Format information

British Sign Language

British Sign Language (BSL) is the gestural language of the UK's deaf community. It is a separate language that is unrelated to English (or any of the UK's spoken languages).

  • BSL is used across the UK, although there are considerable differences in regional dialects. The BSL used in Belfast, for example, is very different from that used in the Channel Islands.
  • In March 2003, BSL was officially recognised by the government as being a fully independent language. This recognition has been important for the status that it has given BSL and its deaf users. It also means that money is now being invested in training more deaf BSL tutors and BSL-English interpreters.

Who uses BSL?

  • Estimates of the number of deaf signers who use BSL as their first language range from 50,000 to 70,000. (circa 2009)
  • Many hearing people also know some BSL because they have family members, friends or colleagues who are deaf, and recent figures from the British Deaf Association suggest that on any day up to 250,000 people use some BSL.

Ofcom provides guidelines on signing, including technical specifications.



Subtitling is text on screen representing speech and sound effects that may not be audible to people with hearing impairments, synchronised as closely as possible to the sound. For deaf people and those with hearing impairments, subtitles are likely to be the most important source of information that others receive aurally.

Who uses Subtitling?

  • People using subtitling range from those who have been profoundly deaf since birth to those who have become hard of hearing in later life.
  • Many people with good hearing also use subtitles so that they can watch television with the sound muted (e.g. so that they can simultaneously talk on the telephone), or learn English.
  • Viewers with a mild to moderate hearing loss are likely to rely on subtitles to aid their hearing rather than as a substitute.
  • All of the groups mentioned above are likely, to a greater or lesser extent, to lipread to a degree. Subtitle users reflect the full range of proficiency in English; some profoundly deaf people regard BSL as their first language and are less fluent in written English.

Ofcom provides guidelines on subtitling, including technical specifications.



Braille is a system using units of 6 raised dots that people read with their fingers.

There are around 20,000 people in the United Kingdom who say that Braille is their preferred reading medium. Many more use Braille for labelling.

Going For Independence has the contact telephone number and website address in Braille on business cards and leaflets.

Who uses Braille? 

Braille is the preferred medium of around 13,000 blind and partially sighted people and is accessible to over 20 per cent of working age people who are registered blind.

Braille readers are often influential and active members of the blind community, passing on information to other blind people. Grade 2 Braille - where common words and letter sequences are abbreviated - is the form used by experienced readers. 

Before getting documents translated and printed in Braille, however, you should consider the likelyhood of needing it as it is very expensive to produce. As an alternative, audio versions may be acceptable, although wherever possible Braille information should be provided to those who specifically request it.

Follow Braille conventions on headings, contents lists, indents and page numbering, and get expert advice on converting tables and diagrams. For small-scale items, like letters, it is possible to use automatic translation.

If you produce Braille regularly, it can be useful to spot check the quality of translation by paying a Braille proofreader. Contact RNIB (Royal National Institute for the Blind) for details.



Moon is a system of reading and writing in which tactile symbols based on lines and curves are used to represent letters, numbers and punctuation marks.

  • Moon is easier to learn than Braille, as the letters are easier to distinguish by touch. However, Moon cannot be written by hand, is even bulkier than Braille and there is very little literature available.

Who uses it?

Moon is used by a very small number of people, most of whom are elderly. It is unlikely that you will receive requests for Moon and you do not need to produce materials in Moon as a matter of course. If you do receive a request for Moon, it may be worth asking whether another format, such as audiotape, would be a useable alternative. If Moon is required, contact the RNIB.



Makaton uses gestures drawn from British Sign Language, words and pictures to explain what is wanted. Makaton is an internationally recognised communication programme, used in more than 40 countries worldwide.

  • Makaton symbols support the written word, in the same way that signs support speech.

Who uses Makaton?

Makaton was developed for those who struggle to understand the spoken word, such as those with profound learning disabilities. Most Makaton users are children and adults who need it as their main means of communication. 

Others include their families, carers, friends and professionals, such as teachers, speech and language therapists, social workers, playgroup staff, college lecturers, instructors, nurses, and psychiatrists.

The Makaton® dictionary has a reduced vocabulary.



Audio includes Radio, audiotape, audio CD-ROM and online formats. 

Audio files are generally available on CD-ROM or as MP3 files and are easy and quick to produce. There are also ‘talking newspapers’ and audio magazines, including those produced by the Royal National Institute of Blind People, which can be a good channel for targeting visually impaired members of your target audience.

Going For Independence has enabled "Browsealoud" on this website.

Who uses Audio?

People with visual impairments, people with literacy problems and members of the mainstream audience who prefer to listen to information.

Information needs to be arranged in a logical order. Avoid background noise and music. Use voices that are appropriate to the subject matter and audience. Give people time to understand calls to action. Use Open-i to deliver information in visual or audio format.


Audio description

Audio description is an additional commentary that describes on-screen or on-stage action, body language and facial expressions. It is available on:

  • television
  • video and DVD
  • cinemas
  • museums and galleries
  • theatres
  • sports venues

Who uses Audio Description?

Audio description is for people with visual impairments.

Ofcom provides guidelines on audio-description, including technical specifications.



Crucial information is provided by telephone; anything that needs to be found easily and quickly by everyone, at any time, anywhere.

Who uses the telephone?

Many disabled people, especially older people, will not have access to the internet or may have difficulties using it. The telephone can be a very important method of communication. The practice of using website FAQs to answer common questions and hiding the telephone number for a service is not acceptable. Information provided only in digital format will exclude some customers. Telephone operators should have training in communicating with disabled people.



Some organisations have textphones or use Text Relay, a free national service using operators to connect someone with a textphone to someone using a phone The textphone user contacts the operator and the operator rings the hearing person and relays messages to and from them, by typing or talking.

Who uses Textphones?

  • Textphones are used by those with hearing impairments.
  • Some deafblind people (with both sight and hearing loss) have enough hearing to use the telephone, if background noise is kept to a minimum and the caller speaks clearly and at a pace which suits the individual. Some deafblind people have enough sight to use a textphone.