Excerpts from the NBA Tape Recording Manual, Third Edition

The following excerpt is made with the permission of the National Braille Association, Inc. (NBA). The W3C appreciates the generosity of the National Braille Association to allow us to publish an excerpt from their manual, to provide instruction and examples to authors who are trying to describe complex images on their Web site. NBA retains all rights to this material.

Copies of the complete manual are available upon request. Write:

NBA Tape Recording Manual
National Library Service for the Blind & Physically Handicapped
Library of Congress
Washington, DC 20542

NBA Tape Recording Committee

Copyright 1971, 1974, 1979, 1996, 2000 by the National Braille Association, Inc.

Converted to HTML for NBA by Wendy Chisholm. $Date: 2000/08/11 19:10:52 $

Table of Contents for excerpt

[Excerpted material starts here.]

O. Illustrations, diagrams, maps

  1. Describe these if the description will add information not given in the text; frequently the author will have already done the job for you. The amount of information contained in the illustration will determine how detailed your description must be. For figures which do not add materially to the text, merely read the caption.
  2. Since all numbered pages must be accounted for, every figure must be mentioned. E.g., "Page 30 shows a portrait of Queen Elizabeth the First of England. Page 31," or, if the figure has a caption, "Page 30 shows a portrait of Queen Elizabeth the First of England, captioned 'Behind the Queen's shoulder can be seen the English galleons sailing triumphantly away from Calais.' Page 31.
  3. Occasionally several photographs appear on a sequence of unnumbered pages. ("Unnumbered" means not only that the pages carry no numbers but that they have not been counted in numbering the pages in the text.) If the pictures contribute nothing, merely mention their presence and continue.
  4. Describe a figure immediately following the paragraph in which it is first mentioned or at a suitable break in the thought of the text, regardless of where it is actually printed. E.g., "Table 1 appears on page 17." Then read the table in accordance with the directions given below. After reading the table, say, "End of Table 1. Returning to text on page 9."

How to describe a figure

  1. Ask yourself, "Why is it there? What does it illustrate or add to the text?" Stress these points and avoid inconsequential details.
  2. Consider the grade level of the text in choosing the words you will use in the description. Make comparisons to items with which a blind person will be familiar, e.g., the hand, a baseball, a triangle and the like.
  3. First describe the illustration as a whole. Don't talk about a window until you have said the illustration is a picture of a house.
  4. Pick out a few reference points and locate them within the figure. Describe the details in a logical sequence, positioning them in relation to the reference points.
  5. These words and phrases may be used freely:
  6. Write out a terse description.
  7. At the conclusion say, "End of figure (number)" or "Text."

Examples of descriptions of figures and maps

An example of the description of a figure

Image of a flint fist hatchet
Fig. 2 A Flint Fist Hatchet of the Early Stone Age, Found in an Ancient Bed of the Nile.
Figure 2. shows an oval rock. The top of the rock is in its natural state, but as we go down towards the bottom, bits of the rock have been chipped away, until the bottom has become thin, pointed and sharp. End of Figure 2.

An example of the description of a map

European claims in North America 1650

Figure 7 is a map entitled 'European Claims in North America in 1650.' Claims of the French, British, Spanish, Dutch and Swedish are shown. The largest claims are those of the Spanish, covering, in the eastern United States, all of what is now Florida plus the southern part of Georgia and southeastern Alabama. In the west New Spain reached from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, covering southern California, all of Arizona, the southernmost part of Utah, the southwestern corner of Colorado, New Mexico except for its northeast corner, and Texas, excepting its panhandle. Spanish claims also extended southward to include Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean Islands and reached into South America.

New France stretched westward from Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia on the Atlantic Ocean and included most of the middle section of the United States, reaching south to the Gulf of Mexico. New France was bounded on the north by the southern part of the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario, by Minnesota except for its northwestern corner, the southwestern two-thirds of North Dakota and by the southernmost parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The eastern border of New France included upper New York State, western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, the southwestern tip of Virginia, Tennessee, the northwestern tip of Georgia and northwestern Alabama. The western boundary extended from western Montana on the north through central Wyoming, central Colorado, included the northeastern corner of New Mexico, the Texas panhandle and Oklahoma. The southern border of New France covered Louisiana and Mississippi on the Gulf of Mexico.

By 1650 the Dutch had established colonies at present day Albany, New York and the tip of Manhattan Island.

Swedish colonies were scattered between Maryland and Connecticut.
The British colonies ranged southward along the Atlantic coast and included what are now the states of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, most of Connecticut, most of southern New York State, the eastern half of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, most of Maryland, Virginia except for its southwestern corner, North Carolina, South Carolina and northeastern Georgia.

The remainder of Canada and northwestern United States was unexplored. End Figure 7.

