Why accessibility and clear writing matter

At its worst, unclear writing is almost as bad as not publishing the information in the first place. Writing clearly and making sure you comply with accessibility guidelines potentially benefits all of your readers.
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AccessibilityPlain English

There are plenty of benefits to putting plain English and accessibility principles into action – a more consistent tone of voice, ‘easier to understand and navigate’ web pages, better SEO, more people correctly filling in forms (hooray!). Even better, adopting some simple principles could also help your organisation meet its ESG objectives.

Increasing transparency

Using unnecessarily difficult language, over-long sentences and jargon in annual reports, on your website, in letters and elsewhere effectively buries content. At its worst, unclear writing is almost as bad as not publishing the information in the first place.

Whether you work in health or are a lawmaker, are undertaking a digital transformation project or want to ensure people understand your air safety regulations, writing clearly and making sure you comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) potentially benefits all of your readers.

It also supercharges organisational transparency – a key objective on many organisations’ ESG to-do lists.

Because logically organising headings and making more careful decisions when it comes to sentence length, word choice, colour and font size don’t just benefit people who primarily speak languages other than English, or those who are older or people with disabilities. It makes content clearer and easier to understand for everybody.

Inclusion

As the not-for-profit Cahoots puts it, ‘everyone, regardless of their mental or physical abilities [has a right to be] understood, appreciated and able to participate’.

At Editor Group, we couldn’t agree more. If your content is unnecessarily hard to understand or doesn’t comply with accessibility guidelines, it leaves a lot of people in a lot of situations out in the cold.

In Australia for instance, it’s currently estimated that 575,000 people experience blindness or vision impairment.

More than a fifth of the population spoke a language other than English at home in 2021 and there are currently over 450,000 people with an intellectual disability.

Add to that those with low literacy and those who are older or live with illnesses like Multiple Sclerosis – which make it difficult or impossible to type or point a mouse – and you have a sizeable cohort of people not being served by mainstream communications.

For many, plain English and WCAG compliance aren’t just ‘nice to have’, they’re the difference between being able to read something on the web or not. And with government services and essential activities like shopping and medical appointments increasingly moving online, that translates to being able to effectively participate – or not – in everyday life.

How you can make your content easier to read – for everybody

One of the simplest ways to make your content clearer is to think more carefully about the language, tenses and grammar constructions you habitually use. To find out more about how to get your point across quickly, visit our TITLE blog.

When it comes to making your content more accessible to screen readers and other assistive technologies, simple ways to start include:

  • breaking up your content into more easily digestible ‘chunks’ by using subheadings so that people can easily find the information they’re after
  • ensuring all headings are nested so that they are navigable by those using screen readers – using a Level 2 heading after a Level 1 heading and never leaping straight from H1 to H3
  • including proper alt text on all images
  • making a transcript available for videos
  • considering your approach to colour and font size in things like logos and page layout.

AI-powered software like the spellcheckers in Microsoft Word and Google Docs, or web-based tools such as Grammarly can also help you more effectively use plain English and comply with accessibility guidelines.

If you’re interested in the topic, there is plenty more information on how to make your website accessible online. You can even take a free Digital Accessibility Foundations course run by W3C.

Editor group applies plain English principles whenever possible. We also consider WCAG compliance as part of our website editing services. Talk to us about how we can help.

By Meredith Tucker

 

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