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RE: plain/simple/easy language variant subtag

From: Jonathan Avila <jon.avila@ssbbartgroup.com>
Date: Thu, 17 Sep 2015 14:00:13 +0000
To: Paul Bohman <paul.bohman@deque.com>, Chaals McCathie Nevile <chaals@yandex-team.ru>
CC: Phill Jenkins <pjenkins@us.ibm.com>, WAI Interest Group <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-ID: <BY2PR03MB2723092B855E077DBDB97309B5A0@BY2PR03MB272.namprd03.prod.outlook.com>
Ø  defects, injuries, diseases, etc. -- that target very specific parts of perception or cognition, in which case they don't have a generalized inability to process complexities, but rather a very specific deficiency. In some of those cases, simple language may help

Yes, one specific example is passive voice sentences.   In my experience these are very challenging for people with short term memory loss. Changing the sentence to active voice can make a world of difference in efficiency and comprehension.

When I bring up clear language things like this in technical groups that I am a part of I’m told I’m just being picky.  But in my opinion the change of voice does not change the meaning of the content (although it may shift the emphasis) but provides a more direct read and supports more readers.


Jonathan Avila
Chief Accessibility Officer
Phone 703.637.8957
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From: Paul Bohman [mailto:paul.bohman@deque.com]
Sent: Wednesday, September 16, 2015 9:57 PM
To: Chaals McCathie Nevile
Cc: Phill Jenkins; WAI Interest Group
Subject: Re: plain/simple/easy language variant subtag

In response to this:
For other people, you have to start by giving them life experience. Good luck with that.

Parents and teachers do it all the time. What's the problem?

My response: Ok, if you've got a semester (or 18 years, or some other appropriate time frame) to work with, and the world as your classroom, that's great. I assumed we were talking about a web page, in which case, time and space are limited, as are your ability to discern the character and needs of the audience.
Also, the reason I used a three-year old in my example was to push the point on the ability to comprehend. I've worked with adults who will never exceed the capacity of a three-year old (or 8 or some other age, depending on the individual) for comprehension of complex ideas. Dyslexia and dyscalculia pale in comparison to the challenge of designing content for someone like that. And yet, I've seen websites designed precisely for adults with the maximum cognitive capacity of children. The web sites I'm thinking of use pictures, videos, audio, and games, and essentially no text or only very limited text. One such web site was for job training. The web site showed examples of people doing various jobs, and asked users to respond to questions like "which job looks more interesting to you?" The navigation usually consisted of a choice between only two items, which were usually pictures, and the pathway through the site was essentially sequential, with no real menu. The site was radically different than nearly every other web site, and would be inappropriate, or at least not very useful, to most audiences.
So, can you design web sites for people with limited comprehension? Absolutely. But none of the target users of those web sites were going to understand the totality of "change management theory" in large organizations. Try as you might, they won't be able to run a large organization based on what you teach them, no matter how well or how simply you explain it.
And it really does come down to the complexity of the information, at least with the audiences I'm talking about. These adults have had life experiences, but they didn't comprehend those life experiences as fully as someone with average intelligence would have -- because of the complexity of those life experiences -- so they are on par with the child of 3 or 8 or whatever age is comparable for that individual. The root of their difficulty or inability to comprehend is in the complexity of the information, and, by extension, their inability to connect disparate pieces of information, or to recognize patterns, or to critically analyze and draw conclusions. They might also have issues forming long term memories, or may have other limitations.

That said, there are specific conditions of the brain -- defects, injuries, diseases, etc. -- that target very specific parts of perception or cognition, in which case they don't have a generalized inability to process complexities, but rather a very specific deficiency. In some of those cases, simple language may help. In other cases -- like aphasia -- language itself may be the problem, and you're going to have to come up with another way to convey information that doesn't use language at all.
There are so many variations of human cognitive deficiency that your concluding question of "What's the problem?" -- aside from being casually dismissive -- seems more than a little myopic.

Paul Bohman, PhD
Director of Training, Deque Systems, Inc
703-225-0380, ext.121

Received on Thursday, 17 September 2015 14:00:51 UTC

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