Provide a way to understand unusual words

The unusual word "Gobbledygook" being defined
Image description: Black text on a white background. At the top is the word "Gobbledygook.” Below is the definition, "language that is meaningless or is made unintelligible by excessive use of abstruse technical terms; nonsense."

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Why This is Important

Defining unusual words is accessible to people struggling to understand the meaning, especially for people with cognitive, language, and learning disabilities.

If words and phrases are complicated, technical in nature, or a type of idiom or jargon, then it’s often helpful to provide a definition to help people understand them.

Specifically, certain disabilities such as Autism require more support with idioms because Autistic people tend to take phrases more literally (e.g. explaining that “it’s raining cats and dogs” means “it’s raining heavily”). This support is also accessible for people with language and learning disabilities.

This references WCAG criterion 3.1.3 Unusual Words (Level AAA).

How to Implement This

There are a few ways you can provide definitions.

Define the term inline

For example:

The art gallery showing had an ephemeral feeling (meaning short-lived).
There is a plethora (excessive amount) of bees here!

Keep in mind that adding the full definition here might make the sentence longer and harder to read, especially if there are multiple words to be defined.

Link the term to a glossary

In general, linking may be better if it has a long definition that is better understood in a separate place.

For example:

The art gallery showing had an <a href=””>ephemeral</a> feeling.

For the reader's convenience, you can also link the term to footnotes at the bottom of the page using in-page linking.

For example:

There is a <a href=”#plethora”>plethora</a> of bees here!
<div id=”plethora”>Plethora - a large or excessive amount of something</div>

Interesting Further Reading

How to Test This

Manually assess the content to see if any words need defining.


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