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Ashleigh's Design Narrative - Teaching Support Workers to Convert Print to Alternative Formats

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Ashleigh Brownsmith
25 March 2013


Teaching Support Workers to Convert Print to Alternative Formats


I facilitated the session.


Training sessions are scheduled on an ad-hoc basis throughout the year, as required.  Sessions are offered to Educational Support Workers (recruited solely to work with disabled students) and to members of staff throughout the institution. Training sessions take place in a small computer room within the library.  There are 8 PC’s, arranged in 2 rows, and one for the facilitator, which is attached to a projector.  Each PC has a book scanner.  The room has height adjustable desks, and additional resources, such as a Braille printer and CCTV (  is available.  The room is usually used as an open access lab for students with disabilities.

There were a total of 5 people in the session, myself, 3 support workers and a student with whom one of the trainee’s would be working.  For this session the student would assess/provide authentic feedback for all learners.


The objective of the session was for the support workers to be able to convert inaccessible printed or electronic materials into an alternative format so students could access it effectively.  In this session this was Braille. 


  1. Contacted all participants with information about date, time, venue, etc
  2. Welcome
  3. Introduction – interactive session asking what is Braille.  Examples provided.
  4. Alphabet exercise. Braille alphabet provided, along with a brief message in Braille      to decipher.
  5. Introduction (cont) - What we are trying to achieve and why
  6. Demonstration of process
  7. Materials to be converted handed out
  8. Tutor guided activity – conversion of materials
  9. Students try to convert further materials – supported by tutor
  10. Results checked by visually impaired student
  11. Feedback provided to learners
  12. Further attempts of conversion, some with inappropriate (diagrams/photographs/etc)      and electronic texts – introduction to advanced features if required
  13. Further feedback.
  14. Summary/conclusions
  15. Provision of supporting materials


By then end of the session the learners could take printed text and inaccessible electronic texts and convert to Braille.  In addition, they learned why this is necessary, and why in some cases it would not be appropriate/desirable to do this in all situations.  As the conversion is a two step process they could also convert to electronic text (where necessary).  Students also learned why this was necessary, and what other formats could be created from electronic texts (though not how to do so).  Having a student there meant that they were able to receive authentic feedback, and see how results could be improved in real time.  This meant that, once completed students were offered high quality support, which is noted in responses to our annual student survey.


The best part of this session is the feedback provided by the student, without this it loses much of its authenticity, and believability.  Learners seem to be able to better understand the difficulties when they can see them for themselves, rather than having them explained by a trainer. 

The hands on approach also seems to be popular with learners, as this is a practical task and the experience of doing it seems to keep everyone engaged.  Working in small groups allows the support workers to discuss problems/progress with one another (especially as the same student evaluates all work so can compare), which keeps the session light-hearted.

Additional Resources

I have also created a CompendiumLD jpeg illustrating this activity, and a word document from PPC (PPC file itself is available below) Conversion CompendiumLD.jpg Conversion Excercise.doc


Extra content

Embedded Content


Sreedhar Krishna
1:33am 28 March 2013

Hi Ashleigh.

I think this is a fantastic idea. I've previously tried (and  failed) to learn Braille.

I just had a couple of questions:

i) How long does this session run for?

ii) This isn't really related to your learning design, but how do visually-impaired students cope with the rigours of higher education? I ask, because i) I imagine that reading Braille is slower than text even for experts, ii) Are the majority of key texts available in Braille?


Linda Addison
9:25pm 28 March 2013

Yes  -  the important thing seems to be translation process.  I would guess they're using some sort of automatic translation technology  -  they couldn't learn the braille alphabet that fast.  I've never learned braille, but I've learned the morse code alphabet, which is comparable.  It took me several weeks and a lot of revision, and I'm a fast learner.

Ashleigh Brownsmith
8:29am 3 April 2013

Thanks for your comments.

Braille is tough to learn, and I can fully appreciate how you could end up giving up!  I learned by default (my Mam is blind and solely uses Braille and my Dad is registered Blind although uses large print too).  I must admit though that I can only sight read it, which is common for sighted people.  It did require a lot of immersion/practice in order to pick it up (and even now I need to think about it as I dont read much any more).  To answer Sreedhar's questions:

i) The session is scheduled for a half day, although there is a break (for those who want it - often people like to work though it (by work, I mean talk about the Braille/conversion process - practical things do tend to increase participation))ii) Although not true for all Braille users, many have been using it as their preferred format for a number of years, and as such they are proficcient in reading this, and can read as quickly as sighted students.  You do raise a couple of interesting isses with your question, however, as some materials (such as diagrams/pictures) are not always easily accessible in Braille and other formats need to be used.  Also, depending on the course many materials may not be availble (although often electronic versions are available which can be converted).  The availability tends to be subject specific - those studying English Literature will find more available texts than Law, for example.  The RNIB are building a catalogue of texts to attempt to address this, with more being added on demand.  This is, of course, time consuming, and as such many VI students find accedding materials difficult as they do not get hold of a copy of a text until 6-8 weeks into term.  This is highlights the importance of the conversion process.  Conversion techniques are also important for course packs/handouts, etc, which often consist of extracts from a number of different sources.

In recent years it has become much less common (in my personal experience) for visually impaired UK students to rely on Braille, with many using electronic formats as their preferred choice.

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