Writing for people who are visually impaired

Communication and Health Literacy

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Main points

  1. When writing for people with special communication needs, it may not be appropriate to stick fully to your organisation's style guide. For example, you may need to use a larger font size. Seek an exemption through your communications manager.
  2. Make information easy to see, with a simple design and sharp contrast between text and background.
  3. Consider using braille (or 'moon') and audio-recorded information.

People with very low vision or who are blind

  • If you are preparing information for people with very low vision or who are blind, consider using braille, 'moon' (an alternative to braille) or audio-recorded information. To get your document translated into braille or moon, contact the Tasmanian Braille Writers Association for a quote. Email braille@southcom.com.au
  • Many people with low vision use screen readers, a software application that interprets what is displayed on a screen (computer or mobile device) and re-presents it to the user through speech, sound icons or a Braille device. Be aware of this when preparing documents as you will need to include 'alternative text' with images in your document.1

People with partial vision – when glasses aren't quite enough

Font and format

  • Use a font size of 14 to 16 points. The larger the font, the easier it is for visually impaired people to read. Use a simple font type (Gil Sans MT if you are writing for DHHS) in regular or bold style. Consider having a magnifier available as well.
  • Use black text on white or yellow/cream paper, so the contrast between the text and paper colour is strong.
  • Avoid vertical text and text effects that can make text harder to be read.
  • Use left alignment. This is easier to read because the space between words is more regular than with justified text.
  • Use at least 15 point spacing between lines of text in a paragraph, and at least 7 point spacing after each paragraph.
  • If you use columns, have a big gap between each column. Some screen readers will read across columns rather than down each column.

Numbers

  • People with a visual impairment often have difficulty distinguishing between 3 and 5, 8 and 0, and 7 and 1. Confirm the number in words where practical.
  • Decimal points can be hard to see. Try to use whole numbers in place of numbers with decimal points.

Images

  • Provide text next to the image rather than directly over it or wrapped around it. Text wrapped around an image is difficult to read.
  • For every document, provide Alternative Text (Alt Text) with all images. When there is alternative text with pictures, a screen reader will read out the alternative text instead of saying 'picture'.1 Graphs and tables rely on visual effects to present information. Screen readers pick up the text and read row by row to the user. Always provide a written summary of your table or graph, which will also be read by screen readers.

Forms

  • When designing forms for people with poor vision, provide bigger spaces for people to write in. People with poor vision often have bigger writing than average.

Printing

  • Use matt paper that weighs at least 100gsm, printed on one side only. Glossy finish creates a glare that makes it hard for people with poor vision to read the text. Thin paper that allows text/images to be visible on the reverse side can be confusing.

1. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), 2008, viewed 21 July 2014, www.w3.org/WAI/intro/wcag.php

January 2019