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Suggested Guidelines on Communication Accessibility:
by One-Stop Disability Team, Washington, D.C.

Editor's Note: The following is based on text excerpted directly from the draft document. Comments and suggestions are welcome and can be forwarded to Chonita Tillmon at



People with low vision may access documents contained on computer disks or transmitted via e-mail by using screen magnification software (e.g., Zoom Text). It is very helpful to provide such documents to low vision computer users in a large font (at least 16 point type), as this may negate the need for further magnification, and will improve image quality in the event that additional magnification is required. Avoid the use of color to convey information or to provide a cue (i.e., red =stop, green=go). The layout of documents will be greatly enhanced with the use of bullet points and distinct headings to separate sections of the document. Text that moves on the screen (also refer red to as a banner) is very difficult to read - even for those with mild visual impairment - and should be avoided.

Documents created in electronic format present special challenges for people who are blind. Computers users who are blind can read computer documents by using a refreshable braille display or by listening to speech output. Screen reader software reads text from a word processing program or Internet browser, and can provide either braille display or a speech synthesized reading of the words on the screen. People employing this technology typically use tab and arrow controls to move through menus, buttons, icons, text areas and other elements on the screen.

ASCII text (also known as plain text) is the format that is readable by any software used by blind and visually impaired people. ASCII text has 75-80 characters per line and is free of codes such as bold, underlining, page breaks, tabs, indents, centering and bullet points.

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In user-friendly documents columns, charts and graphics are eliminated in favor of vertical presentation of information. Text presented in newspaper style columns should be prepared paragraph style with at least two hard returns between different sets of information. Graphics, such as embedded images, should be eliminated and replaced with a text description of the graphic. Information from complex charts should be reformatted as text-based summaries in which different batches of information are separated by two or more hard returns. Information contained in simple charts can be presented in a more concise format. Column headings should be listed on one line and separated with commas. Subsequent lines will contain related data, separated from one another by semicolons. Reformatting charts and graphs may require some experimentation to arrive at the representation that most effectively communicates the data.

The following is an example of how information from a three-column chart might be conveyed:

In the chart below, column headings are as follows:

State (in Region 1), Year of Grant, Number of Centers

Connecticut; Final; 11
Massachusetts; Final; 7
Vermont; First; 12

Total Number of Centers: 30

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The use of graphics, such as Power Point presentations, and window-based systems presents additional challenges. Although screen reader software can read the text contents of buttons, menus, and other control areas, screen readers cannot read the contents of an icon or image. When presenting graphically based information, such as maps, charts, photographs and illustrations, complement the information with a text description. Including text descriptions of images also accommodates computer users who have slow modems and must use text only browsers to access information on the Internet.

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Portable Document Format (PDF) from Adobe Inc. Is a specialized file format that is becoming increasingly popular on the World Wide Web because it enables the publisher to retain the look and layout of the original publication. PDF documents may be accessed using Acrobat Reader, which may be downloaded from Adobe Inc.'s website free of charge. Government entities, companies and organizations are using PDF to distribute electronic documents through e-mail and on CD-ROM. For the blind computer user, there are some accessibility issues associated with PDF and the use of Acrobat Reader. Because PDF is strictly graphic-based, it is inaccessible to users who read text using a screen reader or must operate in text mode.

Adobe has developed methods to make PDF and Adobe Acrobat products accessible to the visually impaired. Currently, PDF documents on the Internet can be converted "on-the fly" by Adobe and read as (accessible) HTML documents. This service is available through the Adobe website at Many people have had success utilizing this service for conversion of simple text documents.

Until PDF documents are fully accessible to people with visual impairments, HTML or ASCII text versions of PDF documents should be provided and updated in conjunction with PDF versions. A common complaint among blind computer users is that text versions of documents are often neglected after dissemination, and are rarely updated. Web pages should be tested using different combinations of screen reading and web browsing software. Screen reading software includes JAWS for Windows, Window-Eyes from Henter-Joyce, and Win Vision from Arctic Technologies. Web browsers typically used by people who are blind include Mosaic, Lynx for Unix, Internet Explorer Version 3.02, and PWWebspeak.

