the preceding year.
  • A request form must be completed for each book following the instructions on the back of the form
  • The MD-IRC will search each request using:
    • IRC database or
    • APH "Louis" database.
  • MD-IRC will reserve book, if available on IRC database, or purchase book.
  • LSS is notified of availability.
  • All Braille books ordered by the MD-IRC will be in Grade 2 Braille with single-spacing
  • Braille books unavailable elsewhere are sent to the Braille production area of the MD-IRC.
  • Arrangements are made to Braille in-house or
  • to seek outside volunteer Braillists or
  • to seek outside professional contracts.
  • All books Brailled by IRC will be in Grade 2 Braille and formatted according to Braille format rules as found in Braille Formats: Principles of Print to Braille Transcription.
  • When another format is required by the student's IEP, that information must be included with the request form.
  • All books must be returned to the IRC at the end of a given school year, if the same book is needed for the following year, a request must be issued for a loan extension.

Appendix C

Proposed Plan for Ongoing Skill Development of Braillists Proposed by MD-IRC

1990-1999 School Year

  • Develop curriculum for "textbook" format according to Braille Formats: Principles of Print to Braille Transcription.
  • Develop curriculum for use of translation programs to coincide with "textbook" format curriculum
  • Develop final examination to be used as state-wide evaluation tool for Braille formatting.
  • Identify persons to provide workshops in:
    • Braille,
    • Tactile Diagrams,
    • Nemeth Code,
    • Music,
    • Foreign Language Braille,
    • Overview of methods of teaching blind students Braille,
    • Overview of methods of teaching blind students Nemeth Code, and
    • Technology.
  • Establish a means for identifying and contacting all Braillists.
  • Continue and expand on-site visits to ascertain needs and provide immediate training.
  • Develop calendar of workshops for upcoming year.

1999-2000 School Year

  • September - All Braillists meet at MD-IRC to form a network of peers, discuss types of Brailling tasks they will have in the upcoming year, establish immediate training needs and present calendar of workshops.
  • Obtain additional training needs information from supervisors, teachers of the visually impaired, parents and students as needed.