Plain English Campaign releases Drivel Defence

The Plain English Campaign has just released a JavaScript-based application called Drivel Defence.

The authors of the application allege that it will help authors assess their writing for Plain English as part of a general effort to improve accessibility. The idea is that you cut and paste your ‘drivel’ from a Word document or web site into the applet and you will get an analysis of words per sentence, average sentence length and the longest sentence.

There are two options for download:

Drivel Defence for Text. This allows you to check text by copying it from any software or document. It’s ideal for letters or reports.

Drivel Defence for Web. This is a tool specifically to help website developers check whether the content of web pages is in plain English.

Right – so where shall I start? I think maybe the HMRC website is as good a place as any. I may at last be able to have a version of the self-assesment form that I can understand!

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Social Media for the socially excluded

I had a meting today with an organisation – HeartsnSoul – who want to create a community web site to bring people with learning difficulties together with potential employers. They want to encourage use of personal blogs for their users and have a virtual meeting place (e.g. forum) where their users can ‘meet’ potential employers.

I am looking into the issues and dependencies for providing all this through our existing CoP platform , but I think the interface design requirements may exceed the available budget and there may be implications for the future management and maintenance for what would have to be a separate bespoke development.

I was wondering if anyone had any experience with designing, developing or using similar sites (i.e. with heavy emphasis on accessibility and usability), blending social media applications with a simple and intuitive front end design? Or perhaps anyone with experience in this whole area of bridging the digital divide for socially excluded groups. If so, I should be very grateful if you would contact me.

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Web 2.0 vs Accessibility

I attended an “Enterprise 2.0” event last week where Ian Lloyd gave a very thought provoking presentation on the impact of Web 2.0 on accessibility. Ian is a web developer working for the Nationwide Building Society, and clearly knows his stuff when it comes to designing websites that will accommodate assistive technologies – such as screen readers, voice to text and screen magnifiers.

This was particularly relevant to the work I’m presently doing in building on-line environments for support of Communities of Practice in the public sector, where accessibility standards and guidelines for websites is far more rigorously enforced than in the private sector. Conforming to standards such as W3C Web Accessibility Initiative is a given, but websites must also conform to guidance such as Delivering Inclusive Websites, issued by the COI.

Personally, I have some sympathy with developers of ‘social media-rich’ websites (which I’ll categorise as being ‘Web 2.0’) in that it’s quite difficult to find the right balance between accessibility and making the site appealing to a mass audience. Clearly Facebook comes to mind here. However, I’m not sure that vendors/developers do enough to ensure that they have catered for the disabled minority. For example, the Captcha processes used on a growing number of websites are fairly difficult to negotiate even for someone with 20:20 vision.

I don’t necessarily think that Social Media has to mean poor accessibility, yet there seems to be a sort of tacit acceptance that this is the case . I’m now far more aware of my obligations in striving to make the CoP platform available to a more diverse audience and will be taking steps to in the next development phase to ensure we’re meeting the required guidelines and best practice.

Two very useful resources for anyone interested in issues around accessibility and diversity are Abilitynet and the Shaw Trust.

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