As a student with low vision, I use several different file formats for creating and accessing accessible materials. Sometimes, I will convert files from one format to another to make them easier for me to use, or I will download content in multiple formats so that I have options for how to access it at a later time- for example, downloading an eBook and an audiobook so I can listen to the audio while reading. Here are the most common file formats for low vision and print disabilities that I’ve used over the years.
Braille Formatted Files are electronic forms of contracted or uncontracted braille that can be printed on an embosser or read with a braille reader or refreshable braille display. While I do not personally read braille since I have limited sensation in my hands due to a brain condition, this format is very popular with my friends for reading books or text-based content.
DAISY is a hybrid MP3 and XML file format for low vision and print disabilities and can consist of audio, text, or both. Similar to eBook formats like EPUB, users can navigate content by chapter, section, subsection, and page. DAISY text is often read out loud by text-to-speech software or displayed on a refreshable braille display. Audio-only DAISY files are read with a talking book player, like the ones provided by the National Library Service.
DOC and DOCX files are documents that are created in word processing programs like Microsoft Word or Google Docs, where users can typically make changes to formatting, content, and add their own text or notes. I use this format the most often in school for receiving accessible materials, and can also download books from Bookshare to read within Microsoft Word with the Immersive Reader tool.
EPUB is the most common file format for eBooks and contains page numbers, text formatting, and chapters/sections for content. Users can download an EPUB file to an eReader or use a reading application on a mobile device like a tablet or computer.
HTML is used to create documents to view on the internet, or documents that can open in a web browser. Over the years, I’ve started using HTML more often for reading and consider it one of my favorite file formats for low vision, because I can easily zoom in on text within my web browser and use tools like a simplified reading display or text-to-speech.
MP3 audio files are one of the most common digital audio formats, especially for music. An MP3 file can play on almost any device that supports audio playback. Audiobooks often use the MP3 format and typically use a single MP3 track for each chapter.
PDF documents can take many different forms, but their main feature is that they cannot have content edited or altered by default. While this can be frustrating for people who need to change font sizes or other document properties, it is great for ensuring document contents are not altered. A lot of my exams are provided as a PDF and I export them to an app like Notability so I can write on them.
Portable Network Graphic images, also known as PNG images, are high-quality images with a wide range of colors and compression options. They are the standard for accessible images because they can be enlarged easily without sacrificing quality. A lot of the images on my exams and classroom presentations are in the PNG format so that I can open them in a new tab.
Rich Text Format files are basic text documents that can be opened on any device or within word processor applications. They do not contain complex formatting or font choices, making them a great choice for reading with a screen reader/text-to-speech or converting to other file formats for low vision.
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com
Updated September 2023; original post published November 2018.
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