Inclusive Communication Essex, Essex Libraries

Inclusive Communication Essex

2011 Two Commendations for Digital Access: Onsite & for People with a Learning Disability

Exemplary qualities

Now a winner of 3 Jodi Awards Commendations (the first one having been awarded in 2010), this pioneering project continues to impress.

This visionary yet highly practical Essex Libraries project is part of a county-wide strategy for inclusive communication. ICE, the one-stop shop for inclusive communication Essex is making a multi-dimensional impact, e.g.:

• learning disabled employees receive more support
• more learning disabled children take part in the Summer Reading Challenge and start a reading group
• inclusive communication training has become mandatory for working in adult protection and self directed support roles

It is a shining example of libraries at their best, working across a range of local partnerships – social services, health, leisure and voluntary agencies. It adds value and enables new services to develop their potential.

The responsiveness to feedback from children is exemplary.

The project

The Inclusive Communication Essex (ICE) website is the first of its kind nationally for accessibility and content specifically to support the communication needs of people with a learning disability. The ICE website demonstrates inclusive communication in a visual and accessible way and supports people to develop communication themselves. It has recently been extended to make its resources available to children and young people with a section specifically created by and for youngsters.

The website has been developed as part of a countywide Inclusive Communication Strategy to ensure anyone in Essex can communicate with people with learning disabilities.

The resource is designed for people who have a learning disability, parents and carers and anyone supporting people with learning disabilities. Inclusive Communication is about ensuring people can use different forms of communication to suit different needs. It is about more than just signing; it’s about helping people to understand and be understood.

The comprehensive website includes pages that explain what inclusive communication is, resources that are available on loan from local libraries and downloadable symbols and templates, photographs and clip art. The site also uses speech, signing, body language, pictures, objects and informal gestures.
There are pages on signing videos, including ‘sign of the week’, inserting pictures into documents and recording and downloading video information.

All the information and help with navigation is presented as video as well as text, helping users to pick up key messages such as intonation, body language and natural gestures. Graphics displayed within the videos further enable and support understanding of the contents of each page.

Wording is in easy-read format wherever possible and includes a number of accessibility features, such as options of background colour and font size.

The design uses large buttons with symbols that work well with touch screens and photo symbols chosen by people with learning disabilities are used throughout. It includes links and contacts for training opportunities, speech and language therapists and a video about ‘smelly vision’ and how such innovations can improve communication.

The total cost of web site purchase (including Content Management System) from Easy-Read-Online Ltd was £16,000 plus 600 staff hours. The website was officially live on 10th June 2010, the new Children’s section and Shared Resources sections live on 24th June 2011.

Other activities

Essex County Council Libraries is part of the Adults Health and Community Well-being directorate of Essex County Council delivering public library services through 73 static and 11 mobile libraries and 449 staff. Stock available for loan includes DVDs, audio books, CDs and e-books/e-audio as well as over 2 million books.
Essex Libraries aim to deliver a first-class public library service based on reading, access to information and learning though libraries in the heart of Essex communities.

The libraries also operate as community hubs and work across a range of partnerships, hosting, amongst many others, police and councillor surgeries, parish council access points and drop in sessions for organisations such as Essex Blind Charity and Age Concern. The services are aimed at being accessible to all and staff work closely with disabled people and community organisations.


People with a learning disability were included in every step of the project, from inception to completion. People from the Essex People’s Parliament and the Learning Disability Partnership Board scrutinised the tender and example work of each company that tendered. Easy-Read-Online who built the site employs people with a Learning Disability.

Children and young people shaped the entire design, artwork and content of the new sections of the site including the design of the pages, naming the section, Communication for Kids, and production of content such as the signing videos and new photo symbols for the pages.

User acceptance testing included testing by people with LD both internally (Essex County Council) and volunteers. The site is maintained and new content produced by Essex County Council employees with a learning disability.

“Essex services are well ahead of the game in terms of inclusive communication and I think they would be a great connection for us in terms of innovation and ideas.”
Viki Baker, Clinical Director Learning Disability NHS East Sussex.


By taking the communication needs of people with learning disabilities into account, it helps them to understand and be understood and become fully involved in their life plans.

The project, its aims, methodology and practices have been adopted within ECC as best practice and as such, will continue as they have been embedded into business as usual. For example, communication standards are written into all Adult LD service contracts. The service is also in review to ensure the future commissioning of Speech and Language Therapy input and training throughout the somewhat substantial changes to the NHS.

In these austere times where services are under pressure and many non critical services are being withdrawn, the ICE website can offer people with learning disabilities, their carers and families advice and resources which could fill some of the gap in service provision.