It’s just plain language

Last updated: March 1, 2015

Note:  All links going to other websites will open in the same window. Use the Back button to return to our site.

Whitney Quesenbery, Whitney Interactive Design, LLC, brought some exciting news to our attention. Here's what Whitney has to say.

Plain language is not a new concept; understanding your audience, clear communication, and good information design are part of what makes us technical communicators.

Last week, we had some exciting news from the U.S. Congress: The Plain Language in Government Communications Act of 2008 (H.R. 3548 (110th)) passed a major hurdle when 376 members of the House voted in favor of the bill (with just 1 “no” vote). Now we're hoping that it will come up for a vote in the Senate soon.

Why is this relevant to accessibility? As communicators, it's pretty exciting to hear the very thing we do discussed as a government mandate. Plain language has important benefits for people who speak English-as-a-second-language (ESL), as well as people with a variety of reading disabilities. Plain language can make a huge difference in whether they can interact effectively with their government.

Quotes and Links

Whitney adds in closing:

One of the things I learned when working on the Access Board committee to update Section 508 is how much overlap there is between best practice guidelines for content usability, plain language and improving access for people with cognitive, language and learning disabilities.

Ginny Redish, Ph.D. president of Redish & Associates, Inc. added these thoughts to the discussion:

I've been helping people in federal and state government create plain language documents for more than 30 years. We have many examples, but we need many more. This bill is important because it adds tremendous weight to our message. If the bill becomes law, we'll be able to tell government writers not only that they can write plain language documents; we'll be able to tell them that they must write in plain language.

Plain language is about creating the communication that works for its audience. Plain language is about creating communications in which people can find what they need, understand what they find, and act appropriately on that understanding in the time and effort that they think it is worth. I think of plain language as one part of user-centered design and that means doing what is needed for all your audiences.

More information: