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What are Accessible Formats?

The Information and Communications Standards under the AODA states that organizations must create, provide, and receive information in accessible formats. This requirement may leave people asking: what are accessible formats?

Accessible formats, sometimes called alternate formats, are ways of presenting printed, written, or visual material so that people who do not read print can access it. People who do not read print may:

  • Be blind or visually impaired
  • Have a learning disability that affects reading
  • Have a physical disability and be unable to hold or turn pages

Here we briefly describe what some common accessible formats are. We also discuss the many things to read that are not yet available in these formats.

Types of Accessible Formats

Braille

Braille is a way of writing the alphabet using a system of raised dots that readers feel with their fingers. Many books and magazines are translated into Braille and are available to buy or borrow. Books for young children often include both print and Braille, so that parents or children who are blind can read with their families. Some businesses offer information in Braille, such as:

  • Bank statements
  • Bills
  • Forms
  • Menus
  • Event programs

Buildings may install Braille signs for elevator buttons, washrooms, and room numbers.

Braille displays connect to computers or phones and display the screen’s contents in Braille. People can also print files in Braille using a Braille printer or embosser. They can write in Braille using several devices, from a computer to a slate and stylus, which is portable like a pencil and paper.

Large Print

People who are visually impaired often read print that is 18-point font or larger with good colour contrast. Large-print copies of books, signs, and other media are sometimes available. People may read standard-sized print by using a magnification device, although print may still not be large enough, there may not be enough colour contrast, or people may only see a few letters at a time. People may read from large monitors, use mobile devices with screen magnification software, or select the option on certain websites to enlarge text and images.

Computer Files and Accessible Web Content

People can read digital text files and accessible web content using screen readers, software programs that read aloud most text on the screen of a computer or mobile device. Screen reader users can read information in Microsoft Word or HTML files, emails, text messages, and text on websites that comply with WCAG 2.0 guidelines. Organizations should ensure that screen reader users can access online or emailed versions of print information, such as:

  • Bank statements
  • Bills and receipts
  • Forms
  • Brochures, menus, and event programs

Mobile devices also make other information available. Travellers can use GPS apps on their mobile devices to learn street or building names. Apps allow people to take pictures of writing, such as product labels or mail, which their phones can translate into text and read aloud. However, this technology is not always reliable because pictures may not turn out well or the software may not translate them accurately.

Audio

Today, audio consists of digital files. Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) files allow readers to navigate to specific sections or pages as they could if holding a printed document. mp3 files allow readers to move through them but they have less control over which parts they read.

Some audiobooks are available commercially, while others are produced by organizations, such as the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA). CELA creates accessible books, newspapers, and magazines for non-print-readers. Many commercial audiobooks are abridged or shortened to reduce cost. However, more readers are downloading books rather than buying CD copies. So,  more unabridged books have become available. Audio also makes people aware of other information presented visually, including:

  • Audible announcements of stops on public transit
  • Audio-guided tours of venues such as museums and galleries

More to Read

There are still countless materials available only in standard-sized print. Some readers use software to scan books or mail and convert the images into text, but this process is often time-consuming and full of errors. Other people may rely on loved ones or volunteers to read their mail aloud or fill out print forms. However, this set-up violates people’s right to keep personal information confidential.

Non-print-readers have many ways to enjoy and benefit from the printed word. Technology continues to make new ways of reading possible. However, more must be done to ensure that all information truly becomes accessible to everyone.