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Making your Literature Accessible

February 26, 2007 12:00 AM
By Cllr Abigail Lock, who is also the Parliamentary Affairs Officer for Scope

The Department of Constitutional Affairs (now the Ministry of Justice) in November 2006 issued new regulations aimed at improving disabled people's access to the electoral system. These regulations focus on the voting system itself but little attention has been paid to how parties communicate their messages.

As the deadline for Focus gets nearer, producing copy and finding accompanying pictures is understandably at the forefront of our minds. Ironically after all this hard work producing it in a format which will help to maximise the numbers of people reading it is something which is not always considered.

There are around two million people in the UK with a visual impairment; one in ten people are dyslexic and about 1.5 million people with a learning disability. These people are potential voters and most of them would benefit from a few simple changes to literature design.

While we often have so much to say that it is tempting to squeeze it in, the RNIB recommend that a minimum type size of between 12 and 14 point is used. If a person requests large print a type size of 18 and above is recommended.

In general the larger the font the easier it is to read, however the style of font is also important. Recommended font types are the more plain and include Arial, Helvetica Verdana and Sans Serif. All of these have clearly defined letters. Remember that while a decorative or handwriting style of font may appear more personalised, they are harder to read. If you are producing 'blue ink' letters try and find somebody in your local party with nice clear handwriting. Avoid using blocks of capital letters, underlined, shadowed or italicised fonts and consider replacing them with bold text.

Text layout should also be considered, aligning text to the left with jagged right hand margins helps to create more distinction between the words. If possible avoid using tabs or indents. If you are using columns a vertical rule between them helps to distinguish one passage from another.

Aim for high contrast between colours, black text on yellow paper tends to be a good contrast whereas yellow writing on white paper is harder to read. While ALDC will probably shoot me for this blue writing on cream paper provides a better contrast than blue writing on blue paper - so if you always use blue on blue it is perhaps worth considering mixing it up a little! The type of paper used can also make a big difference, the glare of glossy paper is harder to read than matt paper - not to mention the fact that it is often more expensive. But try not to go too cheap - thin paper may mean that the text shows through from the other side.

Other areas of good practice include consistency of literature design. In other words the layout is similar and headings / pictures are in the same place. Try to use plain English, avoiding abbreviations and symbols such as '&' for and. Accompanying pictures can help to tell a story and also be of benefit to people whose first language is not English.

Finally consider offering to produce literature in other formats, for example recorded onto a cassette or relaying literature over the telephone or by e-mail. Local disability organisations, residential homes and disabled people's networks may be more willing to distribute your literature if you have made it accessible.

The RNIB can provide further information on accessible literature and can be contacted at:

Royal National Institute of the Blind

105 Judd Street

London

WC1H 9NE

Tel: 020 7388 1266

Or log onto: http://www.rnib.org.uk/xpedio/groups/public/documents/publicwebsite/public_printdesign.hcsp

Don't forget making your electronic communication accessible. Further information on web site design can be found at http://www.vordweb.co.uk/standards/web-standards.htm