Write content at an approachable reading level

3 cartoon characters reading a book written in simple language
Image description: 3 cartoon characters looking at an open red book that says, "Simple language (smiley face)" on the page it's open to. The characters are a tall blue blob, a green rectangle, and a small orange circle - intending to represent the diversity of audience reading the book.

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Why This is Important

Using clear and simple language is accessible to people with cognitive, learning, and reading disabilities.

Blind and visually impaired people use screen readers to interact with websites and apps. A screen reader is a type of assistive tech that converts things on screen to audio and/or braille. It's important that things are understandable and interactive to screen readers.

Keyboard accessibility is essential for people who do not use a computer mouse (which might be because they have unpredictable or very specific movement due to a motor disability). Many Blind and visually impaired people also use keyboard interactions in order to use their screen reader.

Error support is accessible to people with a diversity of disabilities. A cognitive disability might affect how a person perceives and understands things. A physical disability might lead to unpredictable movement. Other factors such as environment, stress, and multi-tasking may also lead to errors.

In order to be accessible, gestures and interactions must account for people with physical and motor disabilities, who might have unpredictable or very specific movement.

An approachable reading level means writing so that people can find what they need, understand what they find, and act appropriately on that understanding - without being too stressed by the effort.

This is accessible to people with cognitive, learning, and reading disabilities, as well as those with different native languages or educational backgrounds. In this way, simple language is not only a gesture of disability solidarity, but language, immigrant, and class solidarity as well.

This references WCAG criterion 3.1.5 Reading Level (Level AAA).

Level AAA compliance is considered more difficult to meet because it requires more resources to fulfill. It also might encompass conflicting access needs (meaning what is accessible to some might be inaccessible to others). Use your best judgment of your target audience and your team's capabilities to determine if this is a pragmatic goal to reach.

How to Implement This

Writing Guides and Apps

Keep this rule in mind when writing and editing content. Use an accessible style guide to help keep your writing simple and clear.

Here are examples of writing style guides that focus on accessibility:

You can also use a writing app or plugin that helps guide you to writing complex content in more simple ways.

Plain Language Version

If your original content is naturally rather complex (e.g. a scientific publication or an autobiography in the author’s original words) you can create an alternate version that reads in plain language.

For example, the book Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century, edited by Alice Wong, has a free plain language version written by Sara Luterman. As Sara says, “Plain language is an attempt to help more people understand ideas that matter.”

Note on Readability Checkers

While readability checkers are an option, they are all based on various different mathematical formulas. Therefore, they are not necessarily reliable, nor do they take into account the context, logic, and flow of the writing. Instead, it's recommended to use spelling and grammar tools to ensure the content is written clearly and to use a vocabulary checker to check the complexity of the words used.

How to Test This

Manual Test
Semi-Automated Test
Automated Test
  • Use spelling and grammar tools to check the content.
  • Use a vocabulary checker such as Vocab Kitchen to check the complexity of the words used. Make note of any advanced words that may need to be simplified.
  • Recommended to conduct user testing with your target audiences to assess readability.


No credits yet. But this could be you!

Importance and testing sections co-written with Caroline Jarrett.

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