The Importance of Accessible Information


In a (we suspect welcome!) respite from the General Election, SPECTRUM’s CEO, Ian Loynes, was at an event yesterday, concerning how we can help more User-Led Organisations (ULO) to flourish – we got onto the subject of the importance of accessible information

Actually, it is relevant to the General Election, simply because the main political parties are notoriously BAD at being able to produce their Manifestos in accessible formats!!

Anyway, back to the subject of this article. One of the key objectives of a ULO (such as SPECTRUM!) is to enable Disabled People to become empowered and make the world work for them. Now – we all know that knowledge is power; we also know that knowledge is much more difficult to gain without information.

At the ULO event we talked about producing accessible information. I said that SPECTRUM has its own accessible information standards that all staff are expected to follow for all information that we produce.

SPECTRUM’s access standards have been developed through 30+ years of working with Disabled People

One of the presenters asked me to share our standards with them. (Thank you Barod CIC from Wales)

And in that conversation was born the idea for this article.

WHY don’t we share our access standards with other organisations and people like yourself? That way we can encourage other organisations to think about how they can improve the accessibility of printed information

So, here it is: SPECTRUM’s Accessible Information Standards which are part of every staff induction process. We hope you find it interesting and stimulates you to think about how you can improve the accessibility of what you produce.

It is really an internal document, designed to help SPECTRUM ensure its staff and volunteers understand the importance of accessible information.

SPECTRUM’s Access Standards

SPECTRUM sets high standards for itself, providing accessible, inclusive and empowering services to all Disabled People. Information is of key importance in delivering these standards, and therefore SPECTRUM requires that information produced by the organisation must be available in a range of different accessible formats, to ensure that no Disabled Person is denied access to our services or information due to their impairment. All staff are required to abide by the access standards, as set out in this document at all times. Our access standards are an important part of SPECTRUM’s identity.

Standard Printed Information

To aid general accessibility, SPECTRUM’s policy standard is that all printed materials must be produced in a font size of at least 14, in a ‘san-serif’ font (for example Arial, Calibri or Comic Sans).

Text should generally be left-justified to aid accessibility. Where practical, a font size of 16 should be used as this is considered ‘large-print’ and will therefore be accessible to more people. Font sizes of less than 14 should not be used unless there are exceptional circumstances and with the agreement of your Line Manager.

Terms such as ‘Disabled People’, ‘Older People’ and ‘Independent Living’ should always have their first letters capitalised. These are political terms indicating ownership and should be respected in the same way we capitalise people’s names.

Abbreviations should be avoided whenever possible, and in all cases they should only be used when they are fully expanded the first time they are used in every document (for example HCC [Hampshire County Council]). The use of abbreviations will exclude anyone who does not understand what they mean, and they often make documents more difficult to read.

Care should be given to ensure that there is a high level of contrast between text colour and background/paper colour. Text overlaid on images or designs should be avoided at all times.

Avoid the use of CAPITAL LETTERS FOR HEADINGS. Strings of capital letters can be more difficult to read for visually impaired people, and in any case can give the impression you are shouting at your reader.

Care should also be given to avoid the unnecessary use of jargon and complex words which make information less accessible. Please examine what you write and consider if any of the words you use are not in common use, or could be substituted for simpler words. SPECTRUM encourages the use of ‘Plain English’ throughout its published information.

Whilst it may not realistic for all documents to be proof-read, please take care to ensure all official reports, leaflets and other formal documents which represent SPECTRUM and its views are proof-read by someone with these skills before distributing.

Other Accessible Formats

SPECTRUM has a policy of pro-actively assessing what other accessible formats might be required in particular circumstances. Common accessible formats include: Large Print, Easy Read, Audio Format, Braille and Easy Read.

General information (for example leaflets and booklets) produced by SPECTRUM should be quickly and willingly converted to these or other specifically requested formats on request. Depending on the nature and purpose of the information, it may be appropriate to have stocks of different formats available ‘off-the-shelf’.

Information to be used at meetings should be available in the following formats: Standard Print, Large Print, Audio Tape and Braille, unless the organiser is sure of who is attending and their access needs.

Accessible Meetings/Events

SPECTRUM requires that all meetings and events it organises are accessible to all. This will include using British Sign Language at any public meeting. Specific guidance and checklists are available from your Line Manager or the Office Manager on request.

Access Standards and SPECTRUM’s reputation

Please remember that SPECTRUM’s reputation for inclusion and accessibility are only as good as the working practices of our staff and volunteers. It is the responsibility of all staff to take care at all times to ensure everything we do and everything we produce is done with the intention of being as inclusive and accessible as possible.

SPECTRUM recognises that, in practice, there will be occasions when we unintentionally exclude individuals because we have failed to meet their access needs.

When this happens, it is very important that SPECTRUM accepts responsibility for the failure, even if we had no way of pre-empting the need in advance. In no circumstances should we imply that the individual who we have excluded is in any way to blame.

Staff involved should ensure that, when these situations occur, every effort is made to resolve the access issue. If it is not possible to resolve it on the spot, staff should discuss with the individual what actions SPECTRUM needs to take to meet the individual’s needs now, or after the event to avoid making the same mistake in the future.

In the event of access failures, staff should make every effort to ensure that SPECTRUM, as a whole, learns from the experience. Often the best way to do this is to report incidents to the Chief Executive who will be responsible for ensuring guidelines are modified appropriately. Whatever you do, do not try to hide the failure – it is only by being open and sharing the experience that SPECTRUM will learn and improve.

We hope this article has been useful.


2 thoughts on “The Importance of Accessible Information

  1. Hello
    It’s really valuable to have this information, thank you.

    For any future versions please will you consider expanding the section about accessibility for deaf people? Not all deaf people understand Bsl.

    Just saying… best wishes Ann Jones


    • Hi Ann, Thanks for this comment – we are always in a learning mode. What would you suggest by way of improving accessibility? If you wanted to respond via email then contact me at:
      Many thanks, and looking forward to hearing from you.


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