AbilityNet Factsheet - May 2022

What is Easy Read?

1.5 million people in the UK have learning disabilities. Easy Read is a method of making information easier to understand for this group.

Last updated: May 2022

 

 

1. What is Easy Read?

Easy Read is a way of making written information easier to understand.

Easy Read documents usually combine short, jargon-free sentences with simple, clear images to help explain the content. It is increasingly used to help the 1.5 million people who have a learning disability in the UK.

However, Easy Read can also be useful for people who speak English as a second language; people who find it hard to read and write; people who have memory problems; or people who are in a hurry or are stressed.

Easy Read is often confused with Plain Language. While both have the same objective – ensuring information is easier for people to understand – Easy Read text is generally far less complex than Plain Language text, and usually includes simple images. It is often helpful to consider these different styles of writing on a spectrum, with Easy Read at one end, Plain Language in the middle, and standard text at the other.

2. Why use Easy Read?

The right to accessible information is established in law with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and the Equality Act 2010, protecting disabled people from discrimination.

If information is not available in an easy-to-understand format, some people may struggle to make key decisions about important areas of their life. For example, in their work or when managing their health or leisure time.

Work life

Unnecessarily complicated application forms, inaccessible and jargon-filled job descriptions, and overly detailed information can all present barriers to people who struggle to read. With only 17% of adults with a learning disability in England in paid work, removing unnecessary barriers caused by inaccessible information is clearly an important societal issue.

Education

Providing information in an Easier to Read format is one of the many ways that schools and colleges can make education more accessible for people with learning disabilities, as well as others who may find reading difficult. Marc, a student with learning disabilities at a Further Education college, describes how his tutors adopt an accessible approach to their teaching materials. “My tutors are really helpful and give me course materials in Easy Read,” he says. “When they put things in bold and in bullets points, I know those are the important bits. I really like that. It’s really helpful.”

Health

People with learning disabilities in the UK can face significant and avoidable health inequalities. The Accessible Information Standard (2015) requires all NHS and Adult Social Care services to provide information in an accessible format, such as Braille, Easy Read, Large Print or Audio. Although this legislation has significantly improved the availability of accessible health information, many patients still do not receive information in a format they can understand.

Leisure

People with learning disabilities take part in fewer social activities, have fewer social networks, do less exercise, and are less engaged with the arts sector than people without learning disabilities. Although there are many barriers to these leisure activities, accessible information is a key issue. Producing accessible information about leisure venues, clubs and transport make it easier for people with learning disabilities to take part.

3. Making your information available in Easy Read

At present there is no legal standard for Easy Read producers or translators. However, many Easy Read users, translators, and academics agree that the following points are important considerations when thinking about producing accessible information.

Making your information accessible in Easy Read will help a lot of people, but it won’t help everyone. Some of your readers may still need support to understand the document, such as video, audio, or help from support workers. Nevertheless, the following topics provide a good starting point.

Think about your document before you start

Always plan your accessible translations at the beginning of any project. Do not leave them as an afterthought. Accessible versions often take some time to prepare, and it is not uncommon for people who need accessible formats to wait a significant length of time.

Think about why you want to make the document into Easy Read and how the reader might use it. Who is your intended audience? What are their needs?

Is your document actually important? It might seem like a surprising question, but reading can be extremely challenging for some individuals. Is your document important enough to use up the little time someone may have with a support worker, for example?

If you cannot afford to get all of your documents translated – and do not have the time to do it yourself – try to prioritise document(s) that are the most useful.

Read your document and decide on the important messages and facts. What core information do you want your reader to know? Leave out anything that does not add to the main message of the text or is not needed.

Think about any knowledge that has been assumed. Is there anything missing that the reader might need to know to make sense of the document?

Organising ideas

Set aside some time to think about how you will structure your Easy Read document before you attempt to write or translate anything. Otherwise, you might be tempted to do a line-by-line literal translation. This is not needed and will likely result in a long, unnecessarily complicated document that is not very easy to understand.

Create a new front page. Make sure the cover clearly states what the document is about, who it is from and that it is the Easy Read version.

Check the order. You do not need to follow the order of the original document. If it makes more sense to re-order it, do so.

Be chronological. Make sure your document is easy to follow, putting any events, instructions, or processes in the order they happen.

Use headings. Create some easy-to-understand section headings and sub-headings to break up the text.

Think about people’s expectations. For example, readers will probably expect to find your contact details or sources of help at the back. However, do not refer to other documents that readers might not have access to.

Consider adding a contents page. A contents page is not always necessary but can be helpful – particularly for longer documents. Some people find reading very challenging and a contents page can help them to navigate your document more easily.

Words

Easy Read guidelines often instruct the use of ‘simple’ language. But what does this mean? What is ‘simple’ for one person can be complex for another. Nevertheless, there are some basic guidelines to consider:

Avoid jargon. Jargon means words that are used in specific circumstances or situations.