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The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international industry consortium, launched the International Program Office (IPO) for the Web Accessibility Initiative, to promote and achieve Web accessibility for people with disabilities, IPO is funded in part by the National Science Foundation, the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) in the Department of Education. A public working draft of accessibility guidelines for web page authors is available on the W3C website at General information on the activities and recommendations of W3C can be accessed at

W3C has been working on the evolution of the Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) language, which provides web page authors with rich, stylistic control, and provides readers with accessibility at the same time. CSS allows web page authors to apply stylistic information (e.g., fonts, spacing, color, and aural cues) to structured documents written in HTML or XML. By separating the style of documents from the content of documents, CSS simplifies both web authoring and site maintenance. The consortium has recently released the specifications on its latest CSS version, Cascading Style Sheets, level 2 (CSS2), as a W3C Recommendation. CSS2 supports media-specific style sheets so that web page designers may tailor the presentation of their documents to a variety of visual browsers, aural devices, printers, braille devices, and handheld devices. Information on W3C's activities in the development of Style Sheets is available on the W3C website at The W3C Recommendation on CSS2 is available at

While CSS2 represents the future of Web page authoring, Web designers can ensure that their current web pages are accessible by utilizing Bobby, a free, graphical web-based program. Bobby will perform a series of tests to determine the ways in which a web site is inaccessible to people with a range of disabilities. The program will also find HTML design problems that prevent a web page from being displayed correctly on different web browsers, without having to individually test the page on each browser. Browser incompatibilities can render a web page unusable by any user. In order to earn accessibility approval from Bobby, web page designers must incorporate elements of HTML 4.0 (the latest version of HTML). HTML 4.0 includes several new elements and attributes designed to enhance web access for people with disabilities. These new features will provide additional information to blind and visually impaired users who are using the latest web technology. Many blind computer users, however, rely on older, text only browsers for web access. Although these browsers do not recognize the new HTML elements, use of these elements will not negatively impact the performance of these browsers, regardless of which browser is chosen. Bobby can be accessed at

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) has developed a Web Access Symbol that is free and may be copied and pasted into documents in electronic or printed form. The symbol may be used by web designers to signal that their site contains accessibility features to accommodate the needs of computer users with disabilities. The image, which consists of a globe, marked with a grid, titled at an angle, and with a keyhole cut into its service, should also be accompanied by its description and the following alt-text tag: Web Access Symbol (for people with disabilities). The Web access symbol is available at: More information on NCAM is available at: NCAM.

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), has produced guidelines that ensure maximum accessibility and usability of Web pages by people who are blind. Click here to review NFB's guidelines.

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When preparing hard copies of documents for the widest possible audience, a good rule of thumb is to always use a font size of at least 12 point. Two fonts that are easily read by any user are Arial and Sans Serif. Courier, on the other hand, is very difficult for low vision readers to distinguish. Bold type is not recommended because the letters have smaller centers and may appear blurred to low vision readers and because ASCII type does not recognize bold codes.

Always provide a sharp contrast between the typeface and the background and do not prepare documents with watermarks or photographs. Upper and lower case type is easier to read than type set in all capital letters - although a few capitalized words will generally not present a problem. Extra spaces between lines is very helpful to low vision readers, as is the practice of avoiding right justified margins.

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The Central Office for Assistive Services and Technology, located in the Conference and Service Center, is an important resource for Regional and National management and employees of the Department. The Office provides DOL employees and guests with guidance, information and technical assistance related to disability issues. The Office also coordinates and provides interpreting services for employees and conference or meeting guests who are deaf or hearing impaired. Other concerns, such as requests for documents in accessible formats (i.e., large print, braille, audio tape), worksite accommodation assessments, training and so on, are handled on a case by case basis. The Central Office for Assistive Services and Technology may be reached at 202-219-7773.

Graphics-based presentations, such as Power Point and Word Perfect Presentations are becoming increasingly popular tools for producing professional looking and captivating presentations that can be displayed as a slide show, on a computer screen or printed as handouts. Graphics-based presentations projected on a screen are inaccessible to a wide range of people with visual impairments and when distributed on disk, cannot be read by screen reader software.

In order to ensure that a graphics-based presentation is accessible to blind and visually impaired attendees, workplace leaders and other individuals making presentations can provide the information on a computer disk formatted as ASCII text. Given adequate lead time and guidelines for preparing accessible electronic documents, presenters can generally develop two distinct presentations - a graphics-based presentation and a plain text version. Presenters should also be instructed to provide text descriptions for audio clips used in multimedia presentations.

