Centre of Excellence for Sensory Impairment Accessibility Policy

1. Website

The COESI website will endeavour to keep up to date with accessible website technology and to improve website capability on an ongoing basis.


Access options page

The website will have access options to enable the user to easily change the site to meet their needs by:

  • changing the text size
  • changing the website's colour scheme
  • using access keys to navigate the site

Alternative text

Images and diagrams can make it easier to understand the narrative and context of the subject matter.

Images on the website will have alternative text attributes (alt text), so that when an image is used on a web page to convey information its content is also described in the alt text.

This means that the image will be understood by text browsers and assistive technologies such as screen readers. If an image is used for simply decorative purposes, the text attribute for the image will be left empty in line with accepted best practice.

Readable and re-sizable fonts and layout

The website will use font sizes that the user can control using their web browser.
Users will be able to change the text size by 'Increase' or 'Decrease' to obtain a font size that meets their needs, with a default setting of 'Normal'.
The website's fonts will be chosen for their legibility on computer screens.
All information on the screen will be re-sizable.

Making content more accessible

As it develops, the website will use video and audio clips, including British Sign Language, and have a section of easy-to-read pages for key information.

The website aims to meet the Priority A, AA, and selected AAA guidelines of the W3C Web content Accessibility Guidelines.  The website will be tested on a regular basis using a combination of automated tools to identify potential problem areas and manual testing to ensure it meets the spirit as well as the letter of the W3C's accessibility guidelines.

There will be an email facility that allows users to feedback on any difficulties they may have in accessing the website, or any trouble they experience using any aspect of the website.


Accessibility advice for Apple Mac users

The Apple Mac operating system includes many accessibility options including resizing text, text-to-speech and keyboard alternatives to mouse functions.

For full details visit the Apple website's section on accessibility.


The site will be user-tested by people with a range of different levels of ability to ensure that it is accessible and easy-to-use.

Print page options

There will be a print page facility provided at the bottom of every page of the website.  The size of the print text will reflect the text option the user has selected within the website.  For example, if they have large print selected on the website, the print page facility will print in large print.

Skip navigation options

There will be a facility to skip navigation using the K key to enable non visual browsers to skip navigation, working on three levels - level one to skip global navigation, level two to skip to content, level three to skip section navigation.

PDF and Word documents

Downloadable documents will be available in both PDF and in large print Word versions without images.

2. Alternative communication formats


Not everyone can use written text, even in the largest font size. This may be because of the nature of a visual impairment, or it may be because English is not someone's first language, or the person uses British Sign Language.  People with Dyslexia also have difficulty with written text.

Communicators need to make effective use of non-text communication formats. Organisations have responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act to provide reasonable alternatives to text for people.

Development of a strategy

All organisations should have a strategy for producing information in non-text formats. It should outline:

  • how you will anticipate the needs
  • what minimum standards are in place
  • who is responsible
  • what type(s) of information will be given priority
  • how you will enforce and monitor the strategy

Make sure that you have quick access to a range of suppliers who can produce good quality materials in alternative formats.

Keep it simple
– if the initial document is written in plain English, is as concise as possible and is laid out well and with a minimum of 12 point font size, it will be accessible to a greater number of people and may reduce demand for alternative versions.

There are a wide range of text and non-text formats: see our section on Format Information Format Information for more about the following:

  • British Sign Language
  • Subtitling
  • Braille
  • Moon
  • Makaton
  • audio
  • audio description
  • DVD and CD-ROM
  • telephone
  • textphone

3. Format information


British Sign Language

British Sign Language (BSL) is the gestural language of the UK's deaf community. It is a separate language that is unrelated to English (or any of the UK's spoken languages).

  • BSL is used across the UK, although there are considerable differences in regional dialects. The BSL used in Belfast, for example, is very different from that used in the Channel Islands.
  • In March 2003, BSL was officially recognised by the government as being a fully independent language. This recognition has been important for the status that it has given BSL and its deaf users. It also means that money is now being invested in training more deaf BSL tutors and BSL-English interpreters.

Who uses BSL?

  • Estimates of the number of deaf signers who use BSL as their first language range from 50,000 to 70,000. (circa 2009)
  • Many hearing people also know some BSL because they have family members, friends or colleagues who are deaf, and recent figures from the British Deaf Association suggest that on any day up to 250,000 people use some BSL.

Ofcom provides guidelines on signing, including technical specifications.


Subtitling is text on screen representing speech and sound effects that may not be audible to people with hearing impairments, synchronised as closely as possible to the sound.

For deaf people and those with hearing impairments, subtitles are likely to be the most important source of information that others receive aurally.

  Who uses Subtitling?

