Easy Read is a good example of how less is more. But conveying messages in fewer words is more difficult than writing more words. Easy Read is for people with low levels of literacy. It’s mostly used for essential information such as health alerts and legal terms and conditions. Writing with minimal words is a skillset of its own. It’s not easy. But it does make you think about what you really need or want to say.
Proficient readers can use Easy Read versions to get the take-home message quickly and easily. That’s also why it’s universal design – it’s for everyone. However, Easy Read is not the same as Easy English – the example in the image. It has even fewer words and focuses on actions not just information. Cathy Basterfield says that Easy Read is not simple enough for some people and explains this in a simple poster analysing the difference
Easy Read not the same as plain English or plain language. Complex documents such as research reports are beginning to include a plain language summary. However, these require an average level of literacy. They are usually presented as a paragraph or a list of sentences in dot points. Easy English drills down further to the key words and concepts. The techniques include:
- a lot of white space
- directly relevant illustrations (not photos) to convey the meaning of the text
- short words and sentences
- minimal punctuation
- positive phrasing
- bullets to separate items in a list.
Editors can learn from Easy English
The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading blog has a more detailed article. It summarises Cathy Basterfield’s presentation at their annual conference. She shows how editorial professionals can learn from Easy English.
Blog writer, Anna Baildon, said she learned a lot from the session and had her assumptions challenged. She said she could see “the links to plain English but it goes further”. The headlines she remembers are:
- It’s hard to write in Easy English
- Access to written information should not be a reading test. It should be enabling
- Unpacking the language so the meaning becomes accessible.
- Access to information is a right. ‘Access’ means that a person reads, understands and knows what they can do.
The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading has a guide to Editing in Plain English.
Many people need it
More than 40% of the population has low literacy skills. In some remote parts of Australia and in institutions it is higher than this. There are several reasons why so many Australians need information in easy to understand formats:
– acquired disabilities
– lifelong disabilities
– poor educational outcomes
– psychiatric or mental illness
– early school leavers
– older people
– different cultural backgrounds
– hearing impaired and/or people from the Deaf community
Accessibility and universal design needs to be considered at the outset of any project, not as an afterthought. Information formats such as brochures and websites are no exception. Some important government documents include an Easy Read version, but this is still rare.
Cathy Basterfield has pioneered much of the work on Easy English in Australia. People with high level literacy skills can grasp the key points with little effort. And there are times when people with good literacy skills need help. For example, the stress of a court hearing can temporarily affect one’s reading skills and level of understanding.
Cathy Basterfield presented a paper on this topic at the Australian Universal Design Conference, UD2021. There is a related post on choice of typeface or font for easy reading. Cathy has an Easy English blogsite that explains more. She did a lot of work for COVID-19 too.
There is an Easy Read version of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Bumpy Road website is a good example of Cathy’s work for interacting with the justice system.