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Web Accessibility Criteria - Readability

 Description

Readability is the ease with which a reader can understand a written text. Readability plays a significant role while developing web content by increasing comprehension for the reader. Readability emphasizes how the text is writtenorganized and visually displayed for maximum reader comprehension. 

Written Text 

When creating content, the written text is the single most important aspect of a web page. It is what ultimately connects the audience to the website and as such written text should always be easy to understand, at an appropriate reading level and should always be encoded correctly so that all web audience have access to the information.   

Clarity and Simplicity 

Written text in web content must always be clear, simplistic and appropriate for the content of the page. Clear and concise written text is critical to ensure a website is comprehensible for all users. When creating clear and simplistic written text, it is important consider the tone and language used to describe and make references in written text; this will ensure the audience remains engaged.

Reading Level and Language Defaults 

The reading level of the audience must always be considered; when written text is too long or complex, the readability of the page decreases. Finally, the default language of the page should always be defined in web pages. The default language of the webpage is identified by "lang" HTML attribute that is used to provide assistive technologies the language in which the page was built upon. Therefore, the content will be read appropriately. Incorporating this technique will eliminate any language barriers for assistive technology users.

Organization 

Content organization helps readers navigate, access, and comprehend web content. To ensure a website is readable for all users, all content should be displayed in sequential order. The most important information of the page should always be at the forefront followed by supplemental information. Moreover, when content is broken into sections, the order of the page should remain consistent. This means, the content must always have appropriate structure and markup so that it can be read correctly. 

Visual Display 

The visual display of content is also critical to ensure the readability of the page.  This means the content color, fonts, spacing and imagery must be thoughtful considered to ensure all content in the page is easy to perceive by users. If the visual look to the text and content organization makes it difficult for users to understand information, the readability of the page is lost. More information regarding the importance of visual display can be found in the Web Accessibility Criteria Color  page. 

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 Why is it important?

When users interact with content on the web, it is important that the written text remains clear and simplistic as possible so that the information can be understood by a wide array of audience. Hence, the more readable web content is, the greater the reach in audience. Readability in web content will ensure users with disabilities, such as users with cognitive disabilities and reading disorders, as well as users with language and cultural differences, understand the information conveyed. When the web content becomes too technical or the language used is too complex, it can become an accessibility barrier to not only users with disabilities or language differences, it can become a problem to all users. 

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Section 508/WCAG 2.0 Summary of Requirement

Allow text content to be read by users and by assistive technology, and to ensure that information necessary for understanding it is available.

Best practices

Overview

The best practices for readability include guides on writing text for the web as well as information on how to organize web content

Writing Text 

The following best practices should be used to increase reader comprehension for written text:


Understanding the Audience

When creating written text on the web, the audience must always come first. The following questions must be considered: 

    • Who is the audience? 
    • What may be the audiences knowledge on the web page subject?
    • What does the audience need to take away from the web page? 

 These questions will help initiate the development of the webpage that will be user-friendly and capable of meeting the audience's needs. 

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Reading Level 

The reading level of the page ultimately will depend on the audience. However, it is recommended to maintain the reading level of the page as close to the average reading level of the overall population. Generally, secondary education reading level is the recommended approach, however, in the case of higher education, reading level can be slightly above secondary education. 

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Default Language 

The default language of the page must always match the language of the written text. However, there may be times when the default language and written text may not match, such as with international webpages. In those cases, the language of the target audience should be considered. Typically the default language is automatically encoded in English, however, it should be explicitly assigned to any element with content other than English.

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Unbiased Tone

Using an unbiased tone is critical to provide information to the widest audience possible. Phrases such as, “I feel” or “I believe” shows the content has a reader bias. However, interest articles may require this type of language, while tutorials and general information is best presented free of emotions, morals and/or beliefs.

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Ability-Focused Text

When making references to specific groups of people, consider them as people first. For instance, people with disabilities rather than disabled people. The first example recognizes the person, while the later highlights the disability. Another consideration is acknowledging how the group of people prefer to be identified. Some examples include using Hard of Hearing vs. Hearing Impaired and Learning Differences rather than Learning Disability. An ability-focused mindset supports inclusion efforts and maintains the focus on what a person can do.