Videotapes used for presentations should be captioned for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing using one of the two types of captioning-Open Captioning: in which the text of a video is superimposed on the actual film footage (e.g., subtitling of foreign language films); or Closed Captioning: where the text of the video is transmitted simultaneously on a separate frequency, and is only visible when viewed on a television or projection system that has a decoder chip. Most new televisions are manufactured with the decoder chip and are described as "caption-ready." Older televisions can be adapted for closed-captioning by purchasing a separate decoder box (available for about $100) which can be patched into the television.

Sign Language interpreters should be provided for participants who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing in order to offer them full and ready access to all aspects of conferences, meeting sessions and other activities. Depending on the cause and age at on-set of hearing loss, the type of interpretation required can vary greatly. The following information may be beneficial in understanding various types of communication modalities and interpreting services needed.

American Sign Language (ASL) - is the language of the Deaf in the United States. It is a unique language in and of itself, complete with its own lexicon, grammar and syntax.

English-Based Sign commonly referred to as PSE for Pidgin Sign English, is a form of manual communication in which characteristics of both English and ASL are combined.

Sign Language Interpreting - is the process by which a spoken (hearing person's) or a signed language's (Deaf/Hard of Hearing person's) message elements are linguistically analyzed and cultural and linguistic transitions are made to produce the message into the target language.

Oral/Oral Tactic Transliterating - is the process by which a spoken English message is heard, then re-phrased into clearly speech-readable form for a Deaf/Hard of Hearing (or Deaf/Blind person who uses speech and speech reading as primary forms of communication) by placing his/her hands(s) on the interpreters mouth/face to "read" the message produced orally.

Tactile Interpreting/Transliterating - is the process by which a spoken language (hearing person) or signed language (Deaf/Deaf/Blind/Visually Impaired) message is produced in a manual form utilizing Sign Language and finger spelling, where linguistic and environmental information elements are analyzed, incorporating cultural and linguistic transitions to produce the message into the target language. A person who is Deaf/Blind/Low Vision (VI) Deaf physically "reads" the communication by placing his/her hand(s) on the interpreters hand(s) and/or mouth/face, tactilly reading the communication rendered through the signs/finger spelling produced.

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The variables that determine the level of interpreting services needed when making arrangements for a conference include the:

  • Size of the conference;
  • Duration of the conference;
  • Number of sessions and whether they are concurrent or consecutive;
  • Subject complexity;
  • Number of participants requiring interpreting services; and
  • Type(s) of interpreting services requested (i.e., ASL, PSE, Tactile Sign, Oral).
"Staging" issues should be considered in planning various types of meeting forums which will take place during a conference. Five criteria for effective interpreting are:

  1. Reasonable proximity to the speaker and to the consumer receiving the services;
  2. A clear visual line of sight from the consumer to the interpreter to the speaker;
  3. Sufficient lighting (especially during video, overhead or any presentation requiring low-level lighting);
  4. Sufficient standing room (preferred minimum of 4 square feet for platform interpreting) or seated setting; and
  5. Ability to hear the speaker or sound system clearly from the designated interpreting location.

Seating should be reserved for participants who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing and Deaf/Blind that provides and unobstructed view of the proceedings and meets the criteria stated above.

For assistance in obtaining and scheduling interpreting services, local area resources may include your State's Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (or agency equivalent), or agencies that specialize in Sign Language Interpreter Services. If you do not know of such resources, your State Vocational Rehabilitation Office may be able to refer you to local resources for Interpreter services. In addition, The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, a national organization of professional sign language interpreters/transliterators, can provide information on interpreting resources in your area. They can be reached by phone at 301- 608-0050.

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Conference registration forms should include assistive service request options to help identify the needs of participants with disabilities and clarify the accommodations which will need to be arranged. The following is an example of language that can be included on a registration form:


If you have a disability, please specify which, if any, of the following services and/or formats you prefer to have available at the conference:

Interpreting and other services for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing (please chose one):

Interpreting: ___English ___Tactile

Transliteration: ___ Sign ___ Tactile ___ Oral ___ FM Loop

Other (Please specify):

Materials in Accessible Format: If you are blind or visually impaired please indicate which format you prefer to use:

___Regular Print ___Large Print ___ Braille ___ 3.5 Floppy Disk ___Audiotape

If you plan to bring a personal assistant (e.g., attendant, interpreter, facilitator, etc.) please provide the name as it should appear on the name badge. (Registration fees will be waived for this individual.)

