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Braille Transcriber and Teacher Training

Video Presentations

  1. Important Tactile Skills for Literacy by Karen Poppe, Research.
  2. Key Elements in Designing Tactile Graphics by Yan Zhang, Accessible Textbook Department.
  3. Tactile Graphic Image Library + Graphic Freeware = Meaningful Cost-Efficient Graphics by Anthony Slowinski, Accessible Textbook Department.
  4. What is a Consumable Textbook by Jayma Hawkins, Accessible Textbook Department.

Live Webcast Discussion

On July 12, 2011, viewers joined a live Q&A discussion with the four video presenters. Presenters answered questions and took comments for about half an hour, until technical difficulties prevented further discussion. Here’s that video. Below are questions and answers from the live webcast, as well as others that came afterward.

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Questions & Answers

Are you interested in having users upload their graphics to the online library?

Anthony Slowinski: We would love to receive outside graphics and suggestions for graphics! Send any graphics you have, or ideas for, to email hidden; JavaScript is required or email hidden; JavaScript is required.

I am not real familiar with Inkscape, where do I get info? Does it work with a tiger embosser?

Anthony S.: Inkscape can be found at I do not know if it will work directly, I am under the impression you need to use .bmp files for a Tiger. If that is the case, once you have completed your drawing, save it, then choose the “Export Bitmap” function under the “File” tab.

We have not used the Tactile Graphics Library because we do not have the full Adobe package. Will we still need Adobe if we use Inkscape?

Anthony S.: One common complain we hear is “Adobe Illustrator/Corel Draw is simply too expensive …” which is what lead me to finding a good, and free, vector editing program. Inkscape will not replace Photoshop or InDesign (two other common apps in the Adobe Creative Suite), but it will handle many of the same tasks as Illustrator. You can view PDF files in Inkscape, but you may still want to have Acrobat Reader. It is free from

I joined the TGIL about three years ago, and the enrollment information was quite adamant that my free membership would be good only for six months; after that I would have to pay to belong. I used the library twice during my six months and there were so few graphics there that I was not helped. So, I did not pay up.

In the Web Video I watched today, you encouraged us to the use the TGL but did not mention the price. What is the current price?

Anthony S.: When the TGIL was developed we didn’t know if we could maintain a fee-free database but we are happy to say we have. The TGIL is completely free to use and we have no plans to charge for its use. If you have some graphics you would like to see included in the TGIL, let me know!

Hi Mr. Slowinski. Your tactile graphic segment was great. It seems to be easier than what I have been doing. The program you used is Inkscape. Can it be used on an HP or Dell computer? I thought I saw you use an Apple computer. Do we buy the program through APH — if I can talk my school district to buy it.

Anthony S.: Thank you. Inkscape is free, you can find it at, and can be used on a Mac or PC.

I enjoyed your presentation. I do have a few questions: When producing various textures and lines how do you create the keys? Since this is usually a cut and paste process onto the braille page, do you just print out a small area and then cut it up? Or, is there a method where a small patch can be saved and used for the key?

Anthony S.: I am glad, I hope it was beneficial. AT APH, we follow the BANA suggested method for laying out keys (textures, lines, points, alphabetic and numeric braille key). To recreate the lines and textures in a key, coping and pasting works well, as does creating your own pallet of lines, points and textures to sample from.

Is there a size limit built into the program that fits the tactile automatically onto the braille page? Or does this have to take into consideration when starting the graphic and configured manually?

Anthony S.: If you go to File, Document Properties, you can set your page size there. The PDF map I downloaded was already set to size. I don’t think you can set a braille page as your default in Inkscape, at least I don’t see where it is an option.

Is there some place that could output the file for us? What types of embossers can be used, if any?

Anthony S.: You could use a Tiger embosser (best results are usually achieved when you supplement Tiger graphics with some collage), swell paper, or as a collage master. As far as output sources, I do not have a list of resources to give you. Perhaps posting the question on our forum would get you some answers.

On their website, Inkscape states that it is an “open source vector graphics editor”. Does this mean it is free? (I’m not sure what the difference is between free software and freeware.)

Anthony S.: Thank you.

