Accessibility guide cover 2nd edition

Alternate formats

This section is about providing alternate formats for people who are print disabled [12], including those with sensory or learning disabilities, dexterity or literacy issues.

Alternate formats – Easy Read, Braille, audio, large print, and NZSL video – mean disabled people can experience the same level of service that is offered to the rest of the community.

To provide a consistent approach across government, we recommend you build accessibility in from the beginning by contacting the relevant Disabled People’s Organisation (DPO) early in your project by contacting

The DPOs will advise you on the structure of information and whether wider context is needed to explain the information further.

When considering the information you will provide, the most important things you can do are:

  • Let know ahead of time that you will be sending a document. Once a quote has been confirmed and the final document received, alternate formats can start.
  • Allow for the 4-week minimum timeframe for complete translations.
  • Put your document into plain language as much as possible.
  • Consider whether it will be okay to translate only the summary or key points of your document.

Formats for people with learning (intellectual) disability

Easy Read is an alternate format that is easier for people with a learning disability to read and understand.

It is also more accessible for many people who are Deaf, older, have English as a second language, or low-literacy.

Easy Read:

  • uses many of the same principles of plain language, but goes a lot further in terms of avoiding or explaining difficult words
  • uses images to explain the meaning of the ideas in the text.

People First New Zealand provides a professional Easy Read Translation service, called Make It Easy[13].

There are 2 ways you can use the Make It Easy service:

  1. You can use the service to get a complete translation of your information into Easy Read, and guidance on the best way to structure your document and reach people with a learning disability. This service is charged by the hour, includes the cost of images (and the right to use them for that document) and testing by people with a learning disability, and has a 4-week minimum timeframe. This service enables you to state your document has been translated by People First – a recognised Easy Read producer.
  2. You can have a go at putting your information into Easy Read by following the principles in the People First New Zealand's ‘Guide to making Easy Read information’.[14] You can then send your draft to the Make It Easy service for a consultation. A consultant will provide you with practical advice on what to change in your document to bring it into line with the principles of Easy Read. This service can take 1 to 2 weeks and is charged out at a set price. Making the changes suggested by the consultant will enable you to state your document has been translated in consultation with People First New Zealand.

People First New Zealand can also utilise its networks through local groups and social media to distribute information to people with learning disability throughout New Zealand. Publicly available Easy Read documents are regularly uploaded to the People First website for free downloading by the community. Discuss this possibility with People First to make sure your information is easy to find.

Formats for blind, vision-impaired, low vision, and Deafblind

Association of Blind Citizens New Zealand provides advice about producing documents in alternate formats for those who are blind, vision-impaired, Deafblind or have low vision (referred to as blind and vision-impaired) and provides a blind consumer’s perspective.

Blind and vision-impaired people read information via a range of options such as large print, audio, braille, e-text etc. Creating well-structured, accessible documents using clear print principles, means they can be more easily converted into alternate formats such as large print, braille and synthetic audio files. Clear print documents are more legible, and readable, and they benefit everyone, especially someone who is vision impaired.

Large print

Large print refers to text that is larger than 12-point print (font) size and uses clear print principles. When producing large print documents for a wide audience the recommended minimum print (font) size is 16 point. Some people prefer their large print to be 22-point print size or bigger. When producing a large print document for just one person’s use, ideally you should ask them what print size they prefer.

Documents that are created accessible from the beginning are more easily reformatted to a larger print size. Reformatting an existing document to large print will require attention to the layout of all content.

Large print information can be produced effectively using standard word processors and printers.


Audio versions of print documents must be accurate, uncensored reproductions of the printed text. They must be of the highest standard possible and describe the purpose and circumstances of the document.

Several providers provide a quality audio recording service using either a professional narrator or synthetic text. Information can be produced as audio on CD, as MP3 (files can be emailed, downloaded from websites etc.), and/or DAISY files. DAISY offers a flexible and navigable reading experience for blind or vision-impaired people.


New Zealand has a standing setting authority for braille – this is The Braille Authority of New Zealand Aotearoa Trust (BANZAT). For several hundred blind and vision-impaired people, braille is the primary means of accessing information. For Deafblind people this may be the only way information can be obtained.

