‘Access to information’ – what does it mean?

Language is very important because it helps people to take control of their lives. Having a learning disability can affect every part of a person’s life. It can prevent people from getting the information they need to make choices.

‘Accessible information’ is information that people can understand. It means different things to different people. For some people it is information in large print or Braille, yet for others it might be information translated into their first language.

By law, disabled pupils, parents and cares have the right to be treated equally and to have information made accessible to them. There are three important areas for schools to address to ensure compliancy with the Equality Act 2010 –  ‘Access to the building’, ‘access to the curriculum’ and ‘access to written information’.

Information should take account of pupils’ disabilities and pupils’ and parents’ preferred formats and be made available within a reasonable time frame. Examples might include handouts, textbooks and information about school events. The basic requirement is to let the pupils and parents/carers know that you will make written information and other forms of communication accessible, upon request. You could include a note on your website or promotional materials, create a sign or post a notice on a bulletin board. If a parent/carer with a disability asks for accessible information, work with them to figure out how to meet their needs. You don’t have to have accessible formats on hand, but you need to provide the information in a timely manner.

Example — A visually impaired pupil who can see material only in 16pt font or larger will be at a substantial disadvantage compared to non-disabled pupils if materials are provided in smaller print. A visually impaired child requires printed handouts to be prepared in 16 pt font or larger. This can easily be accommodated by ensuring that fonts are reset to this size prior to any documentation being printed.

Example — A disabled pupil with dyslexia finds it very difficult to read text typed on white paper. The school provides handouts on yellow paper for her. This would be a reasonable adjustment for this pupil. Another disabled pupil with dyslexia finds it difficult to read text on any colour of paper without a plastic overlay sheet. The school provides the pupil with a plastic overlay sheet to use in all lessons. This would be a reasonable adjustment for this pupil.

Example — An independent school provides a dyslexic disabled pupil with overlay sheets to assist him in reading text, along with weekly sessions with a specialist teacher. The school adds the cost of these adjustments to the pupil’s school fees. This would be discrimination.

Schools may have to provide a disabled pupil, parent or carer with: A piece of equipment, assistance from a sign language interpreter, lip-speaker or deaf-blind communicator, extra staff assistance, an electronic or manual notetaking service, induction loop or infrared broadcast system, videophones, audio-visual fire alarms, readers for people with visual impairments, assistance with guiding, an adapted keyboard or specialised computer software.

Accessibility is more important than the way your document looks. You might spend a lot of money on making a document look impressive and professional but if no one can understand what it says, then that money is wasted. Always put accessibility first but take time and care when making your information accessible.