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Alternative Formats

Photograph of a boy reading a bookThere is a vast amount of information that surrounds people every day. For example, bus timetables; meeting agendas; restaurant menus; bank statements. All crucial information that impacts on the decisions about how life is lived.

The RNIB (2007) states that there are two million people in the UK with a sight problem, and many others with other types of disability for whom inaccessible information is an everyday occurence. Rather than offering information in print only, it is good practice to offer alternative formats, which could include large print, braille, audio, including DAISY format, or electronic formats, including email and electronic attachments such as PDF files.

Why provide information in alternative formats?

Reasons as to why information should be produced in alternative formats include:


Types of alternative formats

There are a number of ways in which people can access information and communicate:


Photograph of a magnifier on a page of textPrint is considered the normal method for displaying information. Many people with vision impairments or other disabilities can read print as long as it is designed with accessibility in mind. Some may also use magnification or certain lighting to improve readability.

It is important to make sure that print is clear. This means bringing together basic design elements such as font style, type size and weight, contrast and page navigation. Documents that use clear print will find a wider audience because they are easier to read.



The word "typeface" refers to the appearance of a "family" of characters used for printing text. In addition to the upper and lower case version of each letter, it includes numbers, punctuation marks and symbols.

There are two broad categories of typeface: serif typefaces, which have little "feet" (serifs) at the ends of the letters and sans serif, which do not.

An example of Times New Roman, Arial, Verdana and Tiresias LPfont

Type size

Recent research (Rubin et al, 2006) looked at the impact of type size on the ability of people with a sight problem, who are able to read print, to read fluently. The research indicated that a person's reading speed increases as the size of the text increased.

Type weight

Typefaces are usually available in light, normal (roman), semi-bold (medium) or bold weights.

Type style

Most people read by remembering word shapes. The eye recognises these shapes rather than individual letters. Text set in italics or capitals is harder for partially sighted people to read since it is difficult to recognise word shapes if the letters are all the same height or set at an angle.




The contrast between the text and the background on which it is printed is extremely important. Contrast is affected by several factors, including paper colour, printing inks, the opacity of the paper and the size and weight of the type.


Images or pictures


There are two important factors to bear in mind when choosing a paper: how much light the paper reflects and whether or not the text from one side of a page shows through to the other.

Large print

Larger print is essential for many blind and partially sighted people. No single size is suitable for everyone. Large print is usually in the range of 16 to 22 point. Giant print uses fonts that are 24 point plus.

An example of Tiresias LP font



Photograph of fingers tracing over BrailleBraille is a system of raised dots made up of different combinations of six dots, arranged in two columns of three. The 63 possible combinations correspond to letters of the alphabet, punctuation and letter groups or words.


Audio and DAISY

Photograph of a CD and an audio cassetteAudio information has the benefit of being usable by anyone who owns a cassette or CD player. A drawback of audio cassettes is that they offer limited navigability, especially when reading longer documents. The track facility on audio CDs makes navigating around large documents much easier but has the limitation that users can only navigate to the beginning of a track, rather than a specific point within it.

A format which improves navigation on CD is the structured digital audio format called DAISY. DAISY CDs can be played on a stand-alone DAISY player or by using a software player on a computer. DAISY has the added features that enable the user to navigate through the structure of the recording, and when using a computer can view synchronized text and see any pictures on screen. Screen colours, fonts and font sizes can be adjusted to suit the reader's preferences.


Electronic formats

Photograph of a lap top computerMany blind and partially sighted people, have access to computer equipment that makes written information accessible. More and more information is now sent via emails and is available as attachments to emails or as downloads from websites.


Electronic documents



Checklist for alternative formats


Further information



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