Accessible language is language that includes everyone.
People can feel excluded when:
- they don’t understand words or phrases
- language is used in ways that pose challenges to users of other technologies, such as text-to-speech software.
People are more likely to use your website if:
- it’s easy to navigate
- the information is clear and easy to understand.
Writing for the web
Writing for the web involves thinking about:
- the purpose of the page and the user’s goal
- how people read and process information in an online environment
- how search engines and machines, like screen readers, read online content
- the user’s reading ability, the device they may be using, their computer literacy and their familiarity with your subject.
Disability language — words matter
The words and images that are used and the way information is presented can play a major role in shaping perceptions and attitudes. The portrayal of disabled people can promote equality, inclusion and full citizenship or it can contribute to society’s negative stereotypes.
The language we use influences how we think about people and situations.
- The medical model: views disability as a “problem” that is the responsibility of the disabled person.
- The social model: uses language that locates the “problem” within social attitudes, systems and practices that act as barriers to full participation.
Tips and guidance for accessible language.
- Use asset-based language, not deficit-based language — focus on positive outcomes and personal strengths, rather than problems and barriers.
- Use language that respects disabled people as active individuals with control over their own lives.
- Don’t use language that portrays disabled people as victims, such as “suffers from” and “challenged”.
- Common phrases that may associate impairments with negative things should be avoided, for example “deaf to our pleas” or “blind drunk.”
|Afflicted by, suffers from, victim of||Has (name of condition or impairment) e.g. person with cerebral palsy|
|Attack, spell, fit||Seizure|
|Birth defects, deformity||
Person born with a disability
Person with a disability from birth
|Wheelchair bound, confined to a wheelchair||Someone who uses a wheelchair or wheelchair user|
|Hearing impaired, hard of hearing,||Person who is hard of hearing|
|Lame||Person with a mobility impairment|
|The blind||Blind people|
|People who are visually impaired/ have serious sight problems/loss||People who have a visual impairment|
|The symptoms of a condition||The effects of a condition|
|People who have special needs||People who have particular requirements|
|Disclosing a disability||Telling people about a disability|
|Mentally retarded, retard, slow||Person with an intellectual (learning) disability|
|Spastic||Person who has muscle spasms|
|Deaf-mute, deaf and dumb||
New Zealand Sign Language users identify as the Deaf
Person who is deaf or the deaf (non NZSL user)
|Dwarf, midget||Person of short stature|
|Schizophrenic||Person who has schizophrenia|
Person with a physical disability
Person with a mobility impairment
Person who walks with crutches
Person who uses a walker
|Epileptic||Person who has epilepsy|
|Normal||Person without a disability|
Accessibility standard requirements
Guideline 3.1 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 includes 6 success criteria related to language.
We recommend applying as many of those success criteria as you can to make your content easier to read and understand. However, the NZ Government Web Accessibility Standard currently requires only 2 of them:
3.1.1 Language of page — set the main language of your page
To meet success criterion 3.1.1, you must identify the default language of each web page. The easiest way to do this is to add the lang attribute with the correct ISO-639 language code to the <html> tag. This helps screen readers, and other software that processes text and language, to know how to pronounce or render the content.
- <html lang="en"> to show a web page is in English
- <html lang="en-nz"> to show a page is in New Zealand English
- <html lang="mi"> to show a page is in Māori.
3.1.2 Language of Parts — indicate any changes in the language on the page
A web page will generally use 1 language. However, sometimes you may need to include words or a passage in another language. Success criterion 3.1.2 Language of Parts requires that you show a change in language if it happens. This is so software can tell it apart from the page's main language.
The easiest way to do this is to add the lang attribute — with the correct language code — to the HTML element containing the text that’s in a different language. A common approach is to add the lang attribute to a <p>, <span>, or heading tag.
In this example, the opening <p> tag for the text in te reo Māori uses lang="mi" to show that the content of that p element is in te reo Māori:
<p>This sentence is in English, which is the page's main language.</p>
<p lang="mi">Kei roto tēnei rerenga kōrero i te reo Māori.</p>
<p>This is a new paragraph that defaults to the page's main language.</p>
Setting the language in PDF and Microsoft Word documents
The default language can also be set in PDF and Microsoft Word documents, as can the language of parts of the document where it’s different from the default language.
In Microsoft Word, the way you do this depends on the version of Word. In Word 2010, the default language for the document as a whole can be set in the “Language” group of the Word Options dialog window.
To set the language for a passage of text in Word 2010, first select the text and then choose “Set Proofing Language…” from under the “Language” item in the Review tab.
In Adobe Acrobat Pro, you can set the PDF’s default language from the “Advanced” tab in the “Document Properties” dialog window. To open the “Document Properties” dialog, select “Properties…” from the File menu.
Setting the language of a specific passage of text in a PDF is a little more complicated.