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Alternative formats

Most marketing resources are still print-based, yet print can be a barrier for some disabled people.

It is not recommended that you translate all your materials into all formats – the demand for alternative formats would not require such drastic action. It is instead recommended that you offer to organise, and budget for, the translation of materials into different formats on request, and that you research local contacts and suppliers, to ensure you could act promptly to deliver these, if asked.

There are a number of ways of providing materials in alternative formats. You can provide information:

  •  in large print
  •  via computer
  •  in Braille
  •  in audio
  •  in easy English

There are also some considerations for producing information for hearing impaired people, such as using BSL.

Large print

What is large print?
Print sizes are usually measured in 'points' where 72 pt equals approximately one inch. Standard print is normally 8 -12 pt, large print is generally considered to be from 14 pt and above. RNIB recommend 14 pt as the minimum large print size, but it is usually 16-18 pt. Some people prefer larger sizes, but in general, there is little value in enlarging print over 20 pt.

How do you produce large print?
Being able to print large text depends both on the software being used and the capabilities of the printer. In most instances, the easiest solution is to put all the text required into a basic word processing package, rather than a desktop publishing one. Then alter the print size to 16 or 18 pt (if producing material for a specific individual, ask what font size is preferred). Ensure the clear print guidelines are followed and that material is clearly laid out. Watch out for line spacing, clear headings and unclear fonts. Some people like to have a thick black band around the edges of a page, so it is obvious when to look at the next line.

Guidelines for computer-based formats

  • use simple or rich text formats
  • be flexible - be prepared to use a range of disks, including floppy disks, zip disks, mini disks and cd-roms
  • send material by e-mail - either in the body of the e-mail or as an attachment
  • break materials up into smaller chunks if sending material out to older systems
  • check with the individual concerned to see if the format you intend to use is one they can access.


Braille is incredibly important for some blind people and it is quick and straightforward to produce, with most providers working straight from material on disc. It should be remembered however, that only a small number of visually impaired people use Braille. If you want to offer material in Braille, you will need to know the answers to a few key questions...

Grade 1 Braille is letter for letter transcription. It can be read by all Braille readers, but is generally only used for very official or labelling purposes.
Grade 2 Braille has dot combinations to represent common letter groups such as ‘the’ and ‘for’. It is widely used for the production of books, magazines and leaflets. It occupies less space than Grade 1, is quicker to read and is cheaper to produce.

What can be put into Braille?
Almost anything can be put into Braille. Illustrations, columns of figures, maps, photographs and other visually based information will need consideration. How can you describe what you see? If your material includes parts that are complex and dates quickly, such as timetables, it may be cheaper for you to offer a telephone contact number for such information.

Consider how frequently you will be communicating in Braille, how many copies will be needed and how complex your material will be to translate. You may be asked the following by Braille producers: how many copies are needed; how quickly; how should illustrations be treated and what binding is required?

Posting Braille
Braille can be sent flat in a large envelope or rolled into a cardboard tube. All items can be sent free of charge. Clearly label them ‘Articles for the Blind', and make sure they can be easily opened for any official checks that need to be made and then readily resealed.

Signs and labels
Blind and partially sighted people getting around buildings rely upon Braille labels and signs. Clear print, with good colour contrast and tactile markings, should be provided, in addition to Braille labels.

Did you A4 printed page takes up two and a half pages in Braille?

Audio recordings

Its easy to record straight to MP3 now, and then to email or post the audio clip to those who need it. Remember you'll need to do some preparation before you start to record though.

Preparing to record
Prepare a script. You will need to introduce the recording and list what is going to be covered. Look for headlines - the verbal equivalent is a contents list. Number the items on the list and repeat these numbers when you reach the actual topic. Once you have listed the topics covered, the listener needs to be able to get to that spot fast – on audio tape you can use counters, or record separate files for separate items. You need to mark the start of each item - two or three bars of music, or a 15-20 second silence.

Familiarise yourself with the text before recording and make note of appropriate breaks. For example, the descriptive text may jump two pages and continue after an illustration or table, but for the audio version it will need to run on. Remember to tell your listener that the recording is ending.

Making the recording
Check your environment. Avoid household or workplace background noise; ensure that telephones are switched off and that microphones are working. Then switch on and begin reading the material – do not repeat material, just read reasonably slowly and clearly once. Read intelligently - sometimes it will not be appropriate to read all the words on the page. When reading tables - think how the information is most likely to be used. This often means reading down the columns rather than across the page.

After recording
If possible, get someone who has never seen the print version to listen to the audio file, and then to check their understanding of the content with the text of the original publication.

Did you know... audio materials can be posted free of charge when they are ‘Articles for the Blind’?

Easy English or Easy Read

Producing information for people with learning disabilities depends on the English skills of the intended audience and, in part, to the kinds of materials they are familiar with - preferred formats vary across England.

Plain English
Use plain English, free from jargon and complex language. Follow the guidance for clear print and ensure at least 14 pt text is used.

Important text
Using a larger or heavier font, bullets or boxes can highlight the most important parts. Colour coding can be used (ensuring that there is a strong contrast between colours) and text should be well designed, making it clear which part should be read next.

Highlight important text by
  • making it larger or heavier
  • using bullet points
  • placing it in a box
  • using a different colour

Pictures and symbols
Using images (drawings, photos and symbols) is important to support and/or to prompt text. Specific symbol libraries have been constructed but are not in universal use. Abstract symbols should only be used if the intended readers are familiar with them. This includes logos and other ‘arts images’.

CHANGE, an organisation run by disabled people, has produced a picture bank book and cd-rom which can be used to enhance text

You can download a copy of CHANGE's fantastic guide to making information accessible from

Word Bank also aims to improve website accessibility and assist comprehension for learning disabled people through animated pop-up's explaining key words on web sites. A similar techique can be used in print – just define jargon or complex words in boxes near to the text in which they appear.

Information for Deaf people

Material can be produced on video tape in sign language, using images from standard print to convey information. Producing sign language videos is hard to do ‘in-house’, as it requires skills in both video making and sign language interpretation. It is possibly most useful to produce ‘an introduction to...’ in BSL on video, with general information and access details. Unless there is material specifically targeted at the deaf community, this is a more practical approach than translating all materials, which will easily date.

Any standard video marketing tool should also use subtitles to make it accessible to deaf and hearing-impaired viewers. This should be considered from the design stage for the product. Ideally footage should insure a clear area at the bottom of the screen where subtitles can be inserted. YouTube now have a programme to enable people to load up transcripts as subtitles for their work.

There are a number of organisations which provide a captioning and/or a signing service for web content, video and dvd such as Remark,

Generally the use of clear print and jargon-free English will do much to ensure that standard materials are accessible to a wide range of deaf people.