Braille consists of arrangements of raised dots that stand for individual letters, combinations of letters (contractions), punctuation signs and other print symbols. By using a six-dot cell, 63 different patterns can be formed. Braille must always be of a high standard, and mirror print documents exactly. Often people will prefer hard-copy braille as opposed to using technology that displays print as braille.

Audio description of video

For blind and vision-impaired people audio description is the equivalent to captioning for Deaf and Hard-of-hearing people.

Audio description gives blind and vision impaired people information about the things they may not be able to see. Blind people benefit from audio description because it provides a commentary on the nuances of silent, visual activities on screen such as body language, scenery, facial expression, clothing and style of dress etc., and static displays in museums and art galleries, that they would otherwise be unable to follow or appreciate.

When producing video, visual clips etc., attention to visual content that will not be seen by blind or vision-impaired people is needed. In the same way as spoken and audio content requires captioning (and/or NZSL), purely visual content requires audio description.

Able is the primary producer of audio description in New Zealand and is recognised internationally for the quality of its work.

User testing

Test your website’s accessibility and usability through the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand who involve blind and vision-impaired testers to complete a series of tasks using a variety of assistive software, devices, and technology platforms. The Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand will co-ordinate the feedback and provide recommendations.

People First New Zealand may also be able to offer website testing by people learning disability. Contact about accessing user testing.

Formats for Deaf people

Deaf people who use New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) as their first or preferred language can find English information difficult to access and understand. This is due to a range of factors including that NZSL and English are different languages, and the grammatical order and linguistic rules of each language are very different. English is like a second or third language for many Deaf people. Deaf people are provided significantly greater access and understanding of information when it is provided in their first or/preferred language – NZSL.

NZSL is a real language and the natural language of the Deaf community. It is a visual language using the hands, body, facial expressions and movement in very precise ways. NZSL has no written form of expression - you cannot write a note in NZSL, but you can record one on video.

NZSL was made an official language of New Zealand by the New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006. The Act acknowledges that NZSL is a language unique to New Zealand, that it is the preferred language of Deaf people, and guides government agencies in making their information and services accessible through NZSL. The Act also provides the right to use NZSL in courts.

NZSL video

Making information accessible for Deaf people entails translating the information into NZSL on video. NZSL videos can be shared on websites, e-newsletters, social media and on screens used in offices/workplaces.

Distributing to the community

Ensure the NZSL video is uploaded and shared widely in Deaf community networks including Deaf Aotearoa’s communication channels.

Captions on videos

Captions make videos more accessible for people who are Deaf or Hard-of-hearing and who do not use NZSL as their first or preferred language. Captions are also used by people who are learning English, have difficulty understanding certain accents or want to watch without sound.

Captioning can be open or closed. “Open captions” are permanently on the screen and “closed captions” can be turned on and off by the user.

Captions are different from subtitles. Captions are designed for Deaf and Hard-of-hearing people and include information about speakers and sounds. For example, captions will indicate changes in speakers, when the person speaking is off screen, when there is music and what kind of music. Subtitles are often put on foreign language films and are designed for people who can hear and so don’t include the additional aural information.

Some video hosting services such as YouTube provide a free online automatic caption service that can easily be edited.

You can get your video captioned professionally for a fee.

Picture in Picture

Picture in Picture is a feature where a second video is superimposed on the main video. This feature is useful when you want to add in a Sign Language translator on the screen, usually in the bottom corner. Using the Picture in Picture feature offers lots of flexibility, that is sometimes a green screen (chromakey) is used so that the green background on the superimposed second video can be removed.

Process for alternate formats

  1. Contact when you are thinking about a new project that will involve alternate formats. The alternate formats team is managed by MSD and includes the Association of Blind Citizens New Zealand; People First; Deaf Aotearoa.
  2. The team has regular meetings and you can attend one to discuss your proposed project to ask for advice.
  3. Once you have a final document, complete the alternate formats form. The completed form is then sent to along with:
    1. a Word document copy of the final document
    2. a link to your logo with the colour pallet
    3. your cost centre or contact for invoicing.
  4. In looking at the final document, there may be questions that the alternate formats team will ask. There may be changes to your document as the result of these questions.
  5. The alternate formats team will provide you with a quote. Once the quote is confirmed, and the final word document is received, production of the alternate formats will start.
  6. Copies will be sent to you to make any changes.
  7. Once confirmed, the final copies will be sent to you to upload to your system.

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