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Gender/Pronoun Neutral Language

Omitting the use of gender labels and pronouns neutralizes written text. The phrasing he/she could assume specific roles on the reader. This could alter how the information is received. Use phrasing such as, “the reader” or “the student” provides a gender-neutral text. Pronouns can detract viewers from reading a text. A common practice is to use the pronoun, “you” in written text. However, information with pronouns could unintentionally place blame and/or point fingers at the reader.

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Fact/Evidence-Based Citations

Facts and evidence-based citations strengthen and provide validity to written text. Specifically, articles and journals in the field of education heavily rely on research-based phrasing to base decisions grounded in evidence rather than a guess or assumption. Highlighting peer-reviewed work shows a reader additional thought and consideration was spent during the development process of the information/content.

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Affirmation Centric Language

Phrasing sentences with a positive approach shifts the focus to a “can do” message. For instance, the phrasing, “be productive” encourages affirmation while, “don’t procrastinate” focuses on the negative. Furthermore, consider readability text free of extreme language (never, always, only) which can narrow the focus of the reader and present a hidden bias. Using phrases such as, “consider” or “be mindful” encourages the reader to analyze the content on a deeper level.

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Organization

Overall organization helps readers navigate, access, and comprehend web content both technically and visually. Best practices for organization are divided into the following:


Content Organization

Consider the following questions and strategies while initially building/constructing/developing a new web content page:

  • What is the written text i.e. tutorial (teaching) or article (informing)?
    • Strategies:
      • Select proper web layout type
      • Use proper language to align with the type of information
      • Use style headings
      • Split content into sections by category or topic (relevant to content)
      • Consider the amount of information presented on a single page
  • Who will be reading the text i.e. colleagues, public, etc.?
    • Strategies:
      • Use Readability Checker to align grade level with audience
      • Use proper language to align with audience
      • Use style headings
      • Split content into sections by category or topic (relevant to content)
      • Consider the amount of information presented on a single page
      • Provide multiple ways to present critical information
      • Introduce the written text with a clear opening sentence
      • Define all relevant terminology to level understanding across users
      • Maintain paragraph length
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Paragraph Structure

    • Introduce the written text with a clear opening sentence
    • Define all relevant terminology to level understanding across users
    • Maintain paragraph length
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Examples

Written Text 

The document below demonstrates two passages; one with readability considered and one with readability not considered.  Users may experience difficulties and potential barriers when reading the  passage with readability not considered. 


 Readability Examples (PDF Viewer)

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 Default Language 

The sentence below is associated with two audio recordings associated to demonstrate how the default language plays a role in the readability of the sentence:

"Coolidge was reserved, known as ‘Silent Cal’; he enjoyed childish practical jokes such as buzzing for his bodyguards and then hiding under his desk as they frantically searched for him, presumably fearing him kidnapped. He was somewhat lazy: he liked to nap in the afternoons and would depart early to bed even at state dinners."

When the language is encoded correctly, screen readers will read the sentence correctly as in the recording below:

However, if the default language is not placed correctly or if the wrong language code is present, assisitve technologies will have difficulties decoding sentence to make it readable to the user in the correct language. In the recording below, the default language is changed to German. When this occurs, assistive technology will attempt to decode the sentence in German even though the sentence is written in English.

 

Source Code View 

<HTML lang= "language id" >

<body>

...

</body>

</HTML> 

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How to Test

Visual Test

Testing for readability requires a visual test to determine if the text in the website is understandable. For guidance on what to look for, always refer to the best practices for readability. As a rule of thumb, while evaluating for readability, always ask the following questions: 

  • Is the content organized in a logical and thoughtful manner? 
  • Is the written text clear and simple for the page and does it convey the right tone? 
  • Is the reading level for the page appropriate? 
  • Is the language encoded properly? 
  • Is the information visually easy to read and comprehend? 

Readability Checker

Readability checkers are a great tool to use to identify the reading level of the written text. Readability checkers will give text a score and will typically highlight phrases or words that may be too complicated for most users.   

Resources