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Easy Read: A Brief History of Making Information Accessible for People with Learning Disabilities

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a group of people with learning disabilities in the United Kingdom collaborated to make it easier for them to read and understand important information. The group recognised that many documents and pieces of information were written in a way that was difficult for them to understand, and hard to access, and they wanted to change that. Their efforts resulted in the creation of Easy Read information.

Easy Read is a method of presenting key information in a simplified format that is easier-to-understand. It uses simple language, clear layout, and pictures to help convey information and support the meaning of the words. This method has been used to create Easy Read versions of a wide variety of documents, such as health leaflets, letters, reports, consultation surveys, contracts, policies and even information on websites.

Throughout the 2000s Easy Read information started to become more commonplace. As part of the continued drive to support disabled people to be more independent, living in local communities, Easy Read was recognised as a way to make information more accessible to enable people to do more for themselves.

The Equality Act in 2010 introduced a ruling for all organisations to provide information in an accessible way. The Act refers to reasonable adjustments - these are small changes that organisations should make to enable disabled people to take part like everyone else. Easy Read constitutes a reasonable adjustment, it makes information accessible so that people with learning disabilities can understand the things they need to know, or want to find out about.

Following the Equality Act 2010, the Accessible Information Standard was introduced. The Standard requires all health and care services to provide accessible communications for service users. This includes providing Easy Read versions of health and care documents so that people with learning disabilities can access important information. The use of Easy Read information in health and care services can help to reduce health inequalities, which is good for everyone.

Other legislation includes the United Nations work to make the whole world more inclusive for disabled people. Countries that are part of the United Nations, including the United Kingdom, have made a promise to reduce the barriers that stop disabled people from taking part. This commitment includes making information more accessible for disabled people, like providing Easy Read documents for people with learning disabilities.

Easy Read is used in other countries outside the UK. Elsewhere it is called Easy-to-read. Some countries have variations on Easy Read, like Easy English - this uses more simplified text, in sentences of up to 5 or 6 words. In Germany they have a format called ‘Leichte Sprache’ which translates to easy language. It’s generally text-only (without pictures) and doesn’t go as far as Easy Read to breakdown information, but provides a more accessible alternative for people with low literacy.

Easy Read is continuing to become more widely produced as a way to communicate information. Some research has questioned how effective Easy Read is, and it’s true that Easy Read does not guarantee comprehension - some people will still need support to understand Easy Read documents, or need alternative formats like video or audio. But for those who have experience of good quality Easy Read information, it is clear how directly it enables people to take part, have more freedom of choice, discover new opportunities and make the most of their lives. The impact of Easy Read in the future will further reduce inequalities so that no one is left behind.


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