Monthly Archives: March 2010

Accessible information is understandable

This in part of a series Ten points to accessible information.

You can present information in Braille, large print, Sign Language, or easy read, but it will still be useless if it cannot be understood.

Once again we are talking about clear and straightforward communication, familiar language, jargon free text and information that is well structured and easy to follow. This is true whether the information is presented in a web site that has clearly understandable navigation and other interactions such as forms, or in any other format.

Presenting the same information in a variety of alternative or supplemented representations can increase understanding. Text can be supplemented with informative illustrations and graphics, for example.

On the Web, this kind of multi-formatted presentation of information gives the lie to the argument that accessibility is boring. Here, text can be supplemented with illustrations, animations, audio, video and information in other formats. Some of these formats may be essential for comprehension by those with more significant cognitive or reading impairments.

Summaries of long and complex information, either on the web or elsewhere can also make information more understandable.

Understandable information as an element of accessibility will benefit everyone. Here is an example from my own recent experience. Last week I was watching a presentation during the CSUN 2010 tweetup.  Our so-called broadband was simply not keeping up. Because the presentation was live streaming I was missing bits and it was annoyingly difficult to understand what was being said. (I have hearing within the regular range.) Mostly I couldn’t read what was on the overheads being shown either. However the conference was thoughtfully providing captions, which loaded faster than the visual and audio so I could follow the presentation. Thanks guys.

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Accessible information is concise

This is part of a series Ten points to accessible information.

Accessible information is straightforward and direct, getting to the points quickly and simply. It avoids unnecessary words or jargon. It shares many features of plain English, including short uncomplicated sentences, and language familiar to users.

Concise information is easy to follow, expressing all the information that the user is looking for in a few words. It should, for example, enable users of web sites to complete their tasks quickly and easily.

Accessible information is brief but comprehensive.

This may not always be as easy in practice as it looks.  You can think about the information you want to convey as a pyramid, with the sharp point at the top being the most important. The most important piece of information is expressed as a short sentence in the first paragraph. The wide base of the pyramid represents the least important information as it might not be read.

Of course knowing your audience, being user focused, and knowing what is relevant will help you understand what your user is looking for.

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Accessible information is timely

This post is part of a series, Ten points to accessible information.

Information should be timely, that is, available to everyone at the same time, no matter what the format. It should not appear in other formats later. It should also be available for disabled and other print disabled people in time to be useful.

In the last post Accessible information is relevant I indicated the particular costs in time, effort and resources to disabled people when accessing information. It is therefore critical that information is available at the time it is needed, and gives people who need it the opportunity to make the best use of it. It is no use having to wait for information about an event until it is too late to register your attendance, to find out about election candidates when there is little time left to make your decision, or to learn about the closing date for a submission when it is too late for you, or too late to organise your group to submit. Accessing an using information will take longer for some disabled people and their organisations. This might seen to be stating the obvious perhaps, but in my experience it happens.

To make sure this happens smoothly good planning is essential, working back from the end date so that everyone is included.

Accessibility and the range of formats offered should be planned in from the start of any information or communications project. A last-minute addition will be more expensive and reach a smaller audience. Planning will prevent mistakes such as sending out print covering letters with non-print alternative format material.

Planning and budgeting for the time and resources necessary for a variety of formats and channels will ensure best practice processes are followed. Ultimately the best value for resources will be gained with careful planning and decision-making about who needs what and when.

A significant spin off from timely information is that disabled people will know they are as important as everyone else, critical if the message is to be communicated successfully.

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Accessible information is Relevant

This is the third in a series, Ten points to accessible information.

Focusing on the user is an important part of accessible information. The user also wants to be able to find relevant information. The two are, of course, closely related

Information providers must cut to the chase, and make sure they understand and provide what people really want. Give people the information they want most, rather than welcoming them to the web site, describing your policies and processes,  your vision, everything you do, your strategic direction, or how to use the site, (which should be obvious anyway,) or other wordy, jargon filled padding. The same goes for print information.

On the automated phone system don’t ask me to take even a short survey when I have to select from a raft of options. I want one piece of information about my account and I want it now, not later.
Don’t survey me about your service – just give it to me!

If your function is a complaints or claims body, for example, make sure people can find where and how to complain quickly and easily. ACC has changed its web site to do just that. It works.

The process of finding and using information has costs for disabled people, often more than for other people. These costs can be in terms of sheer effort, time as well as material resources. Costs are different for different people and impact on their use of information in different ways. Disabled people may also have fewer choices in the sources they use to access information.  They need to be able to quickly access relevant information with minimal effort.

If I can’t find the information I want quickly and easily on a web site I will pick up the phone and waste someone’s time until I get it.

And yes – if it works well for disabled people it will work well for everyone.

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