Avoid ‘hard’ words. These are words that are not used very often. Omit these where you can, remembering that ‘hard’ means different things to different people in different settings.

Explain jargon and hard words. If you think it is important to include jargon or a hard word, bold the word and provide a brief and clear explanation about what it means. For example, “Assisted Living Technology” or “working week”. It is helpful to explain what a difficult word or jargon means immediately after you have used it. However, you can also put jargon and hard words in a glossary at the end of the document.

Avoid metaphors, idioms, and other vague words. These can be easily misunderstood. Instead, use everyday examples to explain a point.

Be careful with acronyms. Spell out acronyms every time they are used unless they are very familiar – for example, BBC or NHS.

Be consistent in your choice of words. Use the same word or phrase throughout the document. For example, if you use ‘HR department’, do not change to ‘Recruitment Team’ later. 

Check your use of pronouns. A pronoun is a word that replaces a noun. For example, ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’, ‘that’, ‘those’, ‘which’, ‘hers’. It is obvious who ‘he’ or ‘she’ is?

Put numbers in figures, not words. For example, ‘1’, not ‘one’.

Avoid percentages and big numbers. Where possible, use words like ‘most’, ‘few’ and ‘a lot’. You can also use ‘half’, ‘quarter’, ‘three quarters’.

Finally, write for the correct age group of your audience. Do not patronise people by using childish language.

Sentences

The primary aim of the Easy Read process is to make information easier to read. It is therefore not essential to stick to grammar rules if it will make the text more difficult for some people to understand.

Use simple tenses. Simple texts such as the present tense (‘We make dinner at home’), present continuous (‘We are making dinner at home’), simple past tense (‘We made dinner at home’) can be easier to understand.

Use active (and avoid passive) language. This means including who is doing the action in the sentence. For example, instead of ‘A mix of people are needed’, you could say, ‘We need a mix of people’.

Address the reader. Speak directly to the reader and relate the information to them. For example, ‘You need to speak to the receptionist to make an appointment’. Not, ‘Patients are required to visit reception to book an appointment’.

Avoid contractions. For example, write ‘do not’, instead of ‘don’t’. Negative contractions are difficult for some people to understand.

Use punctuation sparingly. Avoid using colons, semi-colons or slashes. Full stops and commas are OK.

Use short sentences. Complex and long sentences can be harder to process.

Design

It is good practice to design the look of your Easy Read translation to match the original, but only if you can do so without compromising accessibility. Other design considerations include:

Think carefully about your font. Use a large font size, ideally 16 or bigger and choose a Sans Serif (plainer) font, for example, Arial, Century Gothic or Calibri. Remember to apply this to page numbers too.

Colours: use dark text on a light background. Choose the page colour carefully. Some people find a plain, pastel-coloured background makes the text easier to read. For example, light yellow or light pink. If you can, find out from your reader what they prefer.

When emphasising words, use bold, not italics or underlining as these can make words more difficult for some people to read. But try not to use bold too much.

Avoid capitals (unless it’s a name) as they can be more difficult to read because words in all capitals can appear uniform (people tend to read by recognising the shapes of words).

Websites and email addresses go on a separate line. Do not include within the body of the text.

Use bullets for lists, not commas. Use large solid bullets, nothing fancy.

Keep the document short, ideally no more than 16 pages, preferably 8. You can split larger documents into separate ones if needed.

Think about paper quality. Try to use a thick, good quality paper. Thin paper can allow text and images to show through the page and make the content difficult to read.

Stapled or bound. Make sure your document is stapled or bound together, as loose pages can easily get out of order.

Images

Simple images can be widely understood by most sighted people, regardless of the language someone speaks or whether they can read or write.

The pictures in Easy Read documents can help with understanding the text (particularly for people who cannot read at all), memory and concentration, and can help a discussion if the document is being used with someone else, such as a support worker.

Images help orient the reader to what the text is about before they start reading. Images can also make the text less intimidating or overwhelming.

Images can be particularly useful to highlight something that people need to recognise – for example, a specific building such as a hospital or a professional person like a doctor).

It is important to choose images carefully, as it is easy to use inappropriate or confusing images. Finally, do not underestimate how long it takes to choose or find suitable images!

When adding images to your Easy Read text, think about the following:

Choose simple, clear images. ‘Busy’ photos with complex scenes or confusing content can be less helpful than no image at all.

Use one photo for each sentence or (short) paragraph. Make it clear which image goes with which block of text. It can be confusing for readers if they do not align.

Put images on the left and text on the right. This is generally the preferred format. However, if someone asks for a different layout, make sure it is obvious which section of text goes with each image.

Make images big. Ensure there is a good amount of white space around the and do not put text over images.

Be creative. Photos, hand drawings and graphics can all be used in Easy Read documents. You can add speech bubbles, arrows, thought bubbles, ticks and crosses to add emphasis. Combining images can also be effective but make sure you do not make it too confusing or ‘busy’.

