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Access All Formats

Guest Blogger Ian Christie from IC Works tackles a challenge that many social firms have in common: how to produce internal and external communications that are accessible to the target audience.  Ian writes:


There’s an array of accessible formats to make information easier to access and understand. This article has been written with the needs of many Social Firm England members in mind, particularly those employing or working with people with a range of disabilities and impairments.

Here’s your whistlestop tour of the key, in this writer’s humble opinion, accessible formats.


Plain English

Obvious but important. A well-written document with ‘flow’ and limited jargon is the first step on our journey into accessible formats. Yet lengthy documents, loaded with technical words and jargon, continue to abound. Does anyone, barring the author, read them cover to cover?


Easy Read

English distilled to its essence that’s jargon-free, complex word-free, ideally with words no longer than three-syllables. The crisp text combines with images on the other half of the page to enhance understanding of the text. A kind of comic book format.

Easy Read images could be illustrations or well-taken and clearly composed photos. You must be able to see the action or object for each image, so colour contrast is crucial too.


Braille & screen readers

Braille’s a well-known format. You’ll find it on food packaging, lifts and many other public places. But did you know that only 1% of visually impaired and blind people can read Braille?

Increasingly popular are ‘screen readers’, software enabling computers to read out loud what’s displayed on screen. JAWS, NVDA or Super Nova Screen Reader are used by a growing number of visually impaired people. Contemporary devices such as Macs, smartphones and tablets have built-in screen readers – a few hot keys and your device can speak out loud.


Accessible PDFs

A logically structured document with a contents page, and hyperlinks and images tagged with relevant descriptions. It usually begins life as a Word document and is converted to an Adobe Acrobat PDF, and read using a screen reader.

So why not Accessible Word documents? You can certainly create one. But Adobe provides a free reader, a crucial accessibility element. Not everyone has (paid-for) MS Office, but anyone with an internet connection can download Adobe Reader.


Fillable PDF

Usually an application form or survey form that has been adapted to allow the fields to be completed using Acrobat Reader (how many MS Word forms do you come across on websites?). A very useful format for audiences that don’t have easy access to a printer.

We produced an application form for Centro’s concessionary travel pass for disabled people earlier in the year as an Easy Read document and a fillable pdf – a double-spread excerpt of the form is pictured below.

Centro Disabled Persons Concessionary Travel Pass Application Form


Audio transcription

A spoken word version of a document, preferably transcribed from the Easy Read rather than plain English version to ensure the audio track on tape, CD or mp3 is short and the language accessible.


British Sign Language

The first language of many profoundly deaf people, British Sign Language (BSL) is best provided face-to-face, though BSL Video Relay Services which enable BSL interpreters to translate in real time via a video screen, are becoming more commonplace.

Some Deaf people can read Easy Read documents but many, given the choice, will opt for a BSL signer.



A sign and symbol system designed for children with communication difficulties, popularised by CBeebies character Mr Tumble.



The lingua franca of the internet. Video is a hugely flexible format allowing the combination of video, photos, subtitles and audio, which could be music or voiceover or both.

When working with a group of adults with learning disabilities last summer I asked them if they’d like to see Easy Read on a new website they replied: “Video is better because not all of us can read”.

The right accessible format depends on the demographics and impairments of your audience. Often one-size-does-not-fit-all, but video (particularly with a BSL signer option) comes pretty close.

Ultimately, accessible information isn’t just for disabled people and older people, it’s for everyone. Spread the word.


IC Works Ltd is Silver Supporter of Social Firms Engand. They run, an Easy Read and accessible information service. They’ve been providing an Easy Read transcription service since 2007 for a range of organisations including local authorities, care companies, NHS trusts, Career Wales, Centro and TfL.


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