Accessibility Resources for Plain Language Authors and Editors

What every plain language author and editor should know about eAccessibility

By David Berman (CPWA, ADS), with Michael Cooper (AWS) and other contributors at David Berman Communications

When we use plain language, and we do it well, everyone benefits.

And anyone authoring or editing text as part of the development of any document will benefit from understanding their role in an accessible publishing ecosystem. 

While understanding all aspects of accessible publishing is an asset to anyone involved in the project (including every WCAG success criterion that the organization has committed to), people who author or edit plain language content will especially benefit from being aware of certain WCAG success criteria (as well as the guidance material related to each that unpacks techniques and failures, whether general or targeting specific document types and formats).

Aside from authoring in plain language in general, authors and editors, in order to fully support the additional editorial assignments that may arise in accessible publishing, may need to learn how to extend their skills into these areas:

  • how to author excellent alternative text (typically invisible, though not always so)
  • how to apply and author a variety of long description techniques for complex images (such as infographics), including advanced techniques that differ depending on the file format
  • If the publication includes multimedia:
    • how to author excellent descriptive text transcripts
    • how to deal with special situations that arise when composing and pacing captions
    • how to author the script for audio descriptions (including extended audio descriptions)

WCAG 2.1 AA Success Criteria that impact plain language authoring the most

Of the 50 success criteria required or WCAG 2.1 AA conformance, we’ve identified the ones that impact plain language authoring the most:

(Keep in mind that WCAG 2.1 AA includes all Level A and Level AA success criteria in WCAG 2.1. Also, keep in mind that WCAG 2.1 AA includes all the success criteria within WCAG 2.0 AA.)

  • 1.1.1 Non-text Content
  • 1.2.1 Audio-only and Video-only
  • 1.2.2 Captions
  • 1.2.5 Audio Description (Prerecorded)
  • 1.3.1 Info and Relationships
  • 1.3.2 Meaningful Sequence
  • 1.3.3 Sensory Characteristics
  • 1.4.1 Use of Color
  • 1.4.3 Contrast (Minimum)
  • 1.4.10 Reflow (WCAG 2.1 only)
  • 1.4.12 Text Spacing (WCAG 2.1 only)
  • 2.4.2 Page Titled
  • 2.4.4 Link Purpose (In Context)
  • 2.4.6 Headings and Labels
  • 3.1.1 Language of Page
  • 3.1.2 Language of Parts
  • 3.2.3 Consistent Navigation
  • 3.2.4 Consistent Identification
  • 3.3.2 Labels or Instructions

WCAG 2.1 AAA Success Criteria that impact plain language authoring the most

For accessible plain language, it is also crucial to consider these WCAG 2.1 AAA success criteria (even though they are likely not required for regulatory compliance):

  • 1.2.7 Extended Audio Description (Prerecorded)
  • 3.1.3 Unusual Words
  • 3.1.4 Abbreviations
  • 3.1.5 Reading Level
  • 3.1.6 Pronunciation

Furthermore, here are all the WCAG 2.0 AAA considerations that may apply to authoring your document (assuming no multimedia nor forms).

  • Authoring / editing
    • plain language (Grade 9 reading level or less)
    • purpose of all links apparent from the link text alone, wherever appropriate
    • editorial headings designate every individual section of text
    • abbreviations (write around, code, or spell out on first use)
    • provide a pronunciation guide where vital to understanding
    • avoid or define unusual words
  • If you happen to be responsible for the formatting or appearance of a document as well…
    • minimum 1.5 linespacing
    • spacing between paragraphs at least 1.5 times the main linespacing
    • no rows of text more than 80 characters long
    • no justified text
    • no customizable exceptions for Images Of Text
    • higher contrast ratios (7.5:1 for large, 4.5:1 for small)

Other resources authors and editors would also benefit from

Go deeper

Contact us to learn more about plain language accessibility for you and your team, consider bringing our tailored “Writing for the Web with Accessibility in Mind”, “Accessible Multimedia”, and “Introduction to eAccessibility” courses, learning guides, or coaching to you!

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