Clarity makes communications accessible
In our communications and content work at QIP, we talk, learn, and think a lot about accessibility and plain language. The more we learn and grow in this work, the link between these concepts becomes more apparent. What is plain language if not making communications accessible? The theme for this year’s International Plain Language Day is “Access for All starts with plain language.”
The Plain Language Act of 2010 requires federal agencies, among other things, to follow the Federal Plain Language Guidelines (available for download at the link). These guidelines are designed to help agencies write clear, concise copy that the public can understand. While these guidelines are not part of Section 508 of the Accessibilities Act, the two work together in documents, videos, websites, and other communications to ensure that everyone has access to the same information.
The Center for Plain Language regularly invites its LinkedIn followers to rewrite one or two sentences in plain language. This exercise has made me more aware of signs, flyers, and other materials that are unnecessarily confusing. Last year, my daughter fell off her skateboard and broke her arm. Because of that, we made frequent visits to an orthopedist for X-rays and casts. A sign in the building's elevator was, to me, an example of what happens when accessibility and clarity are disregarded.
The sign read:
<This office> is committed to providing superior quality care, personalized service, and education to improve individuals and community health. While we strive to serve each patient at the highest level of care it is important to know that our staff is not trained to transfer patients from a vehicle. Therefore, patients need to make arrangements prior to their appointment to get themselves into our waiting areas without assistance. The purpose of this policy is to avoid injury which could be harmful to our patient and/or staff.
The point of this message is to communicate to patients who cannot walk that staff cannot help them into the building. Unfortunately, anyone reading this message already would be out of a car, inside the building, and on the elevator to the office. A better option would be to make these instructions clear to patients when appointments are made and confirmed. Then, perhaps a large sign in the parking lot would reinforce the message. The final step is to make the sign clear. Here’s one way to do it:
“PATIENTS: Staff cannot help you get out of your vehicle and into the building. Please bring someone with you who can help.”
How might you deliver this message to patients? What can you do to make your message clear and accessible? On this International Plain Language Day, we hope you will consider how you can better communicate to your audience. Boiled down, communications work is about delivering a message in the best way possible to the intended audience. Clear communication is accessible communication.