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.
The guidelines for Easy-to-Read -material are originally intended for printed media. So quite understandably these rules mainly contain guidelines that concern how to E2R-content and how to present it. But Internet is a different kind of media. In addition to content, also the user interface and the structure of the site should be designed to be accessible when easy-to-read language is used in network services.
The WCAG2 accessibility instructions (W3C 2012) created by W3C are concerned as a standard for the industry and many important principles from the standpoint of an E2R-user are highlighted in these guidelines. However, the sufficiency of the WCAG2 to estimate accessibility of a website for E2R-users is not perfect in all situations.
One important issue when E2R-material is published in Internet is the fact that E2R-users have very different needs. For some user groups an easier content is enough but some user groups need an user interface which is considerably easier to use. User studies have also shown that the most important factors which influence the accessibility of a website for E2R-users are difficult to state as a simple rule or a guideline.
Papunet Web Service Unit started to develop and evaluate easy-to-read websites over ten years ago. In the year 2001 the first Finnish plain language Internet site was published as a part of the Papunet web service (www.papunet.net/selko/). In the year 2011 Papunet developed together with Plain Language Centre an easy-to-read web journal Selkosanomat (www.selkosanomat.fi). Selkosanomat-site was opened in January 2012.
In Finland, a standard E2R-logo is used for the identification of a E2R-website and also as a guarantee of it's quality (Plain Language Centre 2012). Papunet Web Service Unit has made several user and heuristic studies to ensure that the site is accessible to E2R-users and two master's thesis have also been done about this subject (Kuusela 2004; Kyyhkynen 2005). This work is done together with The Plain Language Centre.
In 2008 information gathered from user studies were written down to guidelines for designing easy-to-read network services. These E2R-heuristics are utilized in user-studies and they are modified when ever needed. E2R-heuristics contains 52 individual rules grouped into 8 categories (e.g. "Graphic and logical structure of network service", " Layout and typography of contents", "Internal navigation of network service" ). The Finnish version of these heuristics can be downloaded from Papunet Web Service Unit's accessibility-website (http://papunet.net/saavutettavuus/ladattavat-versiot/). At this point there is no English version.
There are two main challenges when easy-to-read websites are being developed or evaluated. First challenge is the fact that many different user groups can benefit from E2R-material (Plain Language Centre 2012). A website can be nearly unusable to some E2R user groups but at the same time it can be very usable to some other user group. For example language learners do not experience a very large site with extensive navigation structures inaccessible if it's content is understandable to them. The same site can be inaccessible to users with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
Second challenge is the fact that many essential easy-to-read principles are quite difficult to state as a simple or unambiguous rule. According to user-studies the most important principles in addition to E2R-material itself are related to page structure and the amount of information on a web page. Rules can be set to determine for example the simplicity of a web page but these rules are at this point for example in Papunet Web Service Units heuristics on a quite general level. A way to modify these to more exact or detailed form should be found.
Some answers and ideas to challenges stated in the previous chapter can be articulated. Firstly, the problem with divergent E2R user groups is usually solved indirectly by just developing websites that are simple enough and include reduced amount of the most relevant content. This manner of approach guarantees an accessible site or a section of a site for almost all E2R-users.
An example of this approach can be seen for example in Sweden where one third of the websites of the municipalities have an easy-to-read -version (Centrum för Lättläst 2012). When these websites are examined, it can be seen that this approach works quite well but problems also exist. For example on Forshaga municipality site, it is most likely that the content is understandable for the most E2R-users but the four level navigation-structure would be almost impossible to use to many users with intellectual disabilities or elderly users with memory problems (Forshaga kommun 2012).
If easy-to-read guidelines are being developed or studied further this divergence of E2R groups have to be taken into account. Of course it would not be a good solution to develop several guidelines or to give more than one alternative to fulfill a guideline. One possibility is to clearly articulate to which E2R user group a single guideline is most crucial.
In addition to language itself, the most important factors influencing accessibility of web-pages for E2R-users are page structure, navigation structures, the amount of information on a web-page and the way elements in a web page are emphasized. It is not easy to determine measurable and precise guidelines to these kind of general rules. For example WCAG2-document does not specify guidelines to these matters in a same precision level as it does to matters concerning visual or auditory accessibility. Because of that it is more challenging to use WCAG2 with E2R-usergroups.
Since issues mentioned above however are of utmost importance for E2R-users they have to be considered. In the E2R-heuristics developed by Papunet Web Service Unit these guidelines are stated as below:
These are very vague guidelines and they allow a large amount of variation when a site is evaluated. This vagueness or ambiguousness can be overcome when an experienced evaluator is using the guideline but they are too universal to work as a reliable tool. If the study of the use of easy-to-read -material on the web is taken further, these near-to-usability guidelines has to be elaborated to a more precise level.