Write accessible documents for people with dyslexia or visual impairment

This article helps you to make your information more accessible, including information on your website.

All UK organisations, including schools, public sector bodies and businesses have to comply with the Equality Act – that includes making sure what you write is accessible. The good news is that some of this is dead easy.


The Equality Act means that we have an ‘anticipatory duty’ to make reasonable adjustments. That means we should not wait until it becomes a problem for someone.

The British Dyslexia Association indicates that 10% of adults have dyslexia.

Up to 4% of the population relies on some sort of assistive technology because of a visual impairment (VI).

This can include:

Follow these seven tips and your info will be more accessible for your readers with both dyslexia and VI.

1. Accessible Fonts

A serif is a small decoration to finish off letters.

Serif fonts include these decorations. The extra detail makes the fonts less readable. Avoid serif fonts such as Times New Roman.

Instead choose a sans-serif font. Sans-serif means “without serif”, so without the decoration that makes the font harder to read.

Shows five accessible fonts for people with vision loss or dyslexia.

2. More accessible font tips

These six bullet points are ‘quick wins’ as you can follow them with almost no effort needed compared to what you have been doing before.

Shows examples of using contrasting colour to make text more accessible for readers.

3. Use a good contrast

This means light text on a dark background or vis-a-versa.

It’s considered dyslexia friendly to add a pale background to your text.

Certain bright colour combinations can make text uncomfortable to read. Don’t give your reader a headache!

4. Use accessible headings

Word has Headings 1 to 5. They add invisible code that helps screen reader users skip between important bits. Use them.

Shows where to find the styles and headings feature in MS Word - so that you can make your writing more user friendly for people with VI.

Always use Heading 1 for your main title. Then use Heading 2 & 3 for subheadings depending on how important the subheading is. You’ll not need Heading 4 or 5 unless you have a complex document.

In Word, you’ll find headings in the Styles section:

If you find this turns your headings light blue, that’s easy to change. Just right click on your Heading 1, 2, 3 etc and then click modify:

How to modify heading styles to make more accessible for readers with VI.

Once you click modify, simply pick your font, colour, size and bold.

5. Add Alt Text

Shows how to add alt text to make images more accessible for those using screen readers.
Hint: To zoom in on this image use Ctrl and +

This means adding a description to any picture you use. Think about describing the image to someone over the phone: What does it tell you.

If you use more than 25 words, you are going on too long.

Be short and sweet with your description.

6. Use an accessible document format

MS word and pdfs are safe bets. However, pdfs are only accessible if you have saved the document as a pdf. If you scan a document and save it as a pdf, then it is very unlikely that it will be accessible. This is because screen readers can’t ‘read’ photos or images, only text. When a screen reader is asked to read the scanned image of your word doc, it will say things like “Empty document” which is no help to the blind person.

7. Easily convert Word docs to pdfs

Following on from point 6 (i.e. never print your word doc and scan it to make it a pdf)…

Shows how to save documents in pdf format.

If you have written a word doc, it’s easy to convert it to pdf.

What if I don’t have time to check all my documents?

Then don’t. Decide what is realistic at the present time.

See this as a three – five year project and make improvements when a document or policy is reviewed.

Some steps are easy (e.g. changing from cursive to a sans-serif font, using size 12, not using scanned pdfs). You may need to add the finer details later.

In Summary, use:

Want to try a screen reader?

There are several free options. Try NV Access screen reader – click here.

Extra Accessibility Plan help for schools only

Where can I get more advice or support?

Other Interesting reads

  • Aaron King, Director

    With over 20 years experience of working with children & young people in both mainstream and SEND settings, Aaron King is the driving force behind 9000lives.

    Aaron has written for the TES, including in the Leadership & Governance sections. He has also been a school governor for around 15 years.

  • Aaron King

    Aaron King Director

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