  • People using subtitling range from those who have been profoundly deaf since birth to those who have become hard of hearing in later life.
  • Many people with good hearing also use subtitles so that they can watch television with the sound muted (e.g. so that they can simultaneously talk on the telephone), or learn English.
  • Viewers with a mild to moderate hearing loss are likely to rely on subtitles to aid their hearing rather than as a substitute.
  • All of the groups mentioned above are likely, to a greater or lesser extent, to lipread to a degree. Subtitle users reflect the full range of proficiency in English; some profoundly deaf people regard BSL as their first language and are less fluent in written English.

Ofcom  provides guidelines on subtitling, including technical specifications.


Braille is a system using units of 6 raised dots that people read with their fingers.

There are around 20,000 people in the United Kingdom who say that Braille is their preferred reading medium. Many more use Braille for labelling.

Who uses Braille?

Braille is the preferred medium of around 13,000 blind and partially sighted people and is accessible to over 20 per cent of working age people who are registered blind.

Braille readers are often influential and active members of the blind community, passing on information to other blind people.

Grade 2 Braille - where common words and letter sequences are abbreviated - is the form used by experienced readers. 

Before getting documents translated and printed in Braille, however, you should consider the likelyhood of needing it as it is very expensive to produce. As an alternative, audio versions may be acceptable, although wherever possible Braille information should be provided to those who specifically request it.

Follow Braille conventions on headings, contents lists, indents and page numbering, and get expert advice on converting tables and diagrams.
For small-scale items, like letters, it is possible to use automatic translation.

If you produce Braille regularly, it can be useful to spot-check the quality of translation by paying a Braille proof reader. Contact RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) for details.


Moon is a system of reading and writing in which tactile symbols based on lines and curves are used to represent letters, numbers and punctuation marks.

  • Moon is easier to learn than Braille, as the letters are easier to distinguish by touch. However, Moon cannot be written by hand, is even bulkier than Braille and there is very little literature available.

Who uses it?

Moon is used by a very small number of people, most of whom are elderly.

It is unlikely that you will receive requests for Moon and you do not need to produce materials in Moon as a matter of course. If you do receive a request for Moon, it may be worth asking whether another format, such as audiotape, would be a useable alternative. If Moon is required, contact the RNIB


Makaton uses gestures drawn from British Sign Language, words and pictures to explain what is wanted. Makaton is an internationally recognised communication programme, used in more than 40 countries worldwide.

  • Makaton symbols support the written word, in the same way that signs support speech.

Who uses Makaton?

Makaton was developed for those who struggle to understand the spoken word, such as those with profound learning disabilities. Most Makaton users are children and adults who need it as their main means of communication.

Others include their families, carers, friends and professionals, such as teachers, speech and language therapists, social workers, playgroup staff, college lecturers, instructors, nurses, and psychiatrists.

The Makaton® dictionary has a reduced vocabulary.


Audio includes Radio, audiotape, audio CD-ROM and online formats.

Audio files are generally available on CD-ROM or as MP3 files and are easy and quick to produce. There are also ‘talking newspapers’ and audio magazines, including those produced by the Royal National Institute of Blind People, which can be a good channel for targeting visually impaired members of your target audience.

Who uses Audio?

People with visual impairments, people with literacy problems and members of mainstream audiences, who prefer to listen to information.

Information needs to be arranged in a logical order.

Avoid background noise and music. Use voices that are appropriate to the subject matter and audience. Give people time to understand calls to action.

Use Open-i to deliver information in visual or audio format.

  Audio description

Audio description is an additional commentary that describes on-screen or on-stage action, body language and facial expressions. It is available on:

  • television
  • video and DVD
  • cinemas
  • museums and galleries
  • theatres
  • sports venues

Who uses Audio Description?

Audio description is for people with visual impairments.
provides guidelines on audio-description, including technical specifications.


Crucial information is provided by telephone, and with developing mobile phone technology people are able to access information quickly at anytime, anywhere.
Who uses the telephone?

Many disabled people, especially older people, will not have access to the internet or may have difficulties using it. The telephone can be a very important method of communication.

The practice of using website FAQs to answer common questions and hiding the telephone number for contacting a service is not acceptable.

Information provided only in digital format will exclude some customers. Telephone operators should have training in communicating with disabled people.


Some organisations have textphones or use Text Relay, a free national service using operators to connect someone with a textphone to someone using a phone

The textphone user contacts the operator and the operator rings the hearing person and relays messages to and from them, by typing or talking.

Who uses Textphones?

  • Textphones are used by those with hearing impairments.
  • Some deafblind people (with both sight and hearing loss) have enough hearing to use the telephone, if background noise is kept to a minimum and the caller speaks clearly and at a pace which suits the individual. Some deafblind people have enough sight to use a textphone.