Make use of image banks. There are numerous online image banks – some are free (pexels.com and unsplash.com) and some are subscription services. Photosymbols is a subscription image bank that specialises in offering diverse images and templates for producing accessible documents. If you have found an online image, make sure you have the right to use it (do not infringe copyright). MS Word also has a good range of royalty-free icons.

Using colour. Do not rely on colour to communicate ideas alone, as readers may be colourblind or the colour may mean something different to them – for example, red can mean luck, as well as danger.

Consistency is important. Make sure you do not use the same picture in a document to mean something else later on.

Digital documents. If you are making a digital Easy Read document, remember to add alternative text on your images and make sure these are in Easy Read. If you use hyperlinks, do not just write ‘click here’. Always describe what the link goes to, as screen reader users scan through document for links.

Checking with your intended audience

It is important to get an Easy Read document checked by people with learning disabilities to make sure it is easy to understand.

Where possible, ask people you know will use your documents to check them for you. Alternatively, you can employ a professional checking group. (If you use a checking group, ask if people with learning disabilities are paid a fair and living wage for their work.)

Think about how you are going to involve people with learning disabilities from the outset, as it can take time to check and comment on documents. Remember: do not expect people to check your document for free – it can be challenging and tiring work.

4. What do Easy Read users say about Easy Read?

“Easy Read makes me feel part of the team. I understand what is going on at work. I also like it when people use simple words and no jargon”.  Sam, Easy Read user.

“When I see the Easy Read logo, it makes me feel happy”. Karen, Easy Read user.

“I like using Easy Read, but I don’t ask for it. I wait for them to give it to me”. Tom, Easy Read user.

“I like to have the agenda and minutes for meetings in Easy Read. It helps me understand because I have dyslexia and find reading difficult”.

Easy Read is useful to make information accessible, but it is not a panacea or an exact science. It also does not replace good, face-to-face communication skills. Not every person with a learning disability can read Easy Read. People might need someone to go through the information with them, perhaps a family member, carer, or support worker. People may also need a different accessible format – for example in audio or video format.

Finally, when you ‘translate’ text into Easy Read, you inevitably put your views and ideas into the document. Your decisions over what words to use, what to leave out, or what to focus on as the main point will inevitably change the document. Take a moment to consider what is being communicated as ‘right / wrong’ and ‘valuable / unvaluable’. Are your images representative and diverse? Are you perpetuating stereotypes? Like all documents, Easy Read translations can be powerful in creating and maintaining ideas about our social worlds.

5. Converting to PDF

If you are creating an online Easy Read document, it is important to make sure it is accessible for screen readers. For further advice, see our Creating Accessible Documents factsheet.

6. Useful resources

UK Association for Accessible Formats (UKAAF)

Industry association that promotes best practice for accessible documents in the UK.

https://www.ukaaf.org/

Photosymbols

Accessible image bank. (Subscription.)

https://www.photosymbols.com/

Easy Health       

Free Easy Read health resources.

https://www.easyhealth.org.uk/

8. How AbilityNet can help you

Advice and information

If you have any questions, please contact us at AbilityNet and we will do all we can to help.

Telephone: 0800 048 7642

Email: enquiries@abilitynet.org.uk

Easy Read translation

Do you want to provide your information in Easy Read but don’t have the time? Contact AbilityNet’s trusted partner, Go Easy Read www.goeasyread.co.uk or one of the following Easy Read translation companies:

Pigeon Productions
Easy Read and accessible films.
https://www.openstorytellers.org.uk/pigeon-productions-creative-media

Easy Read Online

Easy Read translation.

https://www.easy-read-online.co.uk/

Change People

Easy Read and accessible films.

https://www.changepeople.org/

Easy Read training

Are you interested in learning more about Easy Read, learning the skills and getting feedback on your documents? Contact us for a bespoke training package.

7. How AbilityNet can help you

My Computer My Way

My Computer My Way is an AbilityNet run website packed with articles explaining how to use the accessibility features built into your computer, tablet or smartphone. The site is routinely updated as new features and changes are made to the Windows, MacOS, iOS, Chrome OS and Android operating systems. The site is broken down into the following sections:

  • Vision – computer adjustments to do with vision and colour
  • Hearing – computer adjustments to do with hearing, communication and speech
  • Motor – computer adjustments to do mobility, stamina and dexterity
  • Cognitive – computer adjustments to do with attention, learning and memory

Use it for free at mcmw.abilitynet.org.uk

Advice and information

If you have any questions please contact us at AbilityNet and we will do all we can to help.

IT support at Home

If you’re looking for in-person support, you can book a free visit from one of our disclosure-checked volunteers. Many of our volunteers are former IT professionals who give their time to help older people and people with disabilities to use technology to achieve their goals. Our friendly volunteers can help with most major computer systems, laptops, tablet devices and smartphones.

https://abilitynet.org.uk/at-home

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