In the age of Information, we are given a choice about the content we consume. Content has become more sophisticated and complex for the general audience. But how digestible is it for people with cognitive disabilities? Cognitive disabilities are invisible and less recognized in society. There are ramps to replace steps, doorways that are widened, and restrooms that accommodate wheelchairs. But information is hardly cognitively accessible for everyone. For people with intellectual, developmental, and learning disabilities processing relevant and everyday information can still be a challenge.
Businesses must accept the responsibility of accessible communication. In 2010, Barack Obama signed the Plain Language Act into law. It required government agencies to use plain language for federal communication. This law ensured that critical communication such as disaster relief and pandemic-related news will be understood by everyone.
How To Use Plain Language For Accessible Communication
There are certain steps and guidelines businesses can take to accommodate special populations when it comes to information.
1. Use most common words with fewer syllables. There is no need for complex jargon and vocabulary words. Simple syntax is key.
2. Use one idea per sentence. Avoid using run-on sentences and compound sentences.
3. Start each paragraph with one idea and develop that idea to completion within the paragraph.
4. Use active voice over passive voice. Instead of writing, “Seatbelts should be worn by everyone,” say “Everyone should wear seatbelts”.
5. Use the text to communicate information rather than describe something or entertain the reader.
6. Use simple fonts that are not highly stylized.
7. Use a simple layout for the text. Consider the spacing and the visual impression of the document. Text that is accommodating has more space between lines, more space between paragraphs, and uses bullet points and lists.
The Implications Of Accessibility In Language
The interesting thing about businesses adapting to plain language is that it requires a deeper understanding of the subject matter. Plain language is intended for an 8th-grade reading level. The average American reads at an 8th-grade level. To write at a higher reading level requires more extensive vocabulary but a more cursory grasp of the subject matter.
Plain language requires the writer to be concise and to explain things well. Plain language content might be longer because there is more to explain. It doesn’t encourage using metaphors, idioms, and flowery language as descriptions of ideas. While it can be a challenge to explain a complex subject matter in plain language, the practice greatly contributes to the accessibility of information.
On the internet, content is currency. From social media to websites, blogs and everything imaginable content dominates the way people consume and process information. In turn, that information exchange dictates the quality of the decisions people make in their lives. It is only fair and responsible that businesses take into consideration the cognitively disabled individuals in society and how information is consumed by them. By using plain language to explain complex ideas, businesses promote more equality and inclusivity in communication.