[Athen] WGBH Releases Guidelines for Describing STEM Images Within Digital Talking Books and on Web Sites

Mary Watkins mary_watkins at wgbh.org
Thu Sep 24 10:29:39 PDT 2009

September 24, 2009

WGBH's National Center for Accessible Media Publishes Free Guidelines for Describing STEM Images for Use within Digital Talking Books and on Web Sites

Free Webinars Scheduled

A significant amount of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) information is presented visually, from graphs and tables to diagrams and math equations. Students and professionals in the STEM fields who are blind or have low vision must find methods of accessing this data. In many cases, they rely on assistants to read and describe images in order to stay current with content in their fields of study. This creates a dependence that is inefficient, expensive and time consuming. Access to text through electronic files and digital talking books (DTBs) has created a great deal of independence for these users. NCAM's publication of these new guidelines means that presenting meaningful information about the images accompanying text can be more readily achieved.

"Effective Practices for Description of Science Content within Digital Talking Books" is the result of a seminal 4-year effort encompassing multiple surveys with describers and with students and scientists with vision loss to research preferred practices for description of visual information in textbooks and journals. WGBH's Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) undertook this research thanks to a grant (# 04535663) from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

WGBH worked in close collaboration with the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), and together they assembled a broader network of researchers and experts including Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, Inc. (RFB&D); the American Printing House for the Blind (APH); scientist and former NSF program officer Lawrence Scadden, and DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) Consortium Secretary General George Kerscher. The DAISY Consortium is the world-wide network of libraries, publishers and service organizations that developed the DTB standard. All project partners contributed to the DAISY/NISO standard and all partners were among the 40 members of the National File Format Panel, which produced the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS).

Chapters of the new guidelines cover description of a variety of information types, including bar charts, line graphs, Venn diagrams, tables, pie charts, flow charts and complex diagrams and illustrations. A resource section is also included, providing links to many organizations, tools and standards which all contribute to generating more accessible STEM materials. The guidelines are available online at:


NCAM staff will provide training for implementing these STEM Description Guidelines through free webinars. The dates and times for the webinars, which last an hour and a half, appear below. The same training is offered at each webinar; you can register for the time most convenient for you by sending an email to stemdescription at wgbh.org

Wednesday, September 30 at 10:00 a.m. EST
Monday, October 20 at 1:30 p.m. EST
Thursday, December 3 at Noon EST

Additional dates will be offered in 2010. These sessions are available at no cost thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation (grant # 0833608).

Comment from a recent webinar participant:

"It was an excellent program and very helpful. I will be using what I learned to train my students to create more accessible image descriptions. Thank you."

Donna M. Kachlic
Disability Support Services Specialist
The University of Texas at Tyler

"Effective Practices for Description of Science Content within Digital Talking Books" joins several other NCAM publications and tools that enable and promote access to media for all users. Among them:

* "Accessible Digital Media: Design Guidelines for Electronic Publications, Multimedia and the Web"
* "A Developer's Guide to Creating Talking Menus for Set-top Boxes and DVDs"
* "IMS Guidelines for Developing Accessible Learning Applications"
* MAGpie, the Media Access Generator (free, do-it-yourself software for creating captions and descriptions for multimedia)

Links to all these resources are available at NCAM's site, <http://ncam.wgbh.org>

About NCAM

The Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family National Center for Accessible Media at WGBH is a research, development and advocacy entity that works to make existing and emerging technologies accessible to all audiences. NCAM is part of the Media Access Group at WGBH, which also includes The Caption Center (est. 1972) and Descriptive Video Service® (est. 1990). Follow the Media Access Group on Facebook.

About WGBH

WGBH Boston <http://www.wgbh.org> is America's preeminent public broadcaster, producing such celebrated national PBS series as Masterpiece, Antiques Roadshow, Frontline, Nova, American Experience, Arthur, Curious George and more than a dozen other award-winning primetime, lifestyle and children's series. WGBH is the leading producer of online content for pbs.org-- one of the most-visited dot-org sites on the Internet-- a major producer for public radio and a pioneer in developing educational multimedia and new technologies that make media accessible for people with disabilities. For its efforts, WGBH has been recognized with hundreds of honors, including Oscars, Emmys, Peabodys and duPont-Columbia Journalism Awards.


Mary Watkins, WGBH
mary_watkins at wgbh.org
617 300-3700 voice
617 300-2589 TTY


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