The Simon Heng column

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the built environment, which is
designed around an ableist paradigm, and in which facilities and
accessibility for disabled people are signposted. For example, Blue
Badge signs indicate wheelchair access, and occluded ear signs
signal facilities for people with hearing difficulties.

I compared this with a universal design principle, in which
everything would be designed to include accessibility for everyone,
and where inaccessibility, rather than accessibility, would be
signposted. I’ve come to realise that we should also be applying
this to other aspects of life as well: written materials, for

For years, one of the difficulties for service users involved in
decision-making has been the fact that each profession has its own
jargon. In response to this, social services departments have tried
to keep meetings with service users jargon-free. Unfortunately,
this still doesn’t mean that meetings are fully accessible. The
language which is used, particularly written material (even though
it might be free of jargon) is still impregnated with technical

If social services still haven’t got it right, the health services
haven’t even begun the process of making their workings transparent
to the lay person. In my experience, committee agendas and minutes
are still full of alphabet soups of acronyms and initials: those
are just to identify organisations and positions – add to that
medical jargon about procedures, treatments and conditions and you
end up with a language which is closer to computer machine code
than English.

When I first read the green paper on the future of adult social
care, even though it was clear that there had been an attempt to
write it in plain English, I struggled to take it all in. I asked
myself if any thought had been given to providing a clearer version
for service users, ordinary people, and found the “easy to read”
version on the Department of Health website.

My first reaction was, what has been omitted to reduce an 85-page
document to a 25-page one? My second was, why wasn’t it written in
this clear language in the first place?

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