This extended abstract is a contribution to the Easy-to-Read on the Web Symposium. The contents of this paper were not developed by the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and do not necessarily represent the consensus view of its membership.

Guidelines or standards for Easy-to-read?

1. Problem Description

Despite of many efforts, there is still no overall acceptance on the universal linguistic principles of easy-to-read (ETR). The principles vary from detailed and strict standards (e.g. Inclusion Europe 2009) to holistic and loose guidelines (e.g. IFLA 2010) which all try to guide the writers and authors to create simplified texts for non-fluent readers. This discrepancy seems to be connected to two main factors: to the definition of the persons needing ETR and to the definition of text genres that are supposed to be simplified. This paper aims to discuss these factors and analyze the different ETR-principles in order to summarize their adaptability to create different text genres and to serve different users of ETR.

2. Background

The prevalence of reading difficulties and the challenges they cause to individuals with different linguistic deficiencies especially in learning and in working life are widely admitted (e.g. EU HLG -Report 2012). At the same time, modern societies are more and more text-oriented (e.g.Heikkinen 2005). This creates a permanent need for ETR. In the past decades, experts in many countries have given guidelines on ETR (see e.g. Virtanen 2009; Leskela & Virtanen 2009; e.g. IFLA 2010; Inclusion Europe 2009), but due to their dissimilar premises and goals they differ in some elementary aspects. For instance, the IFLA guidelines outline persons with very different linguistic needs as the target groups, whereas Inclusion Europe’s standards mainly concentrate on persons with intellectual disability. Likewise, IFLA guidelines abandones an effort to develop detailed guidelines for ETR. In contrast to this, Inclusion Europe’s standards offer precise and normative rules for producing ETR.

Because the readers in modern societies need to read different sorts of texts, one decisive question concerns the adaptability of the ETR-principles to create different text genres. The producers of web-based ETR-materials would also benefit a compromise that would take into account the various target groups of ETR and different texts that need to be simplified.

3. Approach

The problem is approached by analyzing and comparing two internationally most important ETR-guidelines (Inclusion Europe 2009 and e.g. IFLA 2010). The analysis was implemented by viewing 1) the user definitions expressed by the guidelines and 2) their adaptablity to write different text genres. The analysis is based on the experiencies of the practitioners of ETR-writers in Finland (Kulkki-Nieminen 2010) and on the perspectives of genre analysis (e.g. Heikkinen et al. 2012). Kulkki-Nieminen (2010) interviewed Finnish ETR-practitioners as a part of her dissertation research (concerning text linguistic comparisons between Finnish ETR-newspaper texts and their corresponding standard language versions published by the Finnish News Agency) and made a few interesting notice about the role of the ETR-guidelines in producing ETR-newstexts by experienced ETR-writers. This presentation aims to take a practical position to the usability of the ETR-principles according to these findings as well as the general aspects of genre analysis.

4. Challenges

There is a small amount of adequate, linguistic research on ETR-texts (see, how ever, Kulkki-Nieminen 2010), which makes efforts to analyze ETR-guidelines pioneering work with a weak theoretical background. For instance reliable reading tests concerning ETR-texts and readers are still missing. The interest is raising but we still know very little about the reading experiences of ETR-readers especially what comes to the different text genres. What we have a little more knowledge about concerns producing of ETR-texts. This knowledge, though insufficient, gives us a starting point.

5. Outcomes and Future Research

The analysis allude to a conclusion that standardization of ETR is difficult, if the standards do not take into account the variety of the users and the text genres. A narrow definition of the target groups and text genres narrows the adaptability of the ETR-guidelines as universal principles of simplified language. A wider perspective requires looser linguistic guidelines that lean on the professional know-how of the ETR-experts rather than on inflexible regulations.

The future research needed is reliable ETR-reading tests that are carried out in many European countries in different languages and with different user groups.


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