Name of Assistant:

Conference planners can more easily accommodate a diverse audience by knowing up-from which accessible formats should be provided. Walk-ins can easily be accommodated by having a few additional copies of the conference binder on computer disks in ASCII text format, and large print and braille versions of selected documents, such as the conference agenda. Because brailled documents are quite voluminous, blind conference attendees will frequently prefer a copy of the agenda in braille, and the remainder of the conference or meeting binder on computer disk in ASCII text format. As an additional accommodation, electrical outlets should be available at the conference site, so that attendees who are blind/visually impaired can plug in laptop computers and browse through the disk copy of the conference binder, rather than having to return to their hotel rooms to review conference materials and select conference sessions.

More frequent breaks, good lighting, and quiet areas for reflection, and "decompressing" are good ways of accommodating conference or meeting attendees with cognitive disabilities, and are beneficial to all attendees. These accommodations will ensure that all participants remain fresh, focussed and productive. Once the conference planner is certain that procedures are in place to make events accessible to as wide an audience as possible, contact key disability consumer groups and keep them informed of all upcoming conferences and events. (This is an effective tool for reaching potential attendees with disabilities.)

The Former President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities (PCEPD),(now called the office of Disability,Employment policy) has produced guidelines on how to communicate with and about people with disabilities. PCEPD points out that "We must look beyond the disability and look at the individual's ability and capability - the things that make each of us unique and worthwhile."


General Services Administration Center for Information Technology Accommodation (CITA) - A clearing house of information on making information systems accessible to all users.

Library of Congress: The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) - NLS administers a free library program of Braille and recorded materials list circulated to eligible borrowers through a network of cooperating libraries.

President's Committee on Employing People with Disabilities - Its mission is to facilitate the communication, coordination, and promotion of public and private efforts to enhance the employment of people with disabilities. Operates the Job Accommodation Network, an international toll-free consulting service that provides information about Job accommodation and employability of people with disabilities.

Office of Special Educational and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) - OSERS supports programs that assist in educating children with special needs, provides for the rehabilitation of youth and adults with disabilities, and supports research to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities.

Military Health System - Serves the Federal Community in Washington, DC and the global Department of Defense community in accommodating employees with disabilities.

FCC Disabilities Issues Task Force - Provides information on FCC activities of particular interest to people with disabilities.

National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) - A comprehensive research institute, funded by the US Department of Education, to support people with disabilities in independent living and community integration.

Trace Research and Development Center - An interdisciplinary research, development and resource center on technology and disability. Provides useful guidelines for creating accessible Web sites.

West Virginia Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (WVRRTC) - An information resource on vocational rehabilitation and disability issues and the federal agencies that provide support in these areas.

National Center for Disability Dissemination Research (NCDDR) - Disseminates efforts of NIDRR-funded research projects and increases the accessibility of research outcomes for the benefit of their consumers.

National Council on Disability (NCD) - An independent federal agency making recommendations to the President and Congress on issues affecting 49 million Americans with disabilities.

World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) - This international industry consortium was founded to develop common protocols for the World Wide Web. W3C sponsors the Web Access Initiative (WAI) which works to make the World Wide Web accessible to people with disabilities. The WAI group has developed accessibility guidelines webpage authors.

National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) - Maintains a free universal web access symbol that may be used to denote that a website is accessible to computer users with disabilities.

Center for Applied Special Technologies (CAST) - A nonprofit organization whose mission is to expand opportunities for people with disabilities through innovative multimedia computer technology. CAST is the developer of Bobby, a graphical web-based program designed to help website designers make their web pages accessible by the largest number of people. Bobby will perform a series of tests to determine the ways in which a website is inaccessible to people with disabilities.

Bobby - Bobby is a graphical web-based program useful in determining the ways in which a website is inaccessible to people with disabilities.

National Federation of the Blind (NFB) - The largest organization of the blind in America. Developed the telephone access system for America's Job Bank, and has produced web accessibility guidelines.

Untangling the Web - Provides a comprehensive list of disability-related Websites.

MedWeb - Provides resources on disabilities of all kinds.

Yahoo! Disabilities Links - Provides links to disability-related websites.

American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) - A leading national resource for people who are blind or visually impaired, the organizations that serve them, and the general public.

Gallaudet Research Institute (GRI) - Research projects in many areas involving deafness and deaf people.

National Association of the Deaf - Its mission is to safeguard the accessibility and civil rights of deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans.

Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf - A nonprofit membership organization established in 1890 to empower hearing impaired people to function independently. Top of Page]