Access all areas: writing health information for people with disabilities

By on October 4th, 2010 in Health, Specialist writing
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One person in five has a disability. Over half of those people have more than one disability.

These figures are familiar — but did you think about the able-bodied reader who left their reading glasses at home?

A conversation with Robyn Hunt and Mike Osborne at AccEase has got us thinking about what’s involved in making information accessible, and who needs it.

AccEase works with clients who communicate with disabled customers. Their watchword is ‘All of the information to all of the people, all of the time’.

When they talk about people with disabilities, their list is longer than you may first consider. What about people who cannot hold a page or a pen because of shakes or fine motor problems? Or who have a cognitive disability caused by their medication? People often assume that blind people read Braille — but the Braille-reading population in New Zealand numbers only a few hundred.

Then there are other barriers to accessing information. Less than half of New Zealanders have their own internet connection, and those that do may be using old or non-standard equipment. Around 40% of working-age New Zealanders have difficulty reading.

Mention ‘accessibility’ and people think ‘websites’ — but accessibility is an issue for paper-based documents, and any other way information is presented. Did you know that glossy paper can create glare for a reader who has low vision? Or that grey text on white is as difficult to read on paper as it is on screen?

Accessibility is a feature of plain English. The reader may access your words on a website, in a form, or read aloud by a human or a machine. You want the reader to read the words once, understand them, and act on them.

Robyn describes disabled people as ‘the canary in the coalmine’ for accessibility. If the words and their format don’t work for disabled people, the rest of the population may struggle too.

Visit the AccEase website
Visit Robyn Hunt’s blog

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