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.

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 whose native language is different or those with different 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).

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 for whatever reason (e.g. maybe it’s 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.”

How to Test This

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.

It’s recommended instead to use spelling and grammar tools to ensure the content is written clearly and use a vocabulary checker such as Vocab Kitchen to check the complexity of the words used.

Further testing of the readability requires user testing with your target audiences.


No credits yet. But this could be you!

Importance and testing sections co-written with Caroline Jarrett.

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