There is much that can be done to improve access to printed materials.
The RNIB’s ‘Clear Print’ leaflet in their ‘See it Right’ pack contains the following guidance for producing printed materials that are accessible to visually impaired people. These guidelines are also likely to improve access for students with specific learning difficulties and visual–spatial discomfort (Meares Irlen Syndrome).
- Employ a layout that is simple and uncluttered – the different elements of page layout such as text, headings, illustrations etc should be clearly separated rather than competing with each other
- Provide a clear title at the top of the document and consider breaking up the text with sub headings
- Use a printer which gives good sharp letters – over photocopied handouts or newsprint articles can be difficult to read
- Use a 12 or 14-point sans serif font (such as Arial) – avoid highly stylised or ornamental typefaces
- Avoid italics, underlining or large blocks of capital letters – use a bolder or larger type to emphasise important points or headings
- Consider spacing between lines – 1.5 spacing is likely to produce a more readable document than single spacing
- Keep the same amount of space between words in a passage of text – for this reason avoid fully justified text
- Avoid centred text except for headings – generally left-aligned text is best
- Avoid lines of text that are too long, and do not split words at the ends of lines by hyphenation
- Creat a space after paragraphs, and avoid long paragraphs
- Ensure good contrast between the text and the background on which it is printed
- Avoid setting text over images or ‘wallpaper’ as this produces variable contrast
- Avoid very white or shiny paper as it may cause glare
Accessibility for students with manual dexterity difficulties is improved by offering
- comb-binding or ring-binding
- printed on one side of the paper
- thicker paper.
Other issues about the printed word are covered in Deaf students and written English.
'Clear print' documents do not need to be boring – look at the RNIB’s leaflet mentioned above for guidance on layout and use of illustrations.
Alternative and accessible formats
Although some visually impaired students can read documents prepared as described above, perhaps with the aid of a hand-held magnifier or CCTV, many require information printed in an alternative format. The format chosen depends on the type and degree of visual impairment, and may be a matter of preference or practicality (e.g. audio tape or an enlarged typeface).
The following are examples of alternative formats for text you produce for students.
- Large font – the size chosen depends on the needs of the individual, but is usually between 16 and 22 point. You may need to reformat your document in order to keep a sensible layout.
- Large paper – some students may be happy with an A4 document photocopied at double size onto A3 paper, however the larger paper is more difficult to handle and store.
- Computer disk or e-mail – supplying documents electronically allows the student to use enabling technologies to output the information in the format of their choice (e.g. large font, audio, Braille).
- Braille – some but not all blind people are Braille users. Braille is a system of raised dots, which enables blind people to read by touch. Braille may be the format of choice for documents that need to be stored for reference (e.g. instructions) or memorised. Your institution’s disability co-ordinator may have information on Braille transcription services, or there may be an in-house production service. A blind student may have facilities to produce a Braille version themselves from an electronic version of your document. Producing text in a foreign languages, mathematical notation and music in Braille are all possible by using specialist programmes. More information can be found in the RNIB Factsheet, 'Producing Braille and Tactile Images’ and on TechDis. Bear in mind that a Braille-reading student may not be able to skim read, and may take up to three times as long as a sighted student to read a text.
- Audio recording – this may be useful for a descriptive piece of text (such as a story) but less so for a document where you need to jump from section to section to extract information. Professional transcription services are available that can organise the content of complex documents to incorporate indexing and descriptions of visual images – ask your disability coordinator for advice.
Blind and visually impaired students may require access to textbooks in alternative formats. Reading lists of essential books should be supplied well in advance so arrangements can be made to borrow or transcribe them via the institution’s library or disability coordinator.
The RNIB Library has large print books, talking books (including digital talking books, DTB, which have improved navigation), and books in Braille. With sufficient notice they can also arrange to have other books transcribed or borrowed. Further information can be obtained from the RNIB Library Information Service.
The usual rules about copyright no longer apply to blind and visually impaired students and their educational establishments. They are now able to produce an accessible copy of any book , journal or periodical published in the UK (and some foreign works) under the Copyright (Visually Impaired Persons) Act 2002, which came into force in October 2003. Further information about this can be found at the Copyright and Licensing Agency.
Blind and visually impaired students have difficulty extracting information from displayed notices. Alternative arrangements should be made to convey important information that is usually presented in this way, such as administrative requirements, deadlines or any changes to timetables, and also to more general information such as forthcoming concerts or talks that your students might be interested in.