An example of the description of a diagram

Image of an open circuit and a closed circuit
Fig. 91-1
"Figure 91 dash one is a diagram in two parts. In both drawings, each end of a large, rectangular shaped wire loop is connected to a cylindrical shaped dry cell, one end to the positive terminal, the other end to the negative. In each diagram, there is a switch along the length of the wire a short distance from the dry cell. The switch in the first drawing is open; in the second drawing it is closed. As is indicated by arrows, the current in the second diagram flows in a counter-clockwise-direction. In each diagram, a compass needle is placed beneath a horizontal leg of the wire rectangle. The compass needle in the first diagram, through which no current is flowing, is parallel to the wire; in the second, through which current passes, the needle is at right angles to the wire. Text.

P. Tables and Charts

Again, ask, "Why is it here?" Here, too, accuracy and clarity are essential.

  1. Read the title, source, captions and any explanatory keys.
  2. Describe the physical structure of the table. The names of the parts of a table are shown in this example:
    Image showing the physical structure of a table

    Include the number of columns, the headings of each column and any associated subcolumns, reading from left to right. The stubhead is not considered a column. If column heads have footnotes, read them following each heading.
  3. Explain whether the table will be read by rows (horizontally) or by columns (vertical). The horizontal reading is usual but, in some cases, the vertical reading better conveys the content. On rare occasions it is necessary to read a table both ways.
  4. Repeat the column headings with the figures under them for the first two rows. If the table is long, repeat the headings every fifth row. Always repeat them during the reading of the last row.
  5. Indicate the last row by saying "and finally . . . " or "last row . . . ".
  6. At the completion of the reading say "End Table 3." If table appeared on a page other than the one you were recording, add "Returning to text on page 9."

An example of how to read a table:

Who spends most
on pollution cleanup
of dollars
Millions of dollars Percent
1970 vs.
Industry 1970
Electric utilities $3.24 $405 $679 +68%
Iron & Steel 2.64 206 212 + 3
Petroleum 2.12 337 507 +50
Paper 1.84 153 321 +110
Nonferrous metals 1.62 100 152 +52
Gas utilities 1.04 110 148 +35
Chemicals 1.00 169 263 +56
Mining .74 115 135 + 17
Machinery .69 121 169 +40
Food & beverages .40 84 151 +80
Commercial .32 100 158 +58
Railroads .32 28 28 0
Rubber .30 50 42 -16
Data: McGraw-Hill Economics Dept.; total required by pollution control standards as of Jan. 1, 1971; commercial category includes stores, insurance companies and banks.

The table is captioned, 'Who Spends the Most on Pollution Cleanup Source, McGraw-Hill Economics Department. Total required by pollution control standards as of January 1, 1971. Commercial category includes stores, insurance companies and banks. The table is divided into two columns. The left-hand column is captioned, 'Total investment required in billions of dollars'. The right-hand column is captioned 'Spending' and is divided into three subcolumns. The first subcolumn is titled 1970 actual in millions of dollars, the second is 1971 planned in millions of dollars, and the third is headed Percent change, 1970 versus 1971. The rows are industries. Reading the rows across, Row 1, electric utilities. Total investment required in billions of dollars, 3 point two four. Spending, 1970 actual, 405 million dollars; 1971 planned, 679 million dollars; percent change 1970 versus 1971, plus sixty-eight percent. Row 2, iron and steel. Total investment, 2 point six four billions. Spending, 1970, 206 millions; 1971, two hundred twelve millions. Percent change, plus three. Row three, petroleum. Investment, two point one two. Spending, three hundred thirty-seven, five hundred seven, plus fifty .

Q. Graphs

Name the type of graph, i.e., line, bar, pie; read the title, source and captions.

Line Graphs

  1. Announce what quantity is measured along the horizontal (x) axis, the unit of measurement and its limits. Do the same for the vertical (y) axis. E.g., "The x axis is years from 1970 to 1975; the y axis is total number of unemployed males in millions from one to ten."
  2. Decide whether the graph's purpose is to give detailed information, to describe a trend or, when the graph contains more than one curve, to show a comparison; plan your description accordingly. If the purpose is to give very specific information, you may want to use a ruler to lightly pencil in lines simulating graph paper so as to exactly locate particular points. Otherwise, insert a Narrator's note announcing that all figures are approximate. E.g., in -1970 about four and a half million . . . ".
  3. Start at the left and give the coordinates (x and y values) of significant points, i.e., highs, lows, points where the curve changes direction (called an "inflection" of the curve), etc. Always read the horizontal coordinate first.
  4. Always give the starting point of the curve. This may be followed by a general description for a simple curve. The point where the x and y axes meet is called the "origin". E.g., "The curve starts at the origin and rises sharply to its highest point, after which it declines gradually." This would be followed by giving the coordinates of the high point, the coordinates of another point further along the curve and, always, the coordinates at the curve's end. (A line on a graph is referred to as a "curve" no matter what its actual shape.)
  5. A smooth, clear, terse description of a graph will result if you first prepare a table of the associated x and y values which will be read. For the curve of the graph shown below, the table would be:
  6. Don't forget to announce when you have concluded the reading.

