May 2001 Issue  Volume 2  Number 3

Q and A

Questions and Answers: What Is Web-Braille?

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Question: I think I heard something about downloading braille books from the library. How does that work?

Answer: Web-Braille is the best thing to come along since the interpoint embosser. Best of all, you don't have to be a braille reader to benefit. You can download the electronic files, translate them, and read them with speech or magnification, or you can simply print them out with a braille embosser.

If you have a braille printer, you know that there is a lot of work involved in getting a book ready to be brailled on paper. First, the electronic version must be created. Then the electronic version must be translated into Grade 2 braille ("normal" braille to most people in the United States and other parts of the English-speaking world). The translation process usually involves a great deal of editing and formatting to get a library-perfect version of the book.

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), part of the U.S. Library of Congress, has made available thousands of braille books in electronic format. These are already translated and edited and are in perfect shape, ready to be sent to a braille printer. They take up far less space in your living room than the paper versions, so you can get them ahead of time and turn them into paper when you're ready to read them. Or, if you have a class, you can prepare copies for each student, instead of getting the single copy from your cooperating library and letting your students share (or fight over) it.

To use these books, all you need is to have a computer with Internet access and to be registered to receive Talking Books from NLS. Follow these nine easy steps to start reading Web-Braille books:

Step 1: Sign up. Just call your regional NLS Talking Books library and request a user name and password. Write this information down in a safe place, because you'll want to use it often.

Step 2: Go to, the NLS web site. It's loaded with good information, but don't be distracted now.

Step 3: Choose the link "Web-BLND." This takes you to the book catalog.

Step 4: Fill out part of the form to find a book that interests you. You don't need to get carried away filling out the entire form. Put "Harry Potter" in the title field for your first search if you want to be sure of finding something (I like success). Since you're interested in Web-Braille, also put the word "web" in the field labeled "enter annotation, notes, or content keyword." That will cut down on the number of books that are listed, especially if you put in something like "Smith" for author. Also, to help keep from being distracted by cassette books, select "braille" for format. If you're looking for a book about the Internet or spiders, that will also cut down the extraneous, non-Web-Braille listings you get.

Step 5: Submit the form. You do this by hitting the "Submit" button. Don't laugh; it's not that obvious. It's way down at the bottom where nobody sees it. Actually, you can hit enter on any of the edit fields (not the combo boxes) and the form will hit the submit button for you.

Next, a list of results will come up. You'll probably get books that aren't Web-Braille, so you'll have to look at the results. Near the top it will tell you something like "6 items meeting search criteria" and then will list the items. Those that are available in Web-Braille have "Note: Also available from Web-Braille as a Grade 2 braille digital file," and then the volumes of the book are listed as links.

Step 6: Click or press Enter on the first volume of the book you want.

Step 7: Before the book comes to you, you'll need to enter your user name and password. If you're using Internet Explorer, a dialog box will pop up. Fill it in and press Enter.

Step 8: For most people, the usual download procedure will begin. If you're using Internet Explorer, the "Save As" dialog will come up, already filled in with the name of the file. Pay attention to the location on your computer where the book will be saved—the same place as the last thing you downloaded using Internet Explorer, unless you specify otherwise.

By the way, these books have file names that don't look like book titles, so remember what you've downloaded. If you download several and don't take notes, you'll have books to surprise yourself with later.

Step 9: Get the book into the format that works for you. Here are some possibilities.

  1. It is already formatted for 11.5 x 11 paper, so you can use a braille printer and braille paper to produce the book on paper. No formatting is necessary; just send it to the braille printer.
  2. You can load it into your braille notetaker. If you have a device like a Braille 'n Speak, Braille Lite, or BrailleNote, just transfer the file and read.
  3. If you have a braille display on your computer, just read the book in Notepad or another handy editor. Remember to switch your screen reader out of Grade 2 mode, or it will try to translate the Grade 2 text into Grade 2 text. You can imagine what that will look like.
  4. You can back-translate the file from braille to print and let your computer read it to you. Use Duxbury, Kurzweil 1000, a Braille 'n Speak, or something else to back-translate the file. You'll find little oddities, but few errors will keep you from reading the text.

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