Accessible communication is an umbrella term to describe communication that is clear, direct, easy to understand and that can be made available in multiple formats so that all users have equal access. It takes into consideration the various barriers to accessing information, and removes these or provides alternative formats for the communication to take place. Communication happens in a variety of ways, including in person, through printed materials, and via online spaces such as websites and social media.
Accessible communication ensures everyone has the same access and opportunity to read publications, use websites, and attend events. To do this well, you need to be aware of the diverse range of needs users have and how to plan your communications with accessibility in mind.
An accessible format is one which can be read by 'assistive' or 'enabling' technologies (screen reader programs, screen magnification programs and voice input programs). It is searchable, selectable and screen readable, and provides flexibility over how the text is read (e.g. the formatting can be changed by the user to enable easier reading, or the text can be converted into electronic Braille, or text-to-speech software used). Word documents, accessible PDFs and HTML files can have this functionality. To learn how to get the most out of accessibility in Word and to create accessible PDFs, read the available guidance.
An alternative format is where the original format used for communication is inaccessible to a user, so a different format is created instead which they can access. Examples of alternative formats are:
- large print (16 pt+);
- a document printed on coloured paper;
- a paper copy of an electronic resource or vice versa;
- an electronic resource in an alternative format eg: Word document instead of a PDF;
- audio recording, e.g. DAISY format;
- tactile graphics.
Alternative formats may be needed by:
- people with visual impairments;
- those with dyslexia, dyspraxia or other neurodiverse conditions;
- those who cannot hold publications or turn pages because of a physical disability;
- people who have difficulties watching or hearing video presentations.
Those who find it difficult or impossible to read conventionally printed materials are described as having a print disability. By following accessibility guidelines in the creation of electronic and physical documents, the need for alternative formats is reduced and direct access to materials enabled (e.g. if a handout for a lecture is provided in advance in electronic format a visually impaired student can access it themselves by using text-to-speech software).