What are the Different Types of Alternative Formats?

By Dusk Peterson

Alternative formats are reading formats that can be accessed by people who cannot read standard-sized print, such as the blind or people with mobility impairments. Some alternative formats are also used by people who can read standard-sized print.

This page describes some of the more common alternative formats that are used by print-impaired people. Links within the text lead to other sites with further information.

Mention is made below of ways to translate formats for the blind into formats that are also used by the sighted. These methods are described purely for the sake of blind readers who prefer to read the books in a different manner (for example, by having their computer read aloud a plain-text version of the book).

Accessibility information for this domain is available. More resources for blind and partially sighted readers are available at this domain.

Sections below:

* Analog audio (for example, audio cassettes)
* Braille
* Large print
* Digital audio (for example, CDs and MP3s)
* Electronic text
* Plain text
* Rich Text Format
* Electronic braille

Non-Computer Formats

1. Analog audio is the old-fashioned way of reproducing sound by mechanical means. In alternative formats, analog audio is used as a way to record text that is spoken by a human. Audio cassettes of text – also called recorded books or talking books – are a common way for print-impaired readers to access text. There are two types of audio cassettes. Two-track cassettes can be played on any tape player. Four-track cassettes are published by organizations for the blind and can only be played on special tape players.

2. Braille was invented in the nineteenth century as a way for blind and partially sighted readers to read with their fingertips. Other methods of reading by touch also exist, such as raised type and Moon, but braille is the most popular. In braille, groups of up to six raised dots form different patterns in order to show letters, numbers, punctuation marks, and groups of letters.

3. Large print is used by some partially sighted readers. Large print is usually sixteen point type or larger. By contrast, the default type size in most word processors is twelve point.

Computer Formats

4. Digital audio is a type of audio that can be played on a computer. A CD is an example of digital audio. Digital audio can also take the form of a computer file that can be downloaded from the Web. The most popular of the many types of digital audio files is MP3. Digital audio is often used these days for recorded books. Many libraries for the blind are beginning to transition over from analog audio to digital audio.

Electronic text (also known as e-text) is a general term for any type of text that can be read on a computer. In addition to the e-text formats mentioned below, there are various types of commercial e-text formats that can only be read on specific devices. E-text can usually be read by print-impaired readers through some sort of text-to-speech device in which a computer reads the words aloud, or through a screen magnifier to give a larger view of the screen, or by using a larger computer font.

Plain text (also known as TXT) is a format that can be read by all word processors. It has no italics or tabs or other enhancements, which is why it's called plain.

Rich Text Format (also known as RTF) is a format that can be read by most word processors. Unlike plain text, it can show such enhancements as italics. It can be translated into plain text.

HTML is the format used for Web pages. It can be translated into plain text.

DAISY (also known as Digital Talking Books or DTB) is a digital format for print-impaired readers. DAISY files can consist of text only, audio only, or both text and audio. In DAISY files with text, electronic text is read aloud by a computer or is read with a screen magnifier or in large fonts. In DAISY files with audio, the text is read aloud by a digital file containing the voice of a human. DAISY is similar to HTML, and like HTML it has hyperlinks that allow a person to skip easily from one section to another. The DAISY format can be translated into HTML or plain text.

Electronic braille (also known as Web-Braille) is a type of braille that can be read by an electronic display that shows the braille dots by means of thick pins that move up and down. Like other digital formats, electronic braille can be downloaded from a Website. Electronic braille can be translated into plain text.

PDF (also known as Adobe) refers to an image file that reproduces the look of a printed document. These image files can be enlarged and sometimes can be read aloud by a computer. PDF formats can be translated into plain text and sometimes can be copied and pasted into a word processor file to retain their original emphasis markings.

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Creative Commons License: Some Rights ReservedThis text, or a variation on it, was originally published at duskpeterson.com. Copyright © 2004-2007 Dusk Peterson. Some rights reserved. The text is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0). You may freely print, post, e-mail, share, or otherwise distribute the text for noncommercial purposes, provided that you include this paragraph. The author's policies on derivative works and fan works are available online (duskpeterson.com/copyright.htm).