The Accessible Information Ladder

The Accessible Information Ladder is an evidence based resource to assist in identifying and meeting your customers’ accessible information needs.

The Accessible Information Ladder helps you research, plan, create and test your accessible information, and ensure none of your customers’ accessible information needs are overlooked.

Accessible information components

There are 10 accessible information components. Each component, or step, builds on the last. If accessibility breaks down at one level, the recipient will also have difficulty accessing other levels.

Spoken and visual texts

The Ladder uses a broad definition of the term ‘text’, to mean a collection of words and sentences that form a semantic unit, in a one way flow of information. A text can be:

  • visual eg a webpage, an information leaflet, a drawing or sequence of drawings or signs
  • oral eg a video script

This broad definition of ‘text’ supports the comprehension process in all mediums. To understand a video script or wordless book, for example, the recipient must understand the concepts, and process, integrate and evaluate the information, just as they would process a written text.

The Accessible Information Ladder

The 10 steps of the accessible information ladder

The Accessible Information Ladder

1 Accessible content

What the recipient wants and needs to know – dependent on the individual’s existing knowledge, attitudes, interests and needs.

2 Accessible concepts

The ideas the words represent must be familiar.

3 Accessible sentences

Linguistic structures the recipient can understand. Sentence length is determined by syntactic complexity and cohesion, which is determined by your customers’ needs.

4 Accessible text

The right amount of ties between ideas represented in the text and illustrations.

5 Accessible sensory and symbolic systems

The sensory and symbolic systems which convey your content to your customers.

What is a symbolic system?

Words (spoken and written), signs and pictures are all symbols that represent meaning.

For example, the word ‘tree’ represents the same meaning in English as does ‘arbre’ in French. The word we use is arbitrary and abstract. The concept of ‘tree’ also can be represented by a sign, a photograph, a drawing or a Makaton symbol. Symbols can represent single words or ideas eg Makaton, or combine to represent languages eg English, BSL.

The systems you choose will depend on your customers’ sensory and language needs, which will determine the choice of digital formats and media channels.

Sensory and symbolic systems

Sensory system
Symbol (examples)
Symbolic systems (examples)
Visual A written word, an image, a Makaton symbol, a BSL sign BSL, English, Makaton
Auditory A spoken word English, Polish
Tactile Raised dots Braille, Moon

The more sensory and symbolic systems you use, the more accessible your information will be to a wider audience.

6 Accessible text design and structure

How the written and visual content is organised, including expository features such a headings and glossaries.

7 Accessible formats and format design

How the information is presented and stored, eg

  • Visual eg leaflet, webpage, video, pdf, subtitles
  • Auditory eg CD, MP3 file, audio description
  • Tactile eg embossed paper

Design includes eg colour, images, layout, font and navigation, in digital files or traditional methods. See What is a format in accessible information? for more about the meaning of the term ‘format’ in accessible information.

8 Accessible media channels

How your customer receives the information, including:

  • broadcast (audio, video)
  • print (eg flyers)
  • digital (eg website, e mails, blogs, SMS, PDFs)
  • face to face (interpersonal)
  • additional and augmentative aids, assistive technology and software eg Voice Output Communication Aid

Multiple channels and access services can supplement each other and support understanding, eg a printed leaflet read with a support worker.

9 Accessible place

Where and when your customer finds your information. Does your customer want to ask for adapted information, or be seen reading it? Are they well enough, or motivated, to receive your information at the moment?

If your information is digital, do all your customers have access to a computer? Does the customer have their glasses or hearing aid, and is the aid working? If your customer needs communication support, is the right sort of support available?

10 Accessible context

Personal, situational, social and cultural factors which may impact on how your customer understands and uses your information. eg is your information appropriate for minority groups?


The Accessible Information Ladder is available as a guide and checklist.

More information

For feedback, advice and training in implementing the Accessible Information Ladder, please get in touch.

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