By Terry Robinson B.Sc July 2004
Amended Clive Lever July 2016



About Describe Online
Our Approach to a Solution
What We Could Do


This document summarises how Describe Online could bring more customers to Your town/city. The principal areas under consideration are accessibility of the built environment to Blind and partially-sighted people and the accessibility of the means by which information is delivered to this group.


About Describe Online

Describe Online was established in 2000 to develop solutions to the information gap which is the principal mechanism which restricts participation of Blind and partially-sighted people in the community and economy.

Since most of us receive up to 70% of our real time information through vision, it follows that the information available to those with restricted sight is reduced in proportion to their visual impairment. Blind and partially-sighted visitors to your venue can be unaware of what's available within metres of them. This is either because they haven't been told or shown what's there, haven't happened upon it, or they have missed the publicity because it is delivered via inappropriate media.

Describe Online continues to develop approaches to reducing this information gap through our online text way finding and Web usability consultancies.

To date, our accessible website contains a map and station finder for the National Rail and London Underground networks, plus a growing number of text guides to stations, including Birmingham New Street, Glasgow Central, Paddington, Euston and Oxford Circus. In addition, we're collaborating with local authorities to develop way finding between public transport and their civic offices.

We've also developed a text guide to Watford Town centre, which links public transport to the main shopping area of the town. We also hope to collaborate with Arriva Yorkshire to provide a text guide to one of their bus routes, by way of a pilot project aimed at improving the accessibility of their services.



Many local authorities and businesses are attempting to improve the accessibility of their premises and services to their clients and customers. This is driven both by their obligation under the Equality Act 2010, and by a growing realisation that they are excluding a valuable proportion of their potential market.

The traditional focus of accessibility initiatives has been on wheelchair users who face clear physical barriers to entering and using business and other public venues. This has, necessarily resulted in considerable expense and effort to reduce or remove these barriers. Comparatively little effort seems to have been expended on improving accessibility to blind and partially-sighted people. This tends to be seen as too difficult and costly, though in reality, this is not the case.

There is a considerable body of literature and expertise concerning lighting, colour contrasts, marking glass doors, marking stairs, treads and other hazards. However, little attention seems to have been paid to fundamental questions such as:

We believe the ongoing failure to address these issues effectively is excluding a significant number of people from that which most of us take for granted. This is not only discrimination which can be avoided but also makes no sense to Business which could tap considerable market potential at relatively little cost.

The traditional approach to informing Blind and partially-sighted people has relied on an inadequate mixture of provision in alternative media and personal reading assistance. This has never met and will never meet the increasing demands for information provision of the 21st century. Furthermore, once material has been prepared in a hardcopy form, the cost of maintaining and republication leads to its drifting out of date and becoming useless.

Blind and partially-sighted people are turning to the Internet and other electronic media in an attempt to bypass this chronic problem. Internet services such as ours present an excellent opportunity to include this sector of the population.


solutions to the above problems

User feedback on our work to date clearly indicates the benefit of our services to a wide range of people which extends beyond that of blind and partially-sighted people. Below is a summary of our approach to these issues:

Where Are You?

As an infrequent visitor to Your town/city, I have little appreciation of the layout of the city and what it offers. I hear names of streets and businesses but am deterred from trying to find these because I can obtain no meaningful information on how I'm to locate them. We need a guide to the city (centre at least) which explains the layout of the principal street network and lists the businesses and other venues in each street. We have significant experience in producing such guides and ask that we be enabled to produce one for Your town/city.

What Are You Offering Me?

This arises from either inaccessibility or fragmentation of information available. Print leaflets shoved through the door tend not to be warmly received, if only because there just something else to scan and deal with. This feeling is exacerbated by a tendency towards poor quality print, inappropriate layout and other factors which make this material difficult to understand and use. The accessibility and usability of websites is also variable to a point which may deter all but the most keen surfers. - again, we need to know what to look for. Information about the location and layout of public venues is often presented as pictures only. Speech and braille output software cannot interpret these to a blind visitor to your site. Similarly, posters are useless to those who can't see them. Information kiosks must not only provide information in a useful form - users also need to know where the kiosks are and how to use them.

Our guide to the city would link either to advertisements or websites of businesses and venues listed in the guide, thereby offering a coherent and comprehensive platform of information to the customer. Inclusion in the guide would also be a spur for businesses and venues to ensure that their sites were accessible/usable.

How Do I Find You?

This is solved, to some extent, by the guide, however a guide such as that proposed above offers "implicit" way finding instructions. In other words, you find the place of interest within the guide and work out your own route to/from it. Individual businesses/venues would be encouraged to offer "explicit" way finding information on their sites. This information, linked to the guide would offer clear guidance of how to locate premises via public transport or on foot. Given the overall guide, this would probably amount to little more than setting the venue in context within the guide. For example: one could say, "enter X-street from the junction with Y-street, pass Z-street to your left. We're the second door on your left. Push the door to enter and locate our customer service desk to your right."

How Do I Access What You're Offering?

This has already been addressed, to a considerable degree by the previous paragraph, however, in some cases, there may be a need to develop a text guide to the building(s) in which a service is offered. Particular examples of this include rail and bus stations, civic offices and some recreational facilities. Customers need to know, in the first instance, how to engage assistance from staff, but there's also a need for an understanding of the venue and what it offers. This prevents customers being taken around like luggage, rather than feeling they have some say and knowledge of what's happening to them. It also offers great opportunities to make best use of venues and what they offer.

Terry Robinson writes:

A particular example dear to my own heart arises from having been left on a cold platform in December, waiting for a train, when I could have spent most of that time in the bar. If only I'd known of the bar's existence and where it was, I could have then asked to be taken there and collected when my train was due. This failure caused discomfort to me as a customer and lost business to someone renting space on the station.


What We Could Do

Our new proprietor, Clive Lever, has well over ten years experience as a local government equality adviser. Before that he worked for twenty years as a computer programmer. This combination of professions gives him a rare, rounded insight into digital inclusion.



Thousands of blind and partially-sighted people would benefit greatly from the services described above. Many of them travel to Your town/city from other parts of the UK and abroad. Still more would be likely to visit your town or city if they could easily find out what’s on offer and where to find it before planning their journeys.

No major accessibility initiative would be complete without a consistent and comprehensive information platform which is available to as many people as possible, this includes blind and partially-sighted people.

The provision of text guides offers a real opportunity for your town/city to set an example which is unique in the world and to encourage others to follow.


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© 2004, Terry Robinson Amended 2016 Clive Lever