Easy Read Health Wales (www.easyreadhealthwales.org.uk) is an online library for people with a learning disability and their families. The website brings together Easy Read information about all areas of health relevant to people with a learning disability in Wales, enabling them to find out about illnesses, checking their health and leading healthy lives.
Easy Read online
Easy Read Health Wales has been designed to take the principles of making and sharing Easy Read information online. As well as ensuring the website meets existing guidelines for website accessibility, the layout, navigation and text is intended to be easy to use and understand for people with a learning disability and their families.
People with a learning disability who speak Welsh will also be able to find information on health relevant to their needs – the bilingual website is the first national website to collate Easy Read information on health in Welsh, while also ensuring both the Welsh and English text is Easy Read.
The website is funded by the Welsh Government and forms part of a larger project around accessible information and learning disability awareness training. Managed by Learning Disability Wales, in partnership with All Wales People First, Mencap Cymru and the All Wales Forum of Parents and Carers, the project is an outcome of recommendations made in the 2007 Welsh Government policy document, Statement on Policy and Practice for Adults with a Learning Disability.
Right to health care services
Research shows very clearly that people with learning disabilities have poorer health outcomes than the general population. Reports such as Mencap’s ‘Death by Indifference’ and ’74 Deaths and Counting’ highlight the inequalities within the healthcare system that sometimes lead to people with learning disabilities dying unnecessarily. Having access to good quality information about health in a format that people can understand is a fundamental step towards preventing these unnecessary deaths.
In the Statement on Policy and Practice, the Welsh Government says it believes “people with a learning disability must have as equal a right of access to primary, secondary and specialist health care services and routine national health screening programmes as any other citizen.” The Statement lists a number of barriers which prevent this, including a “lack of accessible information for people with a learning disability and their carers about health promotion.”
When commissioning Easy Read Health Wales, the partners in the project believed the website should go further than the existing accessibility guidelines. Rules from the Worldwide Web Consortium provide global guidance, while in the UK the British Standards Institute issued new guidance in 2011 and the Equality Act 2010 makes it a duty for public websites to be accessible to people with disabilities; yet there is no specific guidance on creating websites for people with a learning disability.
Easy Read Health Wales has been designed by CDSM, a team of web accessibility experts based in Swansea, in consultation with Learning Disability Wales. CDSM have a strong history of delivering accessible websites and services, including the online community portal People and Places, a secure, moderated, social networking site for people with learning disabilities. The website has benefitted from CDSM’s history of web accessibility and Learning Disability Wales’ experience of producing accessible information for people with a learning disability.
To ensure the website meets not just the latest accessibility guidelines but is also easy to use by people with a learning disability and their families, Easy Read Health Wales has been user-tested by the Digital Accessibility Centre. A new social enterprise based in Neath, the Digital Accessibility Centre employs a team of people with disabilities to audit the accessibility of websites.
The team, who use assistive technology to use the Internet and have all experienced first hand the barriers inaccessible websites place between them and independence, have worked with companies including BT, Channel 4, Marks & Spencer and the Department of Health, to make their websites more accessible for people with a disability.
Two accessible information officers, one of whom has a learning disability, have been employed by the project, assisting with the design of Easy Read Health Wales and researching the information and resources for the website.
The project has also produced bilingual guidelines for making accessible information (‘Clear and Easy’) and an evaluation toolkit (‘Check It!’) for people with learning disabilities to check the quality of accessible information. Both ‘Clear and Easy’ and ‘Check It!’ will be published in the next few months.
To find out more about Easy Read Health Wales or the accessible information and learning disability awareness training project, speak to Sam Williams or Kai Jones at Learning Disability Wales, phone 029 2068 1160. You can also follow Easy Read Health Wales on Twitter (@EasyReadHealth) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/easyreadhealthwales).