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Providing content in alternate formats

Understand the situations when you must provide content in alternate formats or when you might want to consider it, and learn how to get them produced.

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General requests for alternate formats

Members of the public have the right to request government information in an alternate format that’s accessible to them — all New Zealand government organisations must, except in extreme cases, honour these requests.

Create an accessibility page on your website

Not all visitors to a website know that they can request content in an accessible alternate format, if a suitable accessible format has not already been provided.

It’s recommended that websites clearly indicate this option to users. One way to do this would be through an ‘Accessibility’ page or statement, linked to from the home page, that explains what options visitors have if they experience any accessibility issues on the site.

Example of an accessibility statement

Accessibility statement — GOV.UK

To learn how to create one, see the New Zealand Government Web Accessibility Guidance on Accessibility statements.

Make alternate formats easy to find

It’s good practice to provide alternate formats in a way that makes them easy to find for people who need them.

For example, place links to alternate formats at the top of a web page, as opposed to the bottom of the page where they might easily be missed.

Alternate formats for any linked content

If the information provided in an alternate format links to other content that’s necessary for understanding that information or for completing an online task, the content these links take people to will also need to be provided in an alternate format.

For example, if there’s a link to more information about a certain topic or to a form that needs to be filled in, then this should also be available in an alternate format.

When you must proactively provide alternate formats

For content involving high-stakes information or services, or where the target audience is disabled people, you must proactively provide alternate formats up front.

If it’s high-stakes information and services

Always provide content in alternate formats if it contains high-stakes information or services.

High-stakes information is concerned with critical citizenship rights, entitlements and services. Think about how seriously it may impact people if they cannot access the information along with everyone else at the time it’s published.

See the NZ Web Accessibility Standard for the full definition of high-stakes information and services.

Examples of alternate formats for high-stakes information

See how high-stakes information about health is provided in alternate formats: Alternate formats — Te Whatu Ora.

If disabled people are the target audience, or the information impacts them

Always provide content in alternate formats when the information is aimed specifically at disabled people or has a significant impact on disabled people, their families or their whānau.

Example of information where disabled people are the target audience

See how this Cabinet Paper’s information, which could significantly impact disabled people, their families or their whānau, is provided in alternate formats: Framework to accelerate progress towards accessibility in Aotearoa NZ — Ministry of Social Development.

Although, technically, Cabinet is the target audience, the disabled community is heavily invested and interested in this topic.

When you might consider providing alternate formats

Where content does not contain high-stakes information or services, or is not aimed specifically at disabled people, you’ll still need to consider providing alternate formats on a case-by-case basis.

For example, someone might need hard copies of lengthy documents in large print or braille to use in a court case.

In some circumstances, when providing Easy Read or New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) formats, it may be appropriate to provide a summary of the content in those formats.

If you’re unsure about what’s suitable in each case, get support and advice from the Alternate Formats team at the Ministry of Social Development.

Examples of information where disabled people are part of the target audience

See content that’s provided in alternate formats because, while it’s not specifically for disabled people, it includes disabled people in topics concerning youth, and equal access to employment:

Alternate formats for web content

Content that’s available on the web and that meets the NZ Government Web Accessibility Standard can already be converted by a disabled person into the following alternate formats using various types of software or assistive technologies:

  • audio — provided by text-to-speech software of various types
  • braille — provided by a refreshable braille display with screen reader software
  • large print — web pages can be displayed or printed out in large print by the user.

For this reason, in a web context, the only alternate formats in which content might need to be provided proactively are:

  • NZSL translation (web video)
  • Easy Read (printable web page with optional downloadable PDF).

Remember, even if your website is fully accessible, some people will lack the technology, skills or confidence to use it. As such, it’s important to make sure visitors to your site know that they can always request content in an alternate format.

Alternate formats for printed content

Some people have difficulty reading printed material and need content to be provided in other accessible formats.

This also helps people who are digitally excluded, and do not have ready access to online content.

When you offer a printed version of your content, you must consider whether you’ll also need to provide the following alternate formats of those paper hard copies:

  • audio (on portable medium — for example, CD or USB drive)
  • braille (printed or typed)
  • Easy Read print document
  • large print document
  • NZSL (video on portable medium — for example, CD or USB drive).

Producing alternate formats

The Alternate Formats team at the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) coordinates the production of content in alternate formats for government organisations.

Accessibility and alternate formats — all-of-government process — Ministry of Social Development

Support and advice on getting alternate formats made

MSD’s Alternate Formats team will work with you to commission, gather estimates for, and produce the alternate formats.

MSD will also coordinate between the providers to ensure consistency is maintained across the different formats.


Get in touch early

Creating alternate formats can be time consuming and requires specialised skills for which there are limited resources, so it’s important to factor this into your planning and publication schedule.

Get in touch with MSD’s Alternate Formats team to understand:

  • which alternate formats you need to produce for your content
  • what’s needed to ensure that the content is ready for translation
  • who does this work
  • how much it will cost
  • how long it will take.

Request alternate formats

To make a request to get your content translated into alternate formats, read the instructions and fill out the online form:

The process for producing alternate formats — Ministry of Social Development

As a general rule, allow 4 to 6 weeks when you request alternate formats.

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