The new Accessible Information Standard creates a mandatory duty to meet information and communication needs.
NHS England’s Accessible Information Standard applies to all NHS and publicly funded adult social care services in England.
Organisations must meet the information and communication support needs of patients, service users, carers and parents, where those needs relate to a disability, impairment or sensory loss.
Commissioners of health and social care services must also ensure that contracts and performance-management arrangements promote the Standard.
Accessible Information Standard aims
The Standard aims to improve the experiences and outcomes of patients and service users, so they can access services, and make choices, appropriately and independently.
The Accessible Information Standard supplements The Equality Act 2010, which creates a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people, and includes the provision of accessible information.
Five steps to accessibility
The Accessible Information Standard requires organisations to identify, record, flag, share and meet information and communication needs. Implementation requires changes to policy, procedures, behaviours and systems.
Providers must find out if an individual has information and communication needs, and record needs in electronic or paper based systems. Needs must be highlighted on individuals’ records, and shared using existing data sharing processes.
Full implementation involves meeting need, so individuals can access and understand information, and get communication support, where required.
What are information and communication needs?
The Accessible Information Standard defines two types of need:
- Accessible information: information which the individual can receive and understand
- Communication support: support to enable effective, accurate dialogue
Excluded from the Standard are websites, signage, foreign language needs, and ‘corporate’ communications not directly related to care or services.
Also beyond the scope of the Standard are individual’s preferences, and difficulties reading or understanding, which do not relate to disability, impairment or sensory loss. So low literacy and dyslexia would not be considered a ‘need’ or ‘requirement’.
The Standard’s Implementation Guidance says organisations should ensure and assure the quality and accuracy of ‘standard’ documents, before conversion into alternative formats.
‘Should’ indicates an action that is required unless there is a valid reason not to do so.
The accessibility of standard documents is not required within the Standard.
However, the Guidance recommends maximising the accessibility of standard documents, including digital information. Maximising accessibility will reduce the ‘burden’ of implementing the Standard, and the need for alternative formats.
The wider case for inclusion
Inklecomms believes the exclusion of standard documents, low literacy needs and preferences may be problematic in meeting the needs of people with unrecognised and undisclosed disabilities.
Acquired and fluctuating communication needs are associated with many health conditions, including progressive diseases and mental illness. Undiagnosed language and cognitive impairments are significant factors in low literacy, and changes in language processing are a natural part of ageing.
A dual system of unadapted and adapted information can create an Information Accessibility Gap in communications, into which people with medium – low literacy fall. This includes carers, parents, and many people with disabilities.
Improving the accessibility of standard documents reduces the accessibility gap, and supports equal opportunities for all.
Ethical and business case
Beyond the legal duty, NHS England refer to a ‘compelling’ ethical imperative to follow the Standard.
Elsewhere, the business case is also made for accessibility. A recent review by the Legal Services Board suggests inaccessible language and communications can reduce engagement, and increase disillusionment and risk (‘Lowering Barriers to Accessing Services’, 2016).
Accessible information for everyone
As a longer term goal, and component of quality, NHS England recognises the importance of accessible information for everyone. NHS England hopes the Accessible Information Standard will demonstrate the benefits of accessible information, and support culture change.
Inklecomms provides resources to support good practice in implementing the Standard.
Our resources include Easier English, which expands and updates Plain English and Easy Read, and maximises the accessibility of standard documents.
To find out more about the Accessible Information Standard, see: england.nhs.uk/accessibleinfo