How 'easy read' makes sense of jargon

By Ouchlets
A series on small but significant insights into disability life

image copyrightUnited response
image captionA detail from the February edition of Easy News

The rise of websites like Buzzfeed - filled with short articles, lists and photos - suggests that many of us prefer our news in easily digestible chunks with lots of pictures.

For those who have to read weighty documents and would rather they were bite-size and visual, easy read is a system designed to make complicated text easy to understand.

What is it?

Easy read is provided by an increasing number of companies and public bodies. It turns information into cut-down, plain English with helpful illustrations. It's designed for people with learning difficulties or those who struggle to read.

The concept was originally developed as an accessible way of getting need-to-know public information to people with learning difficulties. However, easy read is becoming more and more popular and can now be found in leaflets on all sorts of topics and as an alternative to the standard document on many websites.

Some people with learning difficulties can become very political when armed with knowledge, says Ali Bishop of Easy News newspaper - which is produced bi-monthly by the charity United Response.

"We've heard of people engaging with current affairs for the first time after reading Easy News, and of others having conversations with their families about the world," she says.

It is generally acknowledged that the best way to make an easy-read document is with help from people with learning difficulties themselves, Bishop says, and this is how the newspaper gets made. She says the people she works with on Easy News are better at using short words than she is - "particularly non-readers" - who can cut through jargon and find fewer words to use instead.

Who else benefits from easy read?

Andrew Holman runs a company which specialises in providing easy read versions of documents. He also keeps an eye on what other peple are doing in the field. An example of good practise, he says, is an easy read version of an application form from the Criminal Cases Review Commission which they produced themselves. He says they did it: "after they found they weren't getting claims back from people with learning difficulties."

"When they sent the forms out alongside the standard text version, only easy read versions came back," he says.

60% of the prison population is said to have difficulties in basic literacy skills.

What do easy read versions of documents look like?

They are stripped right back so that only the crucial points remain. These points are then translated into jargon-free, straightforward language and presented in the order that makes most sense.

On the left of the page are big, clear pictures or symbols. To the right, related short sentences. Definitions of tricky words and terms are highlighted in coloured boxes.

Keith Smith from the British Institute of Learning Disability works with prisons and says that "if someone breaks the rules, they have to meet with the governor. The best way to get this across to a prisoner with a learning difficulty is to include a picture of the exact room where this meeting will take place so that when the prisoner is brought there, they understand why."

What's the history of easy read?

Easy read began in the 1980s. Sweden led the way and the concept spread throughout Europe during the 1990s. Andrew Holman says he's aware of at least 66 countries that use it to some degree.

The first major easy read publication (in the UK) was in 2001, it was a government white paper called Valuing People: A New Strategy for Learning Disability for the 21st Century.

Holman says he enjoyed seeing people with learning difficulties holding up copies of the paper and saying: "I have the right to independent living."

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