Episode 13-Plain Language
0-0:14 Orthotonics Accessible as Gravity plays and fades out
0:14 Hello and welcome to Accessagogy a podcast about accessibility and pedagogy. I’m your host Ann Gagné and this podcast is recorded on land covered by the Upper Canada Treaties and within land protected by the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Agreement, which is the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples.
0:36 Welcome to episode thirteen. In this episode I want to explore plain language and easy read and how these are important considerations for when we are creating resources for college and university classes, but also how there seems to be a tension in understanding why plain language does not necessarily go against some kind of mistaken idea of rigour that is seen in academe.
1:01 For this episode I’m going to be referring to a few resources that can help support your work around plain language writing. One of the resources is a guide that is created by ASAN, which is the Autistic Self Adovacy Network, and it’s called One Idea Per Line: A Guide to Making Easy Read Resources. I will be linking to this resource on the episode web page for your reference.
1:27 One of the reasons why I thought this would make a good episode for the podcast is that I’m seeing a lot of people talk about why it is so important for instructors and teaching assistants to make resources that are “accessible” quote unquote to learners and what they really meant is a way that the resources are understandable; the way that the instructions are understandable. And yet absolutely everything that we’re asked to follow in academe from the point of view of instructors, teaching assistants, and staff is given with instructions that are actually the opposite of easy to read and not provided in plain language.
2:10 If you’ve ever tried to sign up for anything that anyone has asked you to do, or if you’ve done any sort of HR training, you know what I’m talking about right. So any of that asynchronous HR modules that you have to do or any kind of sort of professional development like that sometimes. Is not necessarily provided in plain language especially if it’s on a topic that’s sort of legalistic or those kinds of things.
2:36 I have the privilege of teaching students who are studying human resources and so this allows for really great conversations. And we do have conversations about the resources, the procedures, and the barriers that are put in place when you’re applying for a position, simply because the instructions on what you’re supposed to do and how what you’re supposed to follow are not easy to follow, or unnecessarily complex due to the false belief that the university or the college and their resources and instructions need to be given in a certain way and with a certain tone.
3:14 One thing that I appreciate about this ASAN guide is that it really emphasizes the contextual nature of this work like with all accessibility work. We’re not looking for check lists here. There is not one way that is necessarily a way to create easy read resources but there’s some ways to guide it, what they provide in the guide are some things that you can and should consider. Easy read resources can be very helpful for learners who have learning disabilities, dyslexic learners, but also for learners who do not identify as having a disability, but they’re English as an additional language learners for example and can appreciate information given in an easy read way for processing.
3:58 Some of the aspects of easy read connect with the multiple means principles that are discussed in universal design for learning or UDL frameworks. So this means that information can be provided textually, but also can benefit from having additional modalities to support knowledge transfer. So a good example of this can be when you provide instructions for how to do an assignment for your students and you go over it orally in class with them and ask if they have any like questions or if there’s aspects of the instructions that need clarification. It can also be very useful to have and create a short 1 to 2 minute captioned video or even an audio file with transcript, that will accompany that information about the assignment and put it in the learning management system so that the students can return to that when they are working on their assignments.
4:49 So easy read usually can be identified by shorter sentences and the use of multimodal supports usually by pictures icons those kinds of things. Plain language is thinking about the style of writing or writing at a different level. So this allows for folk approach the information without jargon or without more technical terms. Both Easy Read and plain language supports can be contested spaces in academe because, again as I was saying, this faulty idea around rigour and that we need to write and read complex languages and that’s basically how you define academe, right?
5:34 Easy read breaks that information down in a way that can be reworded or redesigned to support ideas right. It gives definitions of terms that can be presented in bullet form if that’s preferred. It’s a breaking down of information that becomes important here.
5:53 Another tool that can be helpful with this is called Hemingway, which I will also link in the web page of the episode. Hemingway is one of those tools that will give you the word count, it will identify the grade level readability of the text that you’ve created but then it will also provide simpler suggestions for some of the phrases. It’ll identify the more complex phrases and say hey there’s simpler ways to say these things. It can help with the easy read breaking down of information, but can also help with plain language to write it at different level. Word processing software, like Microsoft Word for example, can provide grade level readability skills (scores), but the interface on Hemingway I find is a little bit more user friendly than whatever you would find in Word.
6:41 I know that I’m one of those people who struggles a lot with writing in Plain Language; I’ve been told this, I know this about myself. And the more that I reflect on this, more that I feel that part of this is kind of a carry over from grad school, as you do, and this fear that my level of diction or style of writing and communicating was not the same as my peers. This of course part of a larger normative tendency in academe when it comes to communication, right. It has a lot to do with race, class, gender, and all of those things when it comes to communication and a failure to understand that people will communicate and process in different ways.
7:24 I’m also for this episode going to link to an article by Andrew Pulrang who writes really great things about disability and this is an article about Plain language writing which will give you a little bit more information. In this article he provides examples of the difference between the original and plain language example from Alice Wong’s edited collection Disability Visibility. The ASAN guide also gives examples of what an Easy Read version of a text would look like and a Plain Language version of a text would look like. So if you want to see the difference of those two, just scroll through that, through that pdf and it will actually give you all of that information.
8:08 Ultimately what is required here or the reflection point that I want to emphasize in this episode is that it’s important to analyze your text for unnecessary jargony text but also for ways to support information and instructions with images, like icons to guide readers, or other multimodal supports for guidance. This is also about the use of white space in our textual designs and how scannable our information is to readers. And I talk a lot about this with my students; like how scannable is this email, how scannable is this business letter that you’re writing.
8:45 So this is one of those episodes where I would really love feedback from those of you who are engaging with this episode. What are some examples of some great plain language resources and instructions that you’ve received? What are some examples of the opposite of that? If we can curate some examples for others to reflect on and to use as they approach this concept I think it would really help with awareness and it would really help create resources that are more accessible.
9:12 So because of the nature of the topic I also want to try to make this episode a little bit shorter, and a bit more to the point though I know that I do already I still have a lot or jargon and unnecessarily complex words in this particular episode. In fact what I did was that I took the transcript of this episode and I put it into Hemingway and Hemingway says the transcript reads at a grade 13 level and it’s kindly asking me to aim for 9. So it’s already way too high of a grade level. And there are 15 of 73 sentences here are difficult to read and 19 of 73 sentences are very hard to read according to Hemingway. So as you can see, even I as the host of Accessagogy, have a lot of work to do on this.
10:03 So that’s it, that’s episode 13 of Accessagogy, with an overview of plain language and easy to read resources that can help support accessibility in your courses.
10:12 Remember as well that I also want this to be a space where you can ask questions and share concepts that you would like me to discuss. So if there’s anything that I mentioned here, or if you have any examples that you want to share, please do share and ask me to clarify.
10:27 As always if you have any ideas or aspects of your pedagogy that you would like me to address in this podcast, please feel free to send me an email at Accessagogy so that’s acc e ss a gogy at gmail dot com. I will try to include as many suggestions as possible because ultimately, this podcast is for you. So that’s it, that’s episode 13 of Accessagogy, thanks so much for following along and asking how can I make my space more accessible today? Have a great week!