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Gaps: (1) Language Readability, (2) Privacy

From: eric hansen <ehansen@ets.org>
Date: Fri, 23 Oct 1998 17:17:50 -0400 (EDT)
To: w3c-wai-gl@w3.org
Message-id: <vines.yRv7+k8DAqA@pclan.ets.org>
Re: Gaps in Page Authoring Document

I think that there are a couple of gaps in the page authoring document -- 
one having to do with the readability of language and the other with 
privacy of personal information.

The gaps would not be so serious if the document were addressed only to Web 
designers and HTML coders who take the content and put it on the Web. The 
document is addressed to "page authors," i.e., "Those who are creating Web 
pages." (Appendix B. Definitions), and would logically include content 
providers, individuals who create the written and other content to put on 
the Web.

1. Language Readability

The gap might be filled by something like: "Ensure readable language." 

I suppose that it should be a priority 2 or 1 guideline.

Tips for achieving this might include:

Follow these writing suggestions: 

 Strive for clear and accurate headings and link descriptions. Scrutinize 
every heading, outline, and menu to see if the crucial words mean exactly 
what is intended, and if there is a more common word that would convey the 
same meaning.
 State the topic of the sentence or paragraph at the beginning of the 
sentence or paragraph.
 Limit each paragraph to one main idea.
 Avoid difficult vocabulary and technical jargon.
 Avoid specialized meanings of familiar vocabulary, unless explanations 
are provided.
 Avoid the passive voice. 
 Avoid complex sentence structure.
 Make link phrases terse and meaningful when read out of context. 

Optimize pages for scanning. Because people tend to scan rather than read 
Web pages, the quality of headings is particularly important. Good headings 
will at least get people to a section that has the information they need. 
From there they can go to a dictionary or even print out a section and ask 
for help.

Rationale: Lack of readability of language presents a major challenge, 
especially for individuals who are deaf or have learning disabilities. One 
can readily understand that language complexity might reduce the 
accessibility of language for an individual with a learning disability, but 
what about individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing? It is obvious that 
people with hearing losses find it difficult or impossible to sense audio 
input. Yet the average deaf high school graduate has a considerably lower 
reading level than a typical hearing counterpart. Many deaf and hard of 
hearing individuals do not attain full mastery of English and function much 
as do second-language learners of English the language.
 
Specific problems include difficult vocabulary and sentence construction,  
misleading headings, missing information, hidden information, poor 
organization, etc. Some of these shortcomings can be overcome by a user 
with excellent language or inferencing skills, but especially when an 
individual has a hearing loss, a learning disability, or uses English as a 
second language, these shortcomings can entirely prevent Web information 
from being usable. Note this guideline refers to the nature of language 
used -- the cognitive accessibility of the content in contrast to its 
sensory accessibility.

Ensuring readable language can benefit nondisabled users as well. Former 
Sun Microsystems researcher Jakob Nielsen found that by rewriting content 
according to certain guidelines, the measured usability of the content by 
readers doubled. (www.useit.com/papers/webwriting/writing.html)

2. Privacy of Personal Information

"Inform the user how personal information will be used."

One Web user declined to fill out information about his disability on a 
scholarship search form because he was concerned that the information would 
be given to institutions to which he was applying to graduate school. This 
concern impeded his full use of the service.

I can provide further suggestions on this issue if desired. I consider it 
less critical than the language readability issue.

=============================
Eric G. Hansen
Development Scientist
Educational Testing Service
ETS 12-R
Rosedale Road
Princeton, NJ 08541
(W) 609-734-5615
(Fax) 609-734-1090
Internet: ehansen@ets.org 
Received on Friday, 23 October 1998 17:24:22 GMT

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