Sometimes when I’m reading about accessible information, or talking to someone about it, I have a feeling we’re actually talking about different things.
Requests for a definition of accessible information on Twitter got the response there isn’t enough space in 140 characters, and a link to The English Federation of Disability Sport’s Inclusive Communications 23 page guide.
A complex definition
The results of my (very brief) accessible information definition survey show accessible information is complex: a definition can’t just be squeezed into a tweet.
But my very quick Twitter survey does tell me something – that the words we use to describe accessible information cover all stages of planning, activity and evaluation. We have impact – ‘independence’, an outcome – ‘understanding’ , and outputs, or components of information, such as ‘text’, ‘images’ and ‘layout’.
Components of accessible information
To define accessible information, I’m first going to look at some of its components. These are just preliminary thoughts, and I am sure accessible information means different things to different people, so please feel free to send in ideas.
Concepts and linguistic structures which are compatible with the reader’s language and cognitive abilities.
Language that is organised in a way that is meaningful and memorable for the reader.
What we would like the reader to think, feel and do, which integrates with the reader’s existing knowledge, attitudes, interest and needs.
How the content is delivered – eg spoken, printed, signing, Braille, illustrations, compatible with the reader’s preferences, culture, and cognitive and sensory abilities.
The tools used to convey the communication, eg. face to face, video, information leaflet, sign. Multiple channels can be used to supplement each other and support understanding, eg printed leaflet read with a support worker, compatible with the reader’s preferences, culture, and cognitive and sensory abilities.
The customer contributes to the conversation, mutual understanding and influence. Dependent on accessible language to be meaningful.
Where the customer can find the information, or what equipment he/ she needs to receive the information or engage in dialogue eg GP surgery, on a PC.
What is ‘accessible’ information?
Is accessibility inherent in what we produce, and therefore an output, or dependent on the perception of the individual, and therefore an outcome?
As everyone is an individual, with unique needs and abilities, surely only the recipient can judge how accessible any information is? I can’t read Braille, for example, so Braille isn’t an accessible format for me. Accessibility is an outcome, something we aim for, for a particular audience group, rather than a factual attribute.
Accessible information isn’t like accessible buildings. Although physical disability has many varied forms, the choice to go up the steps or the ramp is a binary choice, getting to the door is achieved or not.
An interpretative process
Understanding information is an interpretative process, with multiple components, which cannot be easily measured or controlled. As well as sensory and physical abilities, each individual has unique language and cognitive skills, motivations, interests, and levels of topic knowledge that all contribute to the level of accessibility achieved.
Accessibility is achieved when the individual can see, hold, interpret and use information, in such a way that that he/ she feels included, informed, empowered and independent.
We can’t ever say information is accessible, clear or easy, unless we ask. But everyone is different, we can’t ask everyone, we can’t produce personalised information for everyone (unless on a one to one). Instead we must know our intended audience, and know how to adapt all the components of information, to make accessibility an outcome for as many people as possible.
If you have ideas for defining ‘accessible information’, or you’d like to know more about adapting your information to maximise accessibility, please get in touch.