Simplifying Educational Digital Content- Writing using Clear Language Guidelines

By Hajer Chalghoumi

Potential solutions for simplifying educational digital content

In the field of accessibility to information, research typically shows a strong bias towards sensory (vision and hearing) and physical impairments, neglecting the cognitive dimension. When developers of digital content, mainly teachers, are faced with the latest statistics showing that 22% of Canadians are unable to read written information while 26% experience difficulty reading, it is clear that working towards a solution is critical. This is even more important in the educational setting where the number of students with learning difficulties and other disabilities having reading difficulties is increasing.

We consider three possible solutions to adapt the text:

Text Circumvention: This solution consists of replacing the text by using alternative formats (such as an audio version). We think that alternative formats should be used with precaution and moderation. In fact, only students who practice reading will improve their skills to become better readers. When students don't read and rely exclusively on alternative formats, they actually lose their reading abilities. We must also keep in mind that in an inclusive approach and to maintain equity, it is important to provide the student with the same content in the same format to the maximum extent possible with regards to the concerned student’ abilities.

Text Supplementation: This solution does not replace the text but helps to make it clear through the use of organizational materials with visual/spatial features, graphic and non-graphic aids, semantic-feature analyses, and concept diagrams. This solution is extensively used in education and is fairly effective in the case of moderate struggling readers.

Text simplification: This solution consists of creating a simpler content or identifying complexity factors within content and modifying them in order to make the text more manageable for students.

Digital content simplification guidelines

Text simplification is a strategy that involves making changes and adding to an existing text in order to make it more clear and comprehensible for all students. In this section, we present an extensive set of guidelines designed to help digital content developers, mainly teachers, understand how to make content accessible to their students. These guidelines are complementary to those dealing with the interface design as presented in many guides such as the Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards (Section 508), the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) and the Accessible Digital Office Document (ADOD) Project.

Digital content simplification guidelines are divided into the following categories:

Grammar

Vocabulary

Text organization

Numbers

Information Density

Layout 

Links and buttons

Punctuation

Font

Colour

Illustrations

Tables

Forms and fields

Video / audio / multimedia supplements

Precautions to digital content simplification

When considering the above guidelines, teachers have to select the most appropriate ones taking into account the following directives:

• Simplifying digital content consists of reducing the complexity of the content depending on the severity of the disabilities or learning difficulties.

• Simplifying the text must not infantilize the student. Teachers have to provide the student with a digital content that is appropriate to his/her chronological age while being adequate for his/her mental age, level of knowledge and learning style.

• Teachers should make sure that the simplified content presents achievable challenges for the student. Too simple or too difficult content in regards to the student’s abilities may demotivate him/her.

• Teachers must make sure that they present their student with a simplified digital content whose complexity increases gradually in terms of the student’s increased abilities and level of learning.

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