Exploring the DOTS Guild: Sage
Updated: Jan 16, 2021
The DOTS Guild is a place where people come together with a common goal: improving #AccessibilityInGaming for disabled gamers wishing to play tabletop roleplaying games. There is much work that goes into this project, some of which we follow traditional standards on and others we break tradition and create something new and improved. Join us on this journey as we take a deep dive into the volunteer positions of the DOTS Guild, and learn what makes them so special.
When it comes to content for visually impaired gamers, a Sage plays an integral part in the process of creating a braille version of a printed book. As some of our wisest volunteers, Sages go through special training to learn how to read, write, and format braille to be able to work on braille books. Not everyone has access to digital tools to use online content or PDFs so we want to make sure those looking for content in physical book form have access to the content as well. After files are received from publishers and the image descriptions from Limners, a Sage will have everything they need to transcribe printed text into braille. Once completed, these volumes are donated to our DOTS Family members to become part of lending libraries around the world.
Producing braille books is something that we can’t necessarily create our own process for like we did with the image descriptions because the formatting needs to be understood easily. There are slightly different versions of braille based on the language they’re being transcribed from, but our Sages use Unified English Braille (UEB). When thinking of braille it’s important not to think of it as a different language. It’s not a translation from one language to another, but more like a transcription of one font style to another. Braille is unique because it uses just six dots in various arrangements to convey individual letters, punctuation, and shorthand of parts of words as well as complete words. The effort put in to transcribing the unique worlds found in TTRPG books is no small feat, both due to the work involved and the sheer amount of content! Braille books end up exponentially larger than their printed counterparts and have to be carefully organized into manageable volumes.
To give you a sense of scale from a visual perspective, these pictures are comparing a printed version of The Black Hack (18 double sided pages, 6" x 8" book) along with the completed single volume braille embossed version (50 double sided pages, 8.5"x11" book) to the printed D&D 5e Player's Handbook (316 double sided pages, 8.5" x 11" book). A book of about printed 300 pages can be anywhere from 20 - 30 braille volumes depending on the content, each 50 pages double sided for 100 pages of braille text per volume. This volume count would increase if the embosser used can only produce single sided pages. The embosser we use is able to emboss interpoint braille, producing braille on both sides of the page simultaneously. The front and back of the pages are slightly offset from each other so the braille does not overlap. This can be seen clearly in the first picture above, showing the raised braille on the front of the page very close to the recessed braille that is raised on the back of the page.
Different elements contribute to the size difference between the printed pages and the braille embossed pages:
The paper used for braille embossing is much thicker than standard paper found in printed books, being closer to a cardstock weight.
One braille cell made up of three dots high by two dots wide is around a size 20pt font. Many printed books don't use a font size this large, possibly only for title pages or full page chapter headings or dividers. The average font size in a TTRPG book is between 10pt - 12pt. The difference in font size alone would greatly increase the page count, but when you also factor in the specific braille formatting guidelines it changes even more.
Just like for printed books it is understood that paragraphs and sections start with a title or heading, tables are organized in columns and rows, and quotations or notes are visually separated from the main text often with an indent or box, there are equivalent formatting styles in braille. A table that may take up half a printed page can end up as 10 individual braille pages, depending on the content.
Each image gets a short 150 character image description as well as a long 700 character image description. These are also added to each volume, adding to the amount of overall text.
A Sage's Process
Programs like BrailleBlaster are used by our Sages to transcribe a title's printed text along with our image descriptions into a braille file which is sent to the embosser. Working much like Google Translate, a braille transcription program takes plain text and automatically transcribes it into braille. This process isn't exact and needs much proofreading especially in the case of shorthand being used automatically on unique TTRPG words and names along with specific formatting needed based on text layout in the printed book. To make the transcription process easier for our Sages, we ask publisher partners to send files of their works to us in formats that can be selected, copied, and pasted into the transcription program. Something like a .doc or .txt file is ideal, but a .pdf can work as well so long as the file was saved in the right way for our needs. When a PDF is compressed, flattened, or rasterized, the computer treats the words as an image instead of text. Being able to copy and paste large portions of the text allows entire pages, sections, or chapters to be input into the transcription program at once instead of having to retype every line word by word. This saves so much time in an already time consuming task and allows Sages to focus their energy on their specific skills and knowledge for proofreading and formatting texts.
