This World Braille Day, Commonwealth Games silver medallist Hannah Russell OBE talks us through her top five ways to make written content accessible for those with visual impairments.
Hannah represented Great Britain at three Paralympic Games, winning seven medals including two golds at Rio 2016 and another at Tokyo 2020, before retiring after the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham to focus on her career as a primary school teacher.
My motto is that 'it's ability and not disability which matters'.
I've been a massive advocate throughout my swimming career and now in my teaching career to change people's attitudes around blind and partially sighted people.
Quite often, individuals might perceive that, because there's some sight loss, that blind and partially sighted people might not be able to achieve the same as their seeing counterparts.
Yes, our sight might not be 100% but it's important to be to show that we can achieve anything we put our minds too.
However, there are studies which show that lower levels of self-esteem and heightened levels of depression can be found in those with visual impairements compared to those fully sighted as they sometimes feelings cut off from the world.
I can link that to myself in some situations, especially when it comes to getting accessibility to written content and that's why I'm so passionate about it.
Here are just FIVE ways that can help those living with visual impairments feel more relaxed and independent when it comes to written content.
I don't use braille but I do know quite a bit about it.
Braille is a language which translates letters and numbers into a form for those who have a visual impairment. There are 63 possible combinations which combine to form the language itself.
It can be read by touch through raised dots and any written material can be translated into braille, which is really important to mention to the wider public.
There is always that ability for written text to be transformed into braille for those who choose to use it.
In all the Paralympic Games I went to, there was braille content on the medals which allowed the medals to be accessible for all as well.
And at Rio they all had a specific chime depending on the colour of the medal so people could always tell which one they were holding.
Many people with sight loss can see some written content at different levels and sizes so they may choose to use large print to help make this easier.
Font size is usually over 18 points and it's really important for it to be tailored for each individual in order to make the content accessible.
What's quite interesting is that for visually impaired individuals, the numbers three, five, eight and zero, are very tricky to identify and distinguish in figure form so to have them modified in fonts is really important. Therefore written numbers are usually preferred.
I now work as a primary school teacher and all my written content is on a much larger modified screen so I can read to the children which is really helpful.
I also use a new piece of technology called a visualiser, which allows me to zoom in and see small text really clearly, as things like textbooks can be really hard to read. It's an absolute lifesaver.
For me, communication is key.
In my experience it's common for sighted individuals to be overly helpful and assume that all visually impaired individuals require assistance.
It takes me three times as long to complete any task in comparison to a sighted peer but rushing to help a partially sighted person without asking them might actually make them feel helpless rather than independent.
Instead we will come to others if we feel like we need support so it's important that you allow that independence and allow that communication as to what requirements are needed instead.
Everyone's needs are different. Some people might prefer a text to be transferred to braille and some might prefer a larger print so that's why communication is key.
When I started working at school I had lots of talks with my work to help me in this way and whenever I teach now I always have two teaching assistants with me to help.
Sending written content in advance
For those with a visual impairment, they might ask to see written content in advance if that is possible.
In the 21st century, lots of content is online for people. Whether that's work meetings, presentations, university lectures - or whatever else it might be.
So it's important to speak to a partially sighted or blind individual to see if they need that content ahead of time.
For myself in my swimming and teacher career, I make sure that all my written content is sent in advance as it takes me three times as long to process that information.
To be able to have it on my modified computer or to use a reader if wanted is just brilliant.
In my swimming espcially this was crucial to me.
When I first started my coaches would write the set on a whiteboard which was inaccessible to me so I had the conversation with them that I could have all my content in advance and in an adapted format which made it so much better.
The fifth thing you can use, and something I use a lot, is audio script.
For example, if you have a textbook or written content, I often can't access the style or font so having it in an audio version available through various websites or charities can be preferred.
This is now an option readily available for visually impaired people these days which is really nice.
In fact, all of my books at school are used through audio script as well so if needed I can play out any written text for myself and for the children to help make that content accessible for everyone.
Please click on the 'Accessibility' icon in the bottom left corner of the screen for more viewing options.