Red Guards: fighting a revolution with words. Photo: Villa Giulia. Creative Commons
“Call the police. Ploddledygook is murdering the English language,” went a headline in The Times on 9 May 2013.
Simon de Bruxelles quoted a hefty chunk of impenetrable blah posing as “instructions” for police officers entering Avon & Somerset’s annual Problem Solving Awards.
That a British police authority should gush meaningless fluffy managementspeak is no surprise. That’s the reality in every sector today, as Don Watson so eloquently explained in a Radio New Zealand interview yesterday.
What’s amazing (and wonderful) to me is the indignant response of some of the police officers who tried to read this ploddledygook. (That word will be with us forever.)
They did not say,
“Yes Ma’am, we will Follow the problem-solving mythology as a supportive framework to work the problem through: Understand where the drivers and demand originated; Clearly define and understand what the actual problem was; Articulate our aim as SMART and understand the impact we intended. Sure! Got it!
“And of course we will also ensure our presentations are easy to read. Thank you for reminding us!”
Oh no. For once, the worm turned, the people rebelled. They asked that magical plain language question:
“What do you mean?”
Or to be more precise they said:
- “Could you translate this pretentious male bovine dropping for me please?”
- “a load of unlinked and meandering nonsense”
- “From the very first sentence I had no idea what they were on about.”
As any editor or usability expert knows, the writer is at fault if the intended readers cannot understand a document.
Alas, no such insight struck Claire Stanley, a spokeswoman for Avon & Somerset Constabulary.
She said blithely that the advice was taken out of context and that officers taking part “would know exactly what it meant”.
Call the police: The Times
Radio interview with Don Watson on weasel words and the blight of managementspeak
A quick guide to making your documents accessible to blind or low-vision people follows.
Remember the acronym: FILTH.
For accessible content, you need to scrub away five sorts of rubbish.
- Minimum size 12 pt as a general rule; sometimes larger.
- Black text on white background.
- Do not use text boxes in MS Word.
- Left-align all text.
- Avoid lots of italics, block capitals, and underlining.
- Use bold for emphasis—in moderation.
- Add alternative text to all images except those that are purely decorative.
- Add text equivalents for images carrying a lot of meaning, e.g. graphs, maps and diagrams.
- Use clear, explanatory titles, captions and descriptions for videos.
- Don’t present text as an image, e.g. a scanned PDF.
- Write link-text that describes what the link leads to, e.g.
Sydney University Underwater Rugby Club AGM 2013.
- Don’t use Click here as link-text.
- Use tables for data only.
- Don’t use tables in an attempt to control layout.
- Keep tables small and symmetrical.
- Put only one piece of data per cell; not a list.
- Always use Styles to identify heading levels and format.
- Use an accessible template and use it correctly.
- Use the Lists function of Styles for bullets and numbering.
Not so hard, is it?
Do these things on all your documents and you have made a brilliant start to accessibility. However, there’s a bit more to learn, and…
You can’t clean up all the FILTH all by yourself
It’s not that creating accessible documents is difficult. But unfortunately, you may be the only one in your group who understands what to do, and what’s at stake.
To make a real difference, accessibility-awareness needs to spread throughout your organisation. Everyone who writes anything at work needs to get the message. Otherwise you will spend your life either trying to fix inaccessible documents or feeling very bad about the mess.
Best way to start: start enrolling staff in Contented sustainable online training. Some of our clients like the following combination.
Contact us to discuss your training needs. We partner with the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind to provide the whole gamut of accessibility services and advice.
Photo: the full story: At sea aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) Apr. 19, 2003 — Sailors aboard the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) participate in a flight deck scrub-down exercise (SCRUBEX). SCRUBEX’s are a very important exercise, which reduce fluids, grease and dirt that can make the flight deck and catwalks extremely slippery and can cause aircraft and personnel to skid or slip. Truman and Carrier Air Wing Three (CVW-3) are currently on a deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Operation Iraqi Freedom is the multinational coalition effort to liberate the Iraqi people, eliminate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and end the regime of Saddam Hussein. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Derrick M. Snyder. (RELEASED) Wikimedia, public domain.