Using Plain Language for People with Cognitive Disabilities: Discussion, Example

Previous posts have discussed switching between two accessible versions of the same Web site.  The version for people with cognitive disabilities would not show secondary content such as columns of links and image-based advertisements.  Instead, it would only show primary, textual content and contextually-related imagery.  This is well and good from a design perspective.

However, a Web site’s primary content can be as confounding to people with cognitive disabilities as a cluttered design.  Text must be written in plain, simple language.  There are efforts all over the world to encourage the use of plain language for everyone.  See (U.S.), Plain English Campaign (U.K.) and Plain Language Association International (world).  So, though this problem is not unique to people with cognitive disabilities, they are put at a particular disadvantage because of the nature of their disability.

For the future Clear Helper Web site, I would like to have two content versions: one with standard language and one with a lower readability level.  Future posts will discuss how this might be accomplished technically.

Example Web Site

There is at least one Web site that enables users to switch between two language versions: one for “Standard” English and one for “Easy” English.  It is of The NSW Council for Intellectual Disability in New South Wales, Australia.  Clicking the “Easy English” button on the home page produces a welcome message with instructions on how to use the site.  As users navigate through the pages, each can be switched between the two language versions via buttons at the tops of the pages.

Usability Errors?

The site is designed to meet accessibility standards, but there are are some odd interface choices.  Examples:

  • The menu for the standard fact sheets has relevant images, but they are not clickable like the links below them.
  • All of the “Standard” English fact sheets are Web pages, but all the “Easy” English ones are PDFs. Browse Aloud, which is available on the site, can read PDFs.  Yet counting on users to have it and a PDF reader installed seems like an unnecessary complication.
  • The “Easy” English welcome page requires visitors to use the “Contact Us” tab at the top of the page because the “Contact Us” text referencing it is not clickable.

Despite these minor quibbles, I think it’s great that the Web site provides two language versions, one targeted to people with intellectual disabilities.  I soon will be attempting the same.

This post is a continuation of the following:

2 thoughts on “Using Plain Language for People with Cognitive Disabilities: Discussion, Example

  1. The usefulness (and usability) of plain language extends beyond those with cognitive disabilities. Having personally suffered from debilitating fatigue, I can vouch for the benefits of keeping content, language and layout clear.

    See my presentation notes from OzEWAI 2006, “The Forgotten Difficulties – Fatigue and the Web”

    Those with other distractions, such as chronic pain, could possibly benefit likewise.

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