[Athen] Advice Sought for Student Learning Arabic

Sean J Keegan skeegan at stanford.edu
Tue May 13 11:03:38 PDT 2014

Hi Asha,

We did production work for Chinese braille a few years ago and it was a very educational experience (particularly around costs!). In short, we did the following:

1) We began by outsourcing the initial production work with contractor (starting at $400 per print page - ugh!) so we could have some materials ready at the start of the academic quarter for the student.

2) At the same time, we had an alt format staff member knowledgable in braille and, separately, literate in Mandarin. Luckily, the student was taking Mandarin, so our alt format staff member began learning the Chinese braille format. This was not easy as there were a number of different websites with conflicting information, but once we found accurate information, the process began to go more smoothly.

3) When our internal production was running, we shifted the majority of production from the contractor to in-house. We still did contract out some work, but that content was not time-sensitive.

4) For braille production, we converted Chinese characters (hanzi) into pinyin and did basic formatting in MS Word. With the pinyin in MS Word, we then imported into Duxbury. We did some extra work to include the tones back into the braille version of the document (there are four tones in Mandarin Chinese used to clarify the word). Normally, the tones are omitted in Chinese braille, but as the student was learning the language he preferred to include these elements.

5) As several of the books we converted were both English and Chinese, we did have to come up with basic formatting rules with the student. The Chinese braille was in grade 1, whereas English parts of the textbook were done in grade 2. We could not find a braille manual we could read regarding how to format academic materials and so we used some BANA formatting. The catch was that some of the formatting overlapped at times with the Chinese braille characters, so we worked with the student to standardize the formatting (e.g., line overruns, language changes, etc.).

Due to the differences in the language, there may or may not be some overlap. In our experience, it was MUCH easier to have a transcriber literate in the language and then for that person to learn the braille equivalent. If you do not have access to a transcriber on staff that is familiar with Arabic and/or braille, then outsourcing may be the best option. Another consideration may be to hire a person as a contract staff member - it could be much cheaper in the long run than trying out outsource everything. While Duxbury does make the conversion process simpler, do not expect Duxbury to get everything perfect. It does a good job, but we felt it was necessary to have a person reviewing the content for accuracy.

Hope this helps.

Take care,

Sean Keegan
Associate Director, Assistive Technology
Office of Accessible Education - Stanford University

----- Original Message -----
From: "Asha Kinney" <akinney at hampshire.edu>
To: athen-list at u.washington.edu
Sent: Tuesday, May 13, 2014 8:49:32 AM
Subject: [Athen] Advice Sought for Student Learning Arabic

Greetings Athen List:

We have a student with a visual impairment who reads in braille and will be taking a course in Arabic this fall.

Has anyone ever dealt with a student learning another language which uses a special character set and/or has its own unique braille code? Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Japanese, etc??

I would appreciate any and all advice. This extremely motivated student has volunteered learn the Arabic braille code over the summer but I am trying to wrap my head around the translation process.

I'm also wondering what the most useful approach would actually be, and if it's even braille-based at all. This student does have limited vision so we could also make use of enlarged graphics, as well as tactile ones, etc.

Any other thoughts, stories, advice, or referrals welcome! Feel free to reply off-list and I am happy to compile responses and share.


Asha Kinney
Assistant Director of IT - Instructional and Assistive Technology
Hampshire College
Amherst, MA 01002
akinney at hampshire.edu

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