Language is very important for opening doors and welcoming everyone. We need to recognize that in the non-profit sector, we often use words that can keep the people we are trying to reach out! We need to use plain language to ensure our services are accessible and inclusive to as many people as possible.
Using plain language when speaking
Use language that is more universal in nature, is accessible to most communities, e.g., people with a variety of disabilities, people whose first language isn’t English, or people with lower literacy levels.
- Use direct or literal language.
- Avoid jargon, academic or policy language, idioms, etc.
- Break down ideas, don’t present too many ideas at once.
- Use shorter sentences or paragraphs.
- Use lots of examples.
- Talk in the first person (use “I”).
- Avoid big words! Simple words can break down “big” ideas.
- Be concise.
- Avoid terminology like:
- “physically or mentally challenged”
- “mentally retarded”
- “wheelchair bound” or “confined to a wheelchair”
Ensure that Information is Accessible
Any information that is distributed, discussed, and shared should be accessible to newcomers with disabilities and others. This means ensuring information is:
- In different language.
- In plain language. If you are translating a document to plain language, you may have to decide what information is the most important to include and what can be left out.
- Layout and presentation are important. It is helpful to use headings that are straightforward. They will lead the reader through the logic of the document.
- Be sensitive to design issues, e.g., use pictures, but don’t clutter it with too many confusing images and don’t put too much text on a page, etc. Check your work. One useful exercise in attempting to see if you are using accessible language is to keep asking yourselves: “What do I really mean to say here?” or “ How can I say that more literally and in a more direct way?”
- Available in alternative formats, i.e. audio tapes or CDs, large print, electronic or E-Text or PDF, Braille