Post date: 
Monday, 14 September 2015
Braille printer

Have you heard about this time-saving way of making tactile diagrams and graphs? VI Learning Coordinator John Chester shares how to go about it

Tactile resources are essential but can be tricky to produce. Last year, one of our students needed a detailed Science revision guide filled with diagrams to prepare for his core Science GCSEs.

We had limited preparation time, as our student needed as much revision time as possible.

A tried and tested method for all tactile diagrams is to use Zychem swell paper. This old favourite works well but can be expensive, is time consuming and you need to know what you are doing to get a quality outcome!

We continue to make swell paper tactile diagrams, but we also use  an alternative approach sometimes that is particularly suited to creating graphs and diagrams.

Using braille software

We use the Emprint SpotDot embosser with Tiger Software Suite (TSS). TSS sits as an 'ADD-IN' within Microsoft Word and allows you to create braille as well as tactile diagrams. It allows you to translate any image into a tactile image. The major selling point is the ability to create graphs and diagrams with relative ease. Braille and print can also be interlined within the document. 

Choose and prepare the diagram

  • Choose an image that you want to process that is clear and clutter free. When modifying print diagrams reducing the detail to the absolute essentials makes them easier to understand. Less is definitely more.
  • Remember that SpotDot is a colour embosser which embosses different colours as different textures, so sticking to black and white can make life much easier.
  • Instead of colour you can also experiment with different patterns – vertical and horizontal lines, different sized circles, filled and outline only. You can do all this using Microsoft Word which is what makes the TSS software accessible.  
  • In addition you can make lines or arrows as thick or thin as necessary for your student.
  • You can copy graphs and diagrams, for example, from PDF documents. Then remove any residual print labels which are no longer needed using a graphics programmes. 

Producing your tactile image

  • Next it is essential to build your diagram or graph using two separate Word documents. One should contain your image, and use the other to create your braille labels, using the TSS Braille translation. Note that if you do this in one document, when you go to translate your text, your formatting will be erased and labels become difficult to place correctly.
  • Instead create your labels on a separate page, insert them into text boxes, finally copy and paste these into your image document. You can then play around with the transparency and border settings of your text boxes until you are happy with the placement of your labels. Careful placement of text boxes can also be a quick way to overwrite annoying residual print labels.
  • Now you are ready to emboss. And best of all the paper and ink used by the embosser are inexpensive. Much cheaper than making swell paper diagrams.

What our students say

“The lines and braille from the Spot Dot are really sharp and readable. I get more diagrams and graphs now which is great. I still use swell graph paper for Maths but tend to use more Spot Dot ones in Science.” (Kain Bradford, Year 11). 

Teaching students to use tactile diagrams

Learning to use tactile diagrams is a skill which should be overtly taught, with plenty of time for practice. Exploring a tactile diagram systematically is the key to making sense of it. It is a very different experience to a sighted person being able to take in the whole of a diagram in one go.

We encourage “tactile inquisitiveness”. For example, I would encourage the user to explore a tactile bar chart by reading each axis first followed by any other labels. Finally the student should read the data represented from each bar. Sticking to a routine method helps students to make sense of their tactile diagrams. 

Top tip – Don’t reinvent the wheel

Before producing a tactile diagram, check on RNIB Bookshare to see if a tactile image is already available. You can also download more advice from the RNIB Bookshare on creating accessible diagrams.

John Chester is VI Coordinator at The King’s Academy, Middlesbrough


The King’s Academy purchased their Emprint Spot Dot embosser from Sight and Sound Technology for around £5,000. You can also buy it from RNIB’s Online Shop.

Want more ideas about making learning materials accessible?  Take a look at RNIB’s new video about making accessible learning resources.

Insight Online: archive