Nice touch

31st October 2003 at 00:00
New titles in Braille and other alternative formats are making reading more fun for visually impaired children, writes Geraldine Brennan

When Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was published in June, Cathy Wright read a chapter a day aloud for 40 minutes after lunch. If she could keep it up, the visually impaired students at the Royal National Institute for the Blind's New College would not have to wait for the Braille edition to find out who died.

In fact, the Scottish Braille Press edition of the fifth Harry Potter novel arrived in the summer holidays (cheaper than the previous Harry Potters, at pound;12.50 for 16 volumes). A large-print edition is also available from the National Blind Children's Society (for the cover price of pound;16.99). There is also an audio recording by Stephen Fry (Cover to Cover, pound;75 CD, pound;65 cassette).

Ms Wright, librarian at New College, the RNIB's residential secondary school for pupils with visual impairments, now finds that bestsellers such as the Harry Potter series are relatively easy to come by in alternative formats. Braille readers are entitled to join the National Library for the Blind, which posts Braille editions free, and New College borrows 100 Braille children's books a year.

"Our students can now read the new Jacqueline Wilson fairly soon after sighted children, and CILIP (formerly the Library Association) gave us Braille copies of books on this year's Carnegie Medal shortlist. What our students don't get is a full sense of the wide range of children's literature available."

Availability of children's non-fiction is particularly poor, she says, and many curriculum materials have to be made in schools. Large-print editions usually have to be produced for individual students, as one font size will not suit all.

But from this term, a new database called Reveal, set up by the RNIB and NLB, will help schools to pool their resources by listing all available copies of texts in accessible formats (Braille, large print and audio).

"It's to prevent the same work being done twice," says Ms Wright.

Schools are allowed to make one accessible copy of a text copyright-free as long as they own the original. The RNIB can arrange permission for further copies on completion of an unforgettably named NIT form (Notice of Intention to Transcribe), and on condition that the copies will be available for borrowing through the Reveal database.

Ms Wright suggests that local visual impairment societies might be able to lend Braille translation programmes or an embosser for making Braille copies. For large-print copies, she advises: "Buy the best scanner you can afford - it will save you proof-reading time. A photocopied text is usually not good enough quality." The copies should be spiral-bound so that they can be used with magnifiers.

Making all the signs, notices and leaflets produced by the library more accessible to students with visual impairments, she says, will also draw in pupils with specific learning difficulties or others who are not attracted to reading. That means using a non-serif font such as Arial, a minimum 14-point body text, upper and lower case and justified on the left. Matt paper shouild be used, preferably cream-coloured to reduce glare, with no text printed over patterned backgrounds or images.

The same principles of clarity and minimum distraction apply to the library environment: matt painted walls; doors and electric sockets in a darker colour; no patterned carpets and no glass doors. (If you are stuck with a glass door, pick out the outline with dark-coloured tape.) "These are all things that make the library easier to use for everyone."


* Royal National Institute for the Blind Contact Cathy Wright, tel: 01905 763933, or Liz Hughes, tel: 0121 665 4223, for details of the RNIB's Leisure Reading and Resources Curriculum Group, a network for librarians, publishers, parents and producers of resources, welcomes suggestions for titles to be transcribed into alternative formats.

Building Sights is a guide to making buildings more accessible (pound;25 from RNIB Publications)

Tel: 08457 023153

* National Library for the Blind. The website includes a best-practice manual listing suppliers of texts in alternative formats.

Tel: 0161 355

* Reveal database:

* National Blind Children's Society (custom-made large-print editions of children's best-sellers, supplied for the cover price of the book)Tel: 01278 764764

* Scottish Braille Press

Tel: 0131 662 2445

* Chivers (large-print) Tel: 01225 335336

* Ulverscroft (large-print) Tel: 0116 236 4325

* Fanny and Christopher Underhill and a team of volunteers make free audio-cassette recordings of textbooks and encourage schools to make their own. Tapes include contents page, index and paragraphs. Chapters and sections are marked with bleeps so that students can use them like print textbooks. Tel: 01531 640745email:

* Listening Books, a national audiobook library, is piloting its Sound Learning project for schools, to supply titles that support the national curriculum from key stage 2 to A-level. Individual membership is pound;50 a year for unlimited borrowing. Tel: 020 7407 9417; email:;

* vi-forum is an e-group for those interested in the education of visually impaired students. To join, visit the webpage at

* Techno-vision specialises in ICT products and services for visually impaired readers, including magnification and Braille translation software.

Tel: 01604 792777

* Black and White Publishing recently published The Braille Coo, the first Braille publication for young people in Scots.

Tel: 0131 625 4500

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