Accessible Documents: What Your Organisation Needs to Know 

If you’re trying to reach a diverse audience, keep in mind that it’s not only foreign language speakers who might need some help understanding.  A number of different communication strategies have been developed over the years to help make information of all types accessible to as many people as possible.

Two of our most commonly requested formats for accessible documents are Easy Read and Large Print. Here’s what your organisation needs to know about each one.

What is Easy Read?

Easy Read is a simplified format created for people with learning disabilities. Easy Read documents are easier to understand than even Plain English. They use short sentences, simple grammar and lots of illustrations to reinforce the meaning of the text.

Easy Read also assists other groups of people who may have difficulties with reading and comprehension, including children,  the elderly, Deaf people and people who are not fluent in English.

The origins of Easy Read

The Easy Read format dates back to the 1980’s. The first Easy Read documents were produced in Sweden.  Since then, Easy Read has spread to government and private organisations throughout Europe as they seek to make information more accessible.

Easy Read today

According to Gov.UK:  “People with learning disabilities need access to all information, not just disability-specific information but also about their health, voting, work and gaining skills.”

We couldn’t agree more, and that’s where Easy Read comes in.  But making an Easy Read document is more complicated than it might seem at first.  It’s not just about using simpler words. There is a list of conventions you’ll need to follow. For example, in an Easy Read document,  all sentences must be in active voice, not passive voice. Spell out all acronyms. If you need to use a long or complicated word, the next sentence should be a concise definition of the word.

Design elements, like contrast and font, are also essential.   Choose supporting images carefully. Using the right images will make it easier for readers to grasp the information. However, poorly chosen images may create more confusion.

Ideally, you (or your LSP) should develop Easy Read materials hand in hand with the target audience: individuals with learning disabilities. This procedure ensures the resulting document presents the information clearly and is easy to understand.

What is Large Print?

Large print documents are primarily designed for the visually impaired. That said, they also make reading easier for people with learning disabilities and dyslexia. Large print documents use a minimum font size of 16 points and above. However, an 18 point font size is more common for materials like books.

History of Large Print

In 1964 in Leicester, Frederick Thorpe published the first large-print books. At first, his company merely super-sized existing books. They reprinted classic novels but made them twice as large. This made them easier to read. However, their size and weight did not make them easy to handle, especially for the elderly. In 1969, Thorpe improved the process by enlarging the type to 16 points and printing the books in normal-sized bindings.

Large Print Today

Today, most book publishers offer a wide selection of large print books. The UK government makes large print versions of many documents available to assist visually impaired customers and employees. Business may be required to provide large print options, as well.

The first iteration of Easy Read was not entirely successful because Thorpe and company failed to balance his customers’ need for large print with other aspects of the customer experience, like their need to be able to handle the books without difficulty. Don’t make the same mistake. As the UK government’s 2014 guidance on accessible documents cautions,  “Don’t attempt to create large print versions by enlarging a standard print document using a photocopier.”

For your documents to be truly accessible, you must recreate them in large print with an easy-to-read font. You must also pay proper attention to issues such as contrast and line length. Additionally, you may need to reduce the amount of text to make it easier to read and to make the document more manageable. It’s often a good idea to bring in professionals to ensure that the final product is accessible to visually impaired readers while maintaining the feel of the original document.

Need help producing accessible documents?

At K International, we have over 20 years of experience creating Easy Read documents. Our experience includes creating Easy Read materials in English and in other languages like Welsh. And we regularly produce large print documents in line with the Royal National Institute of Blind People’s (RNIB) guidelines for a variety of organisations, including HM Prison Service, Transport for London and the Home Office.  We also offer an accessibility consultancy service so you can rest easy knowing that your organisation is meeting all of its obligations.

If you’re interested in getting expert help from a friendly, experienced team of in-house specialists, give us a call or contact us today. We’d love to hear from you!

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