Overview: Alternate Forms of Communication

For Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing Students

Sign Language Interpreters

Interpreters translate spoken English into American Sign Language (ASL). ASL is a unique language, syntactically and linguistically different from English. There is generally a 1-5 second lag time between what is spoken and the translation.

Sign Language Transliterators 

Transliterators transfer spoken English into a signed version of English. There is a similar 1-5 second lag time between what is spoken and the translation.


Real-time captioning uses equipment and techniques similar to court reporting, so that anything spoken is produced for the user to read. It is generally used for deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals, but may be appropriate for some persons with severe auditory-processing disorders. The information is produced on a computer screen or projected onto a large screen in front of the room. All audio-visual media – films, videos, web-streaming – must be captioned!

Oral Interpreters

Oral interpreters use mouthing and other expressive techniques to convey information, usually to deaf or hard-of-hearing persons. They may or may not also use signs. Oral interpreting is typically used for persons who cannot use sign language interpreting or real-time captioning as effectively.

Alternatives to Printed Materials

Large Print

If you know ahead of time who wants large print and if there are few enough people to customize the documents for them, then ask! Many people with vision impairments prefer sans-serif fonts such as Helvetica. Serifed fonts such as Palatino, New York, or Times Roman are preferred by others. If you do not know, use a proportionally spaced, sans serif font, larger print or white-on-black printed materials.

Materials on Computer

With most applications, it is possible to simply re-print in a larger and more suitably styled font. Re-format if necessary to simplify when the formatting is not crucial to the material. If the material may require references to page numbers, insert references and page numbers at the original breaks.

Print materials not available on computer: Many people can be helped by reproducing the material with an enlarging photocopier. Because of the font style, size, or other factors, some material cannot be effectively enlarged; this may need to be re-typed for suitable printing. Audio-recording is occasionally preferred.

Electronic (on CD or via Email)

Often, persons who use alternate media simply prefer to receive the material electronically. Then they can manipulate it in whatever fashion that works well. For instance, they can convert to audio, large print, or Braille according to their various needs. When you do not know specifically what a person wants, use RTF (Rich Text Format). If you don’t already have material on computer, it may need to be typed in. If it is extensive, there are services that can convert the text for you.

CDs, by themselves, are not suitable for materials that are meant to be referenced or otherwise used during a structured activity—like a class, presentation, workshop, etc.—unless the user will have a computer at the activity and prefers it over other alternatives.

Audio Recording

Material meant to be read primarily in serial order (i.e. prose) is usually suitable for audio recording. This may be the simplest method of adjustment in some situations. Reading should be in a clear, deliberative voice using a style appropriate to the material. For instance, for some material, it may be important for the reader to know the location of certain (or all) punctuation marks or paragraph breaks.

Audio recording is generally less suitable for materials to be referenced at intermittent times. Obvious examples are phone directories, class syllabi, indexes, bibliographies, tables of contents, and the like.

Audio recording is not suitable for materials that are meant to be referenced or otherwise used during a structured activity—like a class, presentation, workshop, etc.—unless there is no effective alternative for the user (e.g., when the user is blind but does not use Braille).

Audio recording is generally not preferred compared to electronic media.


Many materials, especially reference materials and catalogues, should be available in Braille, especially if they are to be used during a structured activity. In general, Braille users prefer Braille for most of their materials. Many also have the computer capacity to convert electronic text into Braille, and to read it without embossing onto paper. Considerable lead time may be necessary. Dartmouth College does not currently have the facility to produce Braille, so it must be contracted out.

Grade 2 Braille includes contractions for space and time efficiency, and is used by almost all Braille users. Nemuth code Braille is used for mathematical symbols and equations. There is also a Braille system for music scoring, notes, and other symbols.

For more information, email us or call 646-9900.