The term “open source” basically means, unlike something like Corel, its source code (how the program was written/works) is published and made available to the public, enabling anyone to copy, modify and redistribute the source code without paying royalties or fees. Freeware usually is, in fact, free soft ware, but unlike free software (say, the software that comes with a printer or as part of your operating system), has no license or use restrictions. But, bottom line is, it’s free.

Swell Braille is the recommended braille font to use with tactile graphic labels (posted for free on the Duxbury Systems, Inc. website) rather than choosing any braille font on a computer. As with print fonts (Arial vs. Times New Roman), braille fonts can vary quite a bit in size. Also, a braille font that has background dots would not be useful in a tactile graphic, i.e., Braille from BRL2000.

Anthony S.: When I mention [in my video] “whatever braille font…” I do so purposely as I am not making any recommendations for output. I assume the user will have some knowledge of Braille and tactile and be able to choose which braille font is most appropriate for their needs.

It is impossible to cover everything in one presentation, but tactile designers should be aware of the white space required around and behind braille labels and between adjacent textured areas.

Anthony S.: Yes they should. This demo is not about proper tactile design nor is it designed to be a tutorial on any sort of guideline or best practice, it’s intended to teach how to take a PDF from our free library and edit it with free software, Inkscape. I approach the tutorial assuming the user has a general knowledge of tactile but little knowledge of Inkscape and its functions.

You make it look easy, but it might be difficult for everyone to draw an area freehand. As long as an area is not filled, the print image could be moved behind the tactile drawing and a person can trace over an area. It is true that the tactile drawing can vary a bit from the original, such as smoothening outlines or country borders, but it should be similar.

Anthony S.: Thank you, and yes it may be difficult for some and it should be similar, that is why I suggested having the map in the background as a template. I will go back and see what I said, because if I suggested it need not be similar, that would be incorrect.

Can spur wheel tooling be used together with collage, and can the arrow shaft be spurred and arrowhead made by collage?

Yan Zhang: I would say yes as long as the symbols you choose are distinct and discernable. Spurred wheel tooling and collage gluing are often used in combination in tactile preparation. As to the arrow, it is recommended the arrow shaft and arrowhead are made with the same material, or at least of the same height, because it is one symbol

Great presentation. Can the arrows on the sample graphics be spurred? The surrounding areas on your examples had plenty of room so there should be little or no interference from other elements.

Yan Z.: Thank you for the compliment. I am not sure which arrows you are referring to, but arrows can be prepared in different ways as long as its directional and linear properties are preserved. I tried to focus on the design and editing process in my presentation. My examples are independent from specific production methods. After the content being identified, you can choose whatever appropriate symbols to prepare you own graphics.

Can arrow lines be spurred and points made using string or cutouts?

Yan Z.: I would say yes as long as the symbols you choose are distinct and discernable. Spurred wheel tooling and collage gluing are often used in combination in tactile preparation. As to the arrow, it is recommended the arrow shaft and arrowhead are made with the same material, or at least of the same height, because it is one symbol after all.

For the map used in the presentation, there was no braille example shown. What did you mean about “smoothing coastlines”? When I produce maps, the country or area to be represented is one level above the others, or textured with sandpaper if only 1 level is used.

Yan Z.: Coastlines in print maps are usually quite rough and in zigzag shape and often have tiny islands next to them. To braille readers those details are not important. You can make the coastline as a relatively smooth line or curve as long as you preserve the overall shape of the land. Print publishers play the same trick with us. You will see what I mean if you compare maps in a social study textbook in high-school level and one of elementary level. I am not sure what you meant in the second part of the question. Can you be a bit more specific?

I always thought map scales were a necessary component. Is the information put into a transcriber’s note?

Yan Z.: Compass rose and map scale are two components of a map that are typically omitted in tactile, unless either north is not up or when the scale is needed for some reason. A TN note is recommended to mention this omission.

I have a question about Two-letter keys using postal codes: I always thought keys had to have at least one letter using the full height of the braille cell. Iowa, for example, does not. Are the letters IA (without caps) still used?

Yan Z.: It is recommended that one letter in the two letter has dot 3 or 6 for easy reading, but standard abbreviations of state names or country names are exceptions, e.g. “ca” for Canada or California.

Hope this helps. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions.