What are the alternatives to plastic straws?

plastic waste including plastic straws and plastic bottles on a beach

What are the alternatives to plastic straws for disabled people and should you make a switch?

It won’t have escaped your attention that plastic straws have been in the headlines throughout 2018. With the seas full of plastic particles, and sea life choking to death around the world on the discarded remains of our consumer culture, attention has moved on from plastic carrier bags and onto the humble drinking straw. In England alone it is estimated that some 4.6 billion of them are disposed of each year. Ahead of EU legislation coming into effect, they are likely to be banned – and some major food retailers, including the likes of McDonald’s and Starbucks, have already announced their intention to stop using single use plastic straws in favour of biodegradable cardboard.

This is great news for sea life, but potentially much worse news for many disabled people, for whom the alternatives are not always practical – and in some cases actively dangerous.

For example, metal straws are often touted as an environmentally friendly alternative to single use plastic straws, as they can be cleaned for re-use over and over. However, many people live with conditions that render them impractical. Anyone suffering from a condition where seizures are a potential problem – such as epilepsy – are at risk of damage to their mouths from stainless steel metal straws, for example.  Glass straws are also available and whilst they may be better for ensuring that they are clean on reuse, they may break and cause injury and are not recommended. Moreover, metal and paper straws alike are not flexible, which is a major problem for people with mobility or posture issues.

Then there are the basic issues of hygiene. It is very well to say that straws are ‘reusable’ but that reuse must follow washing. For people caring for someone reliant on semi-solid foods, washing something as fiddly as a straw is not necessarily an easy job.

plastic straws

The biodegradable alternatives such as paper straws also pose a set of problems: even for non-disabled users, it is easy for the straw to turn to mush if a drink isn’t drunk quickly enough, or if chewed a little too much. For disabled users who may take a little longer to drink or who may have dexterity problems, this issue is magnified. The side effects might not be severe in themselves, but there is trouble enough eating through a straw as it is, without the added problem of finding it blocked or turning to pulp in your mouth.

It is true that alternatives are available – such as these silicon straws, which offer flexibility and safety – but they also cost a relatively large sum, and while on paper they are infinitely rewashable, we all know that in real life keeping specialist equipment clean isn’t easy and real world lifespans are not often as advertised.

Other specialist straws

There are other specialist products for other conditions – such as straws with one-way valves . One way valve straws allow you to suck and stop without losing the air pressure that keeps the liquid in the straw and are therefore useful for people who cannot suck very strongly or consistently. (We have discussed these before on a previous post). These are often plastic anyway and whether they will be exempt from a future ban is yet to be known. They carry an even greater price overhead, and come with the same issues around hygiene as the alternatives.

The argument for disabled people continuing to use plastic straws

To put things in perspective, the price of a single pack of silicon straws would be enough to buy almost two thousand single use plastic straws. Would those same pack of silicon straws last for 2000 meals and drinks? Maybe, but perhaps not…..

Perhaps the best way to consider this analogy would be rubber gloves. While it is possible to buy well-made, washable and reusable gloves, almost all healthcare now involved single use rubber or plastic gloves, for all the same reasons: they offer the best balance of hygiene and convenience. Yet in the current climate of panic, nobody seems to be suggesting that healthcare professionals stop using them.

We are all on the same side in wanting a solution to end plastic pollution in the oceans, but that cannot come at any cost. The dignity and safety of disabled people must still be considered, and in the rush towards a blanket ban it is important not to lose sight of these basic human needs and the large, often unheard, minority of disabled people for whom they are small part of living with dignity and independence.

screen shot of BBC website with Tanni in front of the Houses of Parliament and a headline "Plastic Straw ban disadvantages disabled people, says paralympian"

Baroness Thompson on the BBC news when a ban was proposed.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thomson spoke out when a ban was discussed in the UK :

“Disabled people will be seriously disadvantaged if we can’t find a proper alternative”.

Should you stock up?

A ban on plastic straws of some sorts looks increasingly likely. It’s unlikely that you will never be able to get them from anywhere, but if a ban does come into force you might struggle to get hold of them for a while. We’d certainly recommend considering stocking up if that would impact your life  – especially when you can bulk hundreds (or even thousands) for relatively little money.

Other Alternatives

Our friends at http://sturdystraw.co.uk/ sell a fantastic range of hygienic, bendable rubber straws – along with other accessories.

A man in a wheelchair showing a bottle with a plastic straw attached and the straw in a place he can reach it easily.

Mark developed sturdy straw and sells it from his website. It is position-able with a bendable rod and has accessories to make it work for you.

Another great thing to check out is the Hydrant drinking system – which comes with hanging clips and a bite valve to make drinking that bit easier.


On a final note, one thing you should not feel is guilty if your situation requires you to use plastic straws. While the issue is a big deal in the media, there has to be recognition of the role that plastic straws play in the lives of many disabled people, and that other problems – such as disposable water bottles, non-recyclable packaging are far bigger in scale without attracting anything like the attention.

Many of us use disposable medical equipment in our daily lives because there isn’t a practical reusable alternative in that situation, I would argue that disabled people using plastic straws should be considered in the same way.

This video explains the whole issue (and is awesome!)

Sleep Aids and Bedroom Essentials for Disabled People

Sleep aids and top tips for a good night’s sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep is essential for the wellbeing of us all, and we understand that living with a disability can often make having a truly restful night very difficult to achieve. We know it can be frustrating and demoralising when you are denied something as simple as sleeping at night. In this post we review some of the latest gadgets and sleep aids that might help you achieve a restful night.

What can you buy to help you sleep?

This is why it is important to make sure you have the right equipment in your bedroom, and create the perfect environment that is hopefully more conducive to peaceful, unbroken sleep. It is also essential that people whom have to spend extended periods of time in bed keep comfortable and well, so that is why we have come-up with an extensive list of practical bedroom accessories and products, that can hopefully help you get a more comfortable and solid night’s sleep.

1. Extra Neck and Spine Support – Tempur Neck Pillows

Memory foam pillows can provide much-needed comfort for those whom suffer from joint issues such as arthritis and spinal conditions. Memory foam reacts to body-temperature, and will mould and support your neck and head perfectly due to your own body-heat, and will then distribute your weight, dispersing it equally around the surface of the pillow.
Ideally it is best to go for a pillow with a high density memory foam for a higher-quality product (usually 5/lbs per cubic foot), however most available products will fall short of this density yet still provide obvious benefits in comparison to a conventional pillow.

Image shows a photograph of a woman's head and shoulders, reclining with neck on a Noffa pillow. Above her sleeping head are three icons indicating the benefits of using the pillow

Noffa Memory Foam Pillow with Breathable Cover

  • Queen-sized pillow for extra comfort
  • Curved Ergonomic design
  • Anti-allergen covering



Image shows Tempur rectangular pillow in the centre, with pillow features encircled around the sidesBonmedico Supreme Pillow With Bamboo Pillowcase

  • Gel memory foam provides extra support and keeps you cool
  • Washable Bamboo cover is dust and mite resistant, and helps regulate body temperature
  • Traditional shape and size pillow, so can be used with your regular bedding



2. Use Blankets Instead of Duvets

A general tip if you are struggling to get a good night’s sleep is to consider removing your duvet and instead opting for a selection of blankets. Duvets, especially synthetic ones, are not great at regulating your body heat as you sleep, therefore it should be considered that layering with blankets may offer a more consistent temperature whilst you rest. Also blankets can be much safer and easier to remove for people who struggle to manoeuvre themselves whilst lying down.


3. The Inimitable, Essential Trabasack Bed Tray

person in bed with a trabasack lap tray and a laptop on it

Blogger Danni in bed with a trabasack

The Trabasack is a unique bag and tray in one, designed specifically with disabled people in mind, that has a plethora of wide-ranging uses. It is the ideal companion to those whom have to spend lengthy periods of time in bed, and absolutely perfect for evening and morning use as a bed tray.
The most suitable models of Trabasack for use as a bed tray are the Trabasack Mini and Trabasack Curve; each being available with two tray surface types – both with their own merits that will help make your life easier!

Image shows a photograph of the Trabasack Mini with a cup and pad and pen on the tray surfaceThe Trabasack Mini is the most compact, lightweight model in the Trabasack family, and it’s rectangular shape and firm faux-leather tray surface makes it ideal for use with laptops and other tasks such as drawing or writing in bed.

As with all Trabasacks, the Mini has a zip-up internal bag compartment that is perfect for keeping any essentials you may need for bed, such as your favourite book, reading glasses, medication, remote controls or phones.

Image shows a photograph of the Trabasack Mini with a laptop on the tray surface

The handy carry-bag style of the Mini and the Curve makes them perfect for taking around the house, and can be filled with your desired items that are needed in preparation for you going to bed.

Image shows a photograph of Trabasack Curve bags in various trim colours, stood on end and lined-up one behind anotherThe Trabasack Curve has an ergonomic, waist-hugging design that means it sits close around you whilst in use. The curved shape along with the quick-release side straps makes it a good choice for anyone who needs that little bit of extra security to ensure the tray and items on top stay close to hand.

The traditional Trabasack Curve has a firm faux-leather tray surface like the Mini, and also includes a beanbag insert that ensures the tray remains steady and comfortable upon your lap whilst in use.

Image shows a photograph of the Trabasack Curve with a cup and an apple on top of the tray surface, on a white backgroundThe Trabasack Curve Connect, and the Mini Connect have been created with a velcro-receptive tray surface – meaning you can safely and securely attach a multitude of items to the tray-top without fear of them falling over, falling off or just getting lost in your bed.

Using Trabasack sticky-back hook tapes, you can adhere strips simply and quickly to any item you need to secure, such as plates, remote controls or tablet computers, to make sure they stay in place.

Image shows an illustration of the uses of the Trabasack Media Mount - holding a mobile phone, a book and a water bottleEven more ideal is the Trabasack Media Mount, which can be used in tandem with any of the Connect models of lap tray bag. The Media Mount is a pliable, flexible device made from soft hook and loop receptive fabric, that can be twisted and shaped to hold almost anything upright or at the perfect angle atop your Trabasack tray surface.


The Media Mount features a velcro strip sewn-in to one side, which means you can twist and turn it to get just the right angle, and it will stay in the shape you desire, and also attach itself quite securely to the Connect tray surface.Image shows an iPad being held upright with a Media Mount, attached to the tray surface of a Trabasack Curve Connect with blue trim

The Media Mount can hold cups and mugs steady with ease, and can be used to prop and position books, iPads, phones and remote controls at the perfect angle you need.

What makes the Trabasack exceptionally multi-functional is that when not in use in bed, it can be used as a modern, practical wheelchair tray or handy bag – providing you with a reliable, sturdy tray surface and bag whether at home or on the go!


4. Keeping Dry and Comfortable

Keeping your bed hygienic and dry is a very common concern for many, and the best line of defence to avoid costly mattress replacements is to ensure you purchase high-quality incontinence bedding, usually in the form of mattress protectors. Thankfully there are now a number of luxury mattress protectors available on the market that mean that you do not have to forego comfort and dignity when choosing the right bed protection. Bamboo woven fabrics can keep your body temperature regulated and provide anti-bacterial properties, whilst ultra-soft fleece protectors can keep you snug and warm – whilst both still ensuring full waterproof protection for your mattress.

Image shows a diagram of the corner of the mattress protector, showing the layers of fabric and various features encircled around the edge of the imageLow-noise Anti-Bacterial Bamboo Mattress Protector

  • Bamboo woven fabric provides antibacterial properties and heat regulation
  • Crinkle-free, low-noise fabric
  • 100% waterproof, with bamboo being 4 times more water resistant than cotton


Image shows the packaging for the Luxury Mattress ProtectorCoral Fleece Top Luxury Mattress Protector

  • Maximum comfort provided by a luxury coral fleece top lining
  • Thermoplastic layer provides airflow and regulates body temperature
  • 100% waterproof with a 10 year guarantee



5. Profiling Beds

Profiling beds, or adjustable beds, are often essential for individuals whom need extra assistance getting in and out of bed, or find sleeping on a traditional fully-vertical bed painful. Being able to adjust various aspects of the position of the body whilst sleeping can alleviate the pain and discomfort of many types of condition, and one of the most proven benefits of having an adjustable bed is the ability to elevate the backrest portion; allowing those who have painful joint conditions to sit up with ease for eating, reading or chatting and at the same time, ensuring those with respiratory issues can breathe more easily whilst sleeping. Profiling beds also usually include removable side bars for safety and peace of mind, and easily-adjustable height control, which can be variated for either getting in and out of bed, or allowing carers to make transfers more comfortably and safely for both the carer and disabled person.
Profiling beds can be life-changing for many households, however they are costly – some conditions may qualify for a free adjustable bed via the NHS, so we suggest you contact your Occupational Therapist for more information as to whether you or your loved-one may qualify for support.

Image shows a photograph of a reclining, movable profiling bed with hoistFully Profiling Electric Bed

  • Electric hight adjustment
  • Electric adjustable backrest and knee break, with four position mattress support
  • Attractive wooden finish yet solid, heavy duty steel frame



6. Keeping Hydrated

It is essential to keep hydrated when unwell, and with a number of long-term conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease or illnesses that cause vomiting and diarrhoea, it is imperative that water is consumed frequently and with ease, especially if you feel too weak to sit-up to have a drink.

The Hydrant drinking system is a hydration aid that is used in numerous NHS settings. The Hydrant drinks bottle is unique in its design; allowing the user to drink no matter what position they are in, be it sat up or when Image is a photograph of the Hydrant drinks bottle with drinking tube and clipreclined. Featuring a flexi-grip handle that also functions as a clip, the Hydrant bottle can be attached to bed frames, headboards or other convenient objects close to the bed, to provide hands-free drinking. The drinking tube attached to the Hydrant also features a bite valve, allowing the user to bite-down and suck to drink, with liquid only flowing when pressure is applied to the valve. This means that you can stay hydrated without assistance at all times, with no fear of spills or leakage when the drinking tube is not in use.

Another brilliant drinking aid is the Sturdy Straw – much like the Hydrant, the Sturdy Straw is a hands-free non-return flexible straw that can be clamped on to surfaces or furniture to ensure hydration is Image shows a Sturdy Straw clamped to the edge of a desk surfacealways close at hand. The Sturdy Straw is available in a plethora of attractive colours, and also comes in two different lengths (45cm and 65cm) but most importantly it is available in three different widths, which means not only can you keep hydrated with thinner liquids such as water, but it can also provide nutrition via the wider tubes for liquidised meals or soups.

7. Slide Sheets and Drawing Sheets

If you suffer from painful muscular or joint conditions, or have limited strength due to your disability, even the simple task of getting comfy and turning over during the night can cause broken sleep. It is proven that getting a good, solid night’s sleep is essential in helping not only your body to recuperate and repair itself, but also vital for a healthy mind, too. Slide sheets are indispensable for those whom ordinarily struggle to move easily and comfortably whilst in bed; silky, satin-like fitted sheets offer a very low resistance to your body weight, and by removing the friction usually caused between your nightwear and bedding, make it much easier for you to turn over whilst in bed. Draw sheet systems are also an essential addition to your bedding if you require assistance getting in and out of bed, as they make transfers and turning much quicker and less difficult for both yourself and your assistant.
Also of note if you struggle to position yourself in bed, or have difficulties sitting up, is the addition of a simple bed ladder – the non-slip handles ensure you have a secure grip and the ladder design allows you to pull yourself into an upright position from lying without any assistance. Bed ladders are easy to fit to any bed frame and are ideal for people with back problems.

Image shows a black bed ladder on a white background in the centre, and to the bottom right a photograph of a man lying in bed, pulling himself upright using the bed ladderBlack Bed Ladder

  • Non-slip rubber grips
  • Easy to install and remove using quick-release buckles
  • Compact and lightweight, yet sturdy and strong – ideal for travel





Image shows a photograph of a room decorated beige, with a small vase of flowers atop a bedside table and a single bed with headboard, two pillows and special bed sheet fitted to mattressSecure Sit and Slide Fitted Sheet

  • Fully fitted sheets available in all bed/mattress sizes
  • Includes a central, low-friction satin panel
  • Edges of sheet are made from a woven polycotton to provide extra grip when sitting on side of bed


Image shows a photograph from above, of a lady lying in bed with two care givers on either side. The carers are using the sheets below the patient to turn her in bedWendylett Base Sheet and Draw Sheet SystemImage shows a diagram of a man lying on a bed with two intersecting sheets below him, to either side of the bed is a care-giver getting ready to transfer or turn in him in bed
Two items which can be purchase separately, but together create a proven, useful bedding system that can be used alone (Base sheet for easier turning) or together with the Draw Sheet for quick, comfortable transfers with a carer.


8. Avoiding Pressure Sores

As the slide and turning sheets with help you avoid friction sores, there are also specialised items that can help you avoid or minimise pressure sores, especially on delicate areas such as the feet, ankles and elbows.
Warm, comfy fleece-lined “boots” are L-shape in design, meaning they can be used as boots to protect the ankle/foot joint or also double as an elbow joint protector. The soft, cushioned fleece lining offers warmth and comfort, whilst also shielding delicate skin from potential pressure sores. Light weight, so ideal for wearing for long periods of time, and easy to remove or put on thanks to a velcro fastening system.

Image is a downwards photograph of a man's foot in a fleece-lined heel protectorDual Elbow and Heel Protectors

  • Foam and fur-lined booties, that can be used on elbow joints as well as feet.
  • Anti-slip, exterior fabric for extra peace of mind
  • Easy to put on and remove, using a velcro fastening system


Image shows a photograph of a royal blue bootie lined with cream-coloured faux fur100% Wool-lined Fleece Ankle Protectors

  • Thick, 100% wool fleece for extra comfort
  • Universal, adjustable size so suitable for all
  • Washable at 40 degrees with non-bio detergent



Image is a photograph of sheepskin-lined heel protectors in a dark green colourGreen Sheepskin Heel Protectors

  • Made from genuine sheepskin – pure comfort and natural fabric allows better regulation of heat
  • Attractive green colour and high-quality appearance
  • Soft, gentle and lightweight



9. Keeping Cosy and Warm

Perhaps it is for most of us that electric blankets are a thing of the past thanks to central heating, however for many whom are sick and have vulnerable immune systems staying warm at all times is vital in ensuring their recovery and general wellbeing. Thankfully electric blankets have transformed since the ones we might have fond, snuggly memories of from the past, and many are fitted with a plethora of technological advancements that not only ensure safety, but can be controlled via Bluetooth, regulate the temperature depending on your body heat and more! Ideal for those with allergies as they can reduce dust mites, and perfect for soothing aches and sores, have a look at our suggestions for modern, sumptuous electric blankets.

Image shows a photograph of the electric blanket folded neatly, with the dual electronic controllers on topMongram Smart Electric Blanket

  • Can be controlled via Bluetooth or app whether at home or away – warm your bed ready for when you get home
  • Luxurious, super-soft fabric for extra comfort
  • Separate heat zones which can be individually adjusted in temperature via the LED controller or app


Image shows a photograph of a plush, grey faux-fur blanket, folded with a controller on top. In a grey circle to the left it states "From 1p a night to run"Relaxwell Deluxe Faux-Fur Heated Blanket

  • Super-sumptuous faux-fur – delightfully soft and beautifully stylish, would look great in the living room as well as in the bedroom
  • 9 heat settings and auto-shut off
  • Economical – costs a few pence to run all night


Image shows a photograph of a folded, fleecy electric blanket in cream, with a controllerDreamland Intelliheat Electric Blanket

  • Blanket responds to ambient temperature to ensure a constant temperature all night long – stops you from over-heating whilst also saving money
  • Soft fleece fabric with satin trim for extra luxury
  • 5 heat settings with auto power off


10. Keeping Cool and Calm!

Moving-on from keeping warm and cosy, sometimes it is also important to stay cool and comfortable whilst sleeping! Given the extreme heat we saw in the UK this past summer, many of us struggled to keep cool come bedtime, and one item we recommend is a positionable bed fan to provide a soothing breeze and circulate air whilst you sleep.

Image explains the various features of the clip-on fan, including size and power sourceClip-on Mini USB Powered Fan

  • Compact and portable – can be clipped-on to bed frames, furniture and more
  • Can be powered by USB or includes rechargeable battery
  • Comes in a range of colours to suit your taste


Image shows three square photographs to the lefthand side displaying the features of the fan, and centrally a large image of the fan itselfWall-Mounted Remote Control Fan

  • Wall-mounted design with fully-articulated fan head and remote control
  • Powerful 60w motor with 3 speed settings and osculation mode
  • Timer setting for auto power-off if required


Image shows the circular ring-shaped Dyson desk fanDyson Air Multiplier Desk Fan

  • Super-safe design eliminates fan blades yet still provides an uninterrupted, constant cool stream of air
  • Magnetised remote control with 10 airflow settings which attaches to the fan
  • Powerful airflow that is 75% quieter than an average blade-fan and uses 30% less electricity

11. Maintaining Good Air Quality

Maintaining good air quality can be an aspect of a good night’s sleep that many people overlook. There are many points that need to be considered when it comes to the air quality of your sleeping area, and it is should be noted that if you suffer from a respiratory condition you should always consult your Occupational Therapist to make sure you get the conditions for your bedroom right.
First and foremost ensuing air quality is pure and filtered is a must – whether you have allergies,
sleep apnea or simply find yourself feeling congested due to urban living and traffic pollution, a decent air filter or purifier could make big changes to your quality of sleep. Air purifiers with Hepa filters installed can capture airborne pollen, pet dander, dust particles, pollen and more, clarifying the air for easier breathing.
Air humidifiers are brilliant at providing moisture in the air that you breathe at night – quite essential in winter when central heating can dry the air. An air humidifier is a truly simple way to eliminate a number of symptoms that can occur after waking from sleep – such as a dry throat, cracked lips and dry skin.
We also suggest that air is kept circulated around your bedroom at night, with a fresh air supply making a huge difference to sleeping conditions. Obviously most of us do not want to keep windows open in the middle of winter, so having an extractor fan installed to your bedroom can ensure the fresh air in your room flows freely without leaving you feeling a winter chill!

Image shows a photograph of a white air purifier by Levoit with a digital display on the topLevoit Air Purifier with True Hepa Filter

  • Includes both a Hepa and carbon filter, to remove 99.97% of air particles such as dust, mould, smoke and pollen
  • Monitors air quality and automatically suggests the correct setting for your room
  • Large space coverage and auto-off timer


Image shows a spherical, veneered air humidifier with turquoise detail and timer on the frontSimple, Stylish Bamboo Room Humidifier

  • Modern, stylish design that would look great in the bedroom or living room
  • Diffuses the air with a cool mist to keep the air moist
  • LED light feature can double as a nightlight


Image shows a photograph a white air humidifier with a digital display to the front, water container on the back and a remote controlLevoit Cool and Warm Humidifier

  • Ultra-quiet so ideal for bedrooms – large capacity means it can be used continually for 36 hours before refilling
  • Humidity and room temperature sensor – keeps you up-to-date with changing environment and automatically adjusts output based on surroundings
  • Remote control and digital display making it easy to control


Image shows a "Which?" magazine best buy accolade to the left, and a photograph of the Air purifier to the rightPhilips App Control Hepa Filter

  • Manage air conditions from inside the home or even whilst away, using the Philips App
  • Includes true Hepa filter which will remove 99.97% of airborne particles and even bacteria in the air
  • Carbon filter removes gases and odours from the air


12. Lighting Conditions and Hormone Regulation

Your ability to slip into a comfortable slumber is controlled by the release of Melatonin – a hormone that regulates you to feel tired at night and awake in the morning. The creation of Melatonin by your body is dependant upon the amount of daylight you receive and at what point in the day the levels of natural light start to decrease.
Therefore, if you try to go to sleep with too much natural light in your room, your body will struggle to allow the release of Melatonin, making it difficult for your body and mind to relax, and let you fall asleep naturally and gradually. By this measure, it is also essential to receive enough natural light in the daytime, to counteract the fall of night – giving your body a quite obvious distinction between night and day (or sleepiness and wakefulness!)
Blackout curtains are a great way to keep light-levels low in your bedroom, and are useful for people of all ages. We’ve found some lovely curtains that are available in many colours and styles, and also some fun designs for children, too.

Image shows french doors with pink, pencil pleat curtainsImperial Rooms Luxury Blackout Curtains

  • Blockout natural light to keep light levels to a minimum
  • Available in a large range of lengths and many colours
  • Thick fabric keeps heat in and cold out, can be machine washed



Image shows a photograph of a room with light-coloured furniture and a window sporting pale blue and pink curtains printed with birds and blossomsPatterned Thermal Blackout Curtains

  • Available in a large range of prints to match your décor and taste
  • Triple-weave fabric blocks out up to 95% of daylight
  • Include tiebacks and can be machine washed



Image is a photograph of a child's nursery with cot, chair and drawing easel. At the window hangs animal patterned blackout curtainsKids Printed Blackout Curtains

  • Fun designs for children’s bedrooms
  • Available in 3 different lengths
  • Thick fabric blocks out daylight and keeps the room insulated




Thanks for reading – we truly hope these products and tips help provide you with an insight into creating the perfect sleeping conditions, and we wish you a more comfortable, cosy and restful night’s sleep! Look out for new post coming soon with a look at children’s products and bed-time routines for disabled children.

Image Labelling for Accessibility (and SEO)

We live in a visual world. Images are used as shorthand all the time, and since the arrival of rapid internet access we communicate more than ever through photographs, gifs and emojis. Just take a look at your social media feeds and you will see them by the score.

emojis: inaccessible to the visually impaired

So imagine if you couldn’t see those images at all. That’s the day to day experience faced by millions of people with visual impairments. Your use of an animated gif to express surprise or amusement might literally be impossible for someone to understand – or even access.

Some of you might run a website – a blog, or even an online shop. Now imagine the experience of trying to navigate and use your site if every image was just a blank space on the page. That is the reality faced by many users of the internet.

But there is good news! The originators of the internet foresaw the need for inclusivity, and built a series of protocols into the coding behind the internet to support labelling of images. Not only that, but a raft of software has been developed to ‘read’ that code – often literally – for the benefit of visually impaired or blind users.

It is up to all of us to take advantage of this technology to make the world a little bit more accessible.

A happy side effect of taking accessibility into account is that Google’s spider is in effect like a ‘blind’ user of your site. It will take account of image labelling in its ranking of your site – and so it is important for SEO to make sure you follow these guidelines, even if you don’t aim your content at visually impaired people.

How it Works

When a visually impaired user visits your website or social media stream, the software they use is different to that used by the majority of us. In some cases, images are hidden altogether, and only tex

Webbie is the mostly commonly used screen reader

t is displayed – often in a high contrast colour scheme and at a much bigger scale. Too see how this affects the user experience, we recommend downloading WebbIE.

Where the eyesight is impaired to such a degree to make reading impossible however, users might be using screen reading software such as JAWS. This actually reads content aloud, or even try it translates it to Braille through a clever interface.

Before looking at what you do with your images, try downloading some of this software yourself to see how it works and understand exactly how different the internet is when shorn of the visuals so many of us take from granted.

General Principles

Before we get down to how to put text behind an image, it’s worth thinking about what it is we’re trying to convey. The general principle is to explain as much as possible about what is in the picture with clear and comprehensive descriptions that make sense within the context of the piece.

For example, lots of articles use photographs of people simply wearing emotional expressions to add a kind of ‘feeling’ to the accompanying piece: perhaps a pensive-looking man, or a happy couple.

These might not be essential to the content but lend useful context. Descriptions should therefore convey the meaning of these images and reflect this context: “A pensive looking man, reflecting the way in which people are affected by this issue”, for example.

The alt attribute as seen in HTML codeYou do not need to say “a picture of” at the start of the description as the software or user will be able to determine this for themselves.

Some photographs are more specific. A good example would be product photography if you’re looking to sell goods or services. A great description would include dimensions, colour, and function of the product: “The Trabasack Curve. This is an all in one wheelchair lap tray, travel bag and lap desk. It is 30cm wide and 28cm deep. It comes in black or purple trim, and fastens to any surface with Velcro fastenings” for example.

Each case is very different, so it is up to you to spend the necessary time to craft detailed descriptions that would offer the most help to your site visitors.

HTML sites

If you are writing your own code (or have a web developer working on it) then the most of the legwork is handled by two attributes:

  • The Alt attribute
    This is a concise description of the image and should convey everything that a user might need to know about an image . If you are not visually impaired yourself, and don’t use a screen reader, you can see what this is by hovering your mouse over an image. If an alt attribute exist, you will see a ‘tool tip’ style note . Full guidelines are available here.
  • The Longdesc attribute
    While no longer supported by some modern browsers, this attribute gives you the opportunity to link to a longer, more detailed description of the image. Again, guidelines for use are available here.

Social Media

The two major social media sites – Facebook and Twitter – support accessible labelling of images, and you should pay regard to their own guidelines and the tools they have made available for you to deliver great accessible content.

  • Twitter’s guidelines can be viewed here.
  • Facebook’s guidelines are here.

For other sites such as LinkedIn and Tumblr, it is unfortunate that there are no native ways to support accessibility. When posting images on these sites, you should give all necessary context in the text accompanying them.