Our various Sages work together to problem solve during transcriptions, since every book can present a new set of challenges when it comes to formatting different styles or unique words and names. They cross check and proofread each other's work, ensuring there is more than just one person looking for any errors since something small can break the readability of an entire volume. As well as utilizing computer programs, one of our Sages has a slate and hand embosser that they use to test margins and adjust as needed. According to them, these are admittedly time consuming productions, but rewarding in the end. Not only does it give them an accurate version of what the final embossed braille page will be, it allows them to keep in mind how a page should flow and how it should feel to the reader.
Formatting is crucial to readability in braille, but things like tables can be a bit tricky. For random encounter tables and wild magic tables, numbers generally go on the left and results on the right. Larger tables prove a bit more of a formidable foe in creating readable tables with the size and formatting constraints. If a table has two columns with 30 rows, it may extend across multiple pages. If a table has four or more columns with lots of text and can not fit in one page's width, the formatting for the entire table needs to be handled carefully so the reader can easily flip page by page and keep their place. As for formatting image description placements, short 150 character image descriptions will take the place of the image in the original text. This allows for the reader to maintain a sense of imagery in the text and to break up the solid blocks of main body text. The longer, more detailed 700 character image descriptions are placed in an appendix with a page or reference number listed by the short description.
The embosser we use in house is the now discontinued VP Columbia from View Plus. They have recently come out with the VP Columbia 2, which has some minor improvements but overall has the same functionality. By using a combination of their proprietary software, BrailleBlaster, Duxbury, and/or Microsoft Office programs, we are able to emboss many different types of content. Some programs are better suited to handle text and the formatting necessary, while other programs work best for graphics and tables.
The act of embossing the paper is fairly straightforward once the settings are configured for the first time, everything is as simple as hitting the "emboss" button just like you would the "print" button on an ink printer. The major difference in process is the paper itself; the thicker than average paper is sheet fed, much like an old dot matrix printer. The volume length and contents determine how long the printing process will be, but on our embosser a 50 sheet volume (100 pages of interpoint braille) can take roughly 30 minutes to complete. When creating our braille volumes, we have opted to use paper that creates an 8.5" x 11" book, instead of the 11" x 11.5" pages normally used for braille books. This is so our content can sit on the shelves alongside printed books at our DOTS Family locations, and no one needs to consider alternate storage options for larger books. Once embossing is complete, all pages need to be separated at their perforations and organized into the proper volume size to prepare for binding. There are multiple binding systems available, but we use comb binding with rectangular holes on the paper and plastic spines to hold the pages together. The paper we have is pre-punched with the holes for binding, saving us some time and potential for error if we punch holes on the wrong side of the page. Over the first and last pages go a clear front cover with a vinyl braille sticker on the front that has information on the volume including title, author, volume number, and possibly more depending on the content.
When preparing braille volumes to be donated to areas with sighted users such as a DOTS Family location of a FLGS or community center, we also add a printed front and back cover as well as a label over the spine. The front and back cover makes it easier for a sighted staff member to ensure they are pulling the right book for the visually impaired user, without requiring them to know braille or bring out every single volume at once. This front and back cover contains information about the volume, title, author, volume number, and more depending on the content, as well as information about DOTS and how to contact us should they need any assistance.
If you're looking for more information on learning braille or to experiment with a sample braille transcriber, you can explore these links:
If you have any questions about our services and want to get in touch, please contact us. If you are interested in volunteering, please fill out our volunteer form.