Example 1 A line graph

The relationship between the vapor pressure of water and its temperature

"Figure 5. 'The relationship between the vapor pressure of water and its temperature.' This is a line graph whose x axis is temperature in degrees centigrade, running from zero to one hundred degrees. The y axis is pressure in millimeters of mercury and runs from zero to 800 millimeters. The curve starts at the origin and rises so that when x is 25 degrees, y is approximately 40 millimeters. When x is 50, y is 100. When x is 75, y is just under 300. When x is 100, y is about 760. End of Figure 5. Text."

Example 2 A multiple line graph

Comparison of hourly earnings  Index for the U.S. versus Japan for the years 1963 through 1969.

Ordinarily when two curves are placed on the same graph, the purpose is to draw a comparison between them. Therefore you would set up your table with two vertical values for each horizontal value:

year U.S. Japan
'64 105 115
'65 110 125
'66 115 140
'67 120 155-
'68 124 175
'69 130 215

After giving caption, source, axes and units, you might introduce the reading of the graph itself with a statement about the general picture given by the graph and then proceed directly to the reading of the graph: "Between 1963 and 1969 hourly earnings rose much more rapidly in Japan than in the United States so that, taking 1963 as 100, in 1964 hourly earnings in the U.S. were around 105 and in Japan 115 ......

Example 3 A line graph depicting a trend

Price level changes

"Figure I is a line graph entitled 'Price Level Changes, Average for 1910 to 1914 equals 100'. Source: Leonard Ayres, Our National Debt After Great Wars, Committee on Public Debt Policy. The horizontal axis is years, starting at 1770 and ending at 1950. The vertical axis is Wholesale Price Index, running from zero to 300. This line graph shows that in peacetime, the Index generally fluctuates between 70 and 140. Sharp increases occur in the years of major wars; the index rose to about 220 during the Revolutionary War, 180 during the War of 1812, 190 during the Civil War, and 210 during World Wars I and 11. With the exception of World War 11, prices dropped back sharply following each war. Between 1945 and 1950, however, prices continued to climb to 240. End Figure 1. Text."

Bar graphs

Read in a manner similar to reading a line graph. Bar graphs are used frequently for comparison; gear your reading accordingly.


Operating Revenues.

Unless the text should indicate otherwise, this is an example of a graph which should be read twice; once giving the breakdown for each year and once comparing each category as it varies from year to year. E.g.,

This is a bar graph showing operating revenues in millions of dollars for 1968 to 1972. For 1968, total revenue is about 280 million dollars. Of this, 160 million is revenue from residential sources, about 25 million from commercial sources, about 80 million is industrial revenue and the balance of 15 million comes from other sources. For 1969, total revenue is about 310 million, approximately 165 million represents residential revenue. . . . Residential revenue increased in each of the five years; it was 160 million in 1968, 165 million in 1969, 180 million in 1970, 190 million in 1971 and in 1972 reached 215 million. Commercial revenue in 1968 was 25 million, in 1969 it was . . . .

Pie graphs

  1. As usual, start with the title, source and captions.
  2. The listener can visualize a pie graph easily if you announce at which o'clock position you are starting and whether you are traveling in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction.
  3. The wedges of the pie are often shown in different colors. In grade school texts, mention the colors since they may be referred to in class.
  4. Conclude with "End of Figure (number)" or "Text."

Example of how to read a pie graph

Fig. I Utilization of H2S04 by industry.

Figure one, 'Utilization of sulfuric acid by industry'. This is a pie graph showing the percentage of use by various industries. Starting at around six o'clock and reading counter-clockwise, the largest wedge of the pie is fertilizer manufacture with thirty per cent. In descending order, petroleum refining, twenty per cent; chemicals including ammonium sulfate, sixteen per cent; 'pickling' steel, ten point six per cent; storage batteries, ten point two per cent; pigments and textiles, four point six per cent; explosives, two point seven per cent; other uses, five point nine per cent. End of Figure one. Text.

Note that the figure itself may not be precise. This is unimportant to the point the author is making and need not be mentioned. Recording in languages other than English This section covers recording entire texts, ranging from grammar books for beginning students to advanced literary works.

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Copyright 1971, 1974, 1979, 1996, 2000 by the National Braille Association, Inc. Excerpt by permission of National Braille Association, Inc. which retains all rights to this material.

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