Accessibility 3: Vroom. What Drives A Document.

Accessibility is not readability. Readability is part of accessibility, but it is not accessibility’s whole story; therefore, Plain English is not the whole story. Plain English is a specialism in itself, and so is Easy Read — something else again.

Just as the engine of a car has a structure, so does its chassis; on the chassis you can put various bodies for the car, and you can shut a bonnet over the engine. Accessibility is about the structure of documents, even if it is also about the content you put on top or inside. On the face of it, the chassis and the engine don’t make the car look different (although in fact, they do confine the further choices you can make).

Accessibility is about what really drives the document. If you’ll bear with this analogy, the bonnet is like the screen of your computer, your tablet or your phone. It is an arrangement of lights that fool the brain, so that they look like a sheet of paper: it goes on top. Obviously it is not a sheet of paper — and under the screen is the way that illusion is made.

Under the appearance of text, there is computer code. That’s the chassis, and the engine. Accessibility is about the computer code, and not just the appearances. It’s not all about colour. What’s under the bonnet is more fundamental than the gloss that you put on things, and getting that right from the start saves a great deal of time and money further down the road.

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Proofreader, editor, writer — in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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