Why do we need accessible text?
Unfortunately, most printed and visual material is not entirely accessible as-is for people with low vision, blindness, or learning differences. And that’s not because the whole world isn't translated to braille. To access information, many people with low vision or blindness use a screen reader which converts text to speech. Screen readers work well with accessible text or just plain text. That is, if the material is available electronically in a document or format that’s already readable as text, if there are no undescribed images, and if there is no important formatting. But how often do you encounter just text? Not very often.
Think about a page in a book. Most pages contain visual cues and information beyond the words themselves. Images, figures, sidenotes, footnotes, formatting like headings or bolding, and more work together to create meaning for the reader.
Even pages of a novel include important formatting cues. Most have chapter titles, italicized text, and page numbers which a screen reader could misplace or miss altogether.
Accessible text ensures access to all visual information in books, manuals, PowerPoints, handouts, etc. How? If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes, here’s an abbreviated guide to our process for turning textbooks into accessible text.
How to convert a textbook into accessible text
1) Prepare the pages
If needed, we slice off the book's binding. Then we scan the pages. Sometimes a textbook company or school already has a PDF of the textbook, in which case we skip ahead to step 2.
2) Convert squiggles to letters
Since a PDF is made up of text stored as graphics -- essentially just squiggles to a screen reader -- we translate each page into readable and searchable text and tables using Optical Character Recognition (OCR).
3) Describe images
What about images? We describe flowcharts, illustrations, complex graphs, and more, focusing on the context of the document. That way we give the reader the applicable and useful information. (See DIAGRAM's suite of fabulous resources on this step.)
We also convert math language into MathML or written English, depending on student preferences.
4) Style and sequence the text
We apply text styles and formatting. This allows students to easily navigate sections, subsections, sidebars, and references. We also sequence pieces that aren’t in the body of the text so their order make sense. For example, the page number probably shouldn’t come after said page, even if it appears at the bottom of the original page.
5) Proofread and share
We proofread. Annnd we proofread again. (OCR isn’t perfect.) Then we format the file for the student, and send our client the goods.
Strada’s accessible text team tackles all kinds of print material, including STEM and image-heavy texts, for schools, businesses, and organizations. Get in touch if you have questions about our services for your students, employees, or customers.
Ellie has been a TypeWell transcriber with Strada for two years. A former teacher, she has an MFA in writing, and she lives in Upstate New York.