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PLAIN conference plea for more-accessible websites

[30 Sept 2015] In a keynote speech at PLAIN 2015 – an international conference of plain-language specialists held at Dublin Castle in September – the accessibility guru David Berman said that in the last 30 years more people had been liberated by information technology than by wars and revolutions. He declared that the mobile phone would soon be the way most of the world’s population interacted with printed documents and web pages, so it was vital for them to be designed with the small screen in mind.

Berman said it was just as important to design in a way that helped people with a wide range of disabilities. He claimed that if long and short sight were included in the definition of disability, most people could be regarded as disabled.

Berman, author of Do Good Design and a UN special adviser on web accessibility, said good design could make many things more accessible. For example, with some 10% of adult men being colour blind for green and red, the lights above Ontario traffic lanes had been designed with two red squares for ‘closed’ and one green circle for ‘open’.

Access to the internet via a mobile phone could be a matter of life and death in poorer countries, said Berman. For example, in Ghana many of the pharmaceutical products on sale were fakes. With mobiles being so ubiquitous, people could use them to read a code on the medicine package and know instantly from the mpedigree network whether it was genuine.

The conference's many memorable sessions included a talk from Neil James, Lynda Harris and Chris Bransfield, whose ‘integrated model for evaluating plain language’ offered a matrix for assessing the clarity and usability of written information.

Slideshows of the talks should be available from 10 October on the PLAIN website. They include an updated version of an illustrated talk Martin Cutts of Plain Language Commission gave at the 2014 Clarity/IC Clear conference, ‘Foxed and fined: how unclear contractual parking signs bamboozle motorists’. [cont]

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