Garblog's Pages

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Making your communications accessible to people with disabilities

The clear, concise writing and design principles of plain language can be applied effectively to making documents--from brochures to signs to websites--more accessible. That is, plain language can make all kinds of communication materials easier to read and understand by people with physical and mental disabilities as well as low literacy and limited English proficiency.

Since at least 1990 in the United States, government agencies, private employers, and organizations open to the public have had to consider federal requirements for making their facilities, services and communications accessible to people with disabilities. The requirements are outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and amendments to it in 2008. 

Other countries--including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and the European Union--also have federal accessibility laws. 

I've had a longtime interest in the U.S. law for several reasons:
  • I worked as an editor and public information officer for more than 30 years with public agencies in the Seattle, King County area, most often for the public transit agency. 
  • The law affected the ways we wrote, designed and provided communication materials--and the facilities and services we described in them. For example, were our brochures accessible to people with disabilities? Can people with impaired vision or hearing read them or get the information in them in alternative ways?
  • My older brother, now deceased, had a mental disability but used public transit and other public accommodations. 
According to Wikipedia:
Accessibility is the degree to which a product, device, service, or environment is available to as many people as possible. Accessibility can be viewed as the "ability to access" and benefit from some system or entity. The concept often focuses on people with disabilities or special needs (such as the [United Nations] Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) and their right of access, enabling the use of assistive technology.
Prompting this blog item today is a website of the New Zealand Office of Disability Issues, titled "Make your communications accessible." The site provides "quick tips for writers, communicators, designers and production houses."

The resource is available to read on the Web and as a downloadable PDF document. It covers these topics:

  • Accessibility overview
  • More people understand plain language
  • How to talk to, and about, disabled people
  • Make print accessible
  • Email and web accessibility
  • Specialised formats.
The section that says "More people understand plain language" provides this advice (and links to "A guide to making ‘easy-read’ information"):
  • Know your audience.
  • Use everyday language readers are familiar with.
  • Use short, clear sentences (15–20 words).
  • One idea in a sentence is best.
  • Keep paragraphs short with one subject in one paragraph.
  • Avoid using a multi-syllable word when a shorter one will do.
  • Avoid jargon, acronyms, technical words and details and, if you must use an acronym, always provide a full version the first time you mention it.
  • Use active rather than passive verbs, for example `Peter kicked the ball’ rather than `the ball was kicked by Peter’.
  • Use `you’ and `we’.
  • Give straightforward instructions, for example `Please reply to this letter’.
  • Be helpful, human and polite.
  • It is okay to use lists, like this one, where appropriate.
The site also provides links to other information guides and tool kits. Many of them are designed to help users implement the New Zealand Disability Strategy. But they also could be useful in other counties, covering these broad topics:
  • Being responsive to disabled people
  • Communications, information and resources
  • Access and mobility around the community.
I provide more information about plain language (aka plain English) at Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide.

An article on the New Zealand information is featured today, June 8, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Poll: Which grammar rules would you ban?

After an Oxford University professor questioned the continued use of apostrophes (to much alarm in response), a British newspaper asked readers about other grammar rules they would ban:
[T]he idea got members of the Telegraph Arts and Entertainment desks thinking – what grammatical and spelling pedantries would we like to rid ourselves of?
Below are the newspaper's eight suggestions. You can vote on them and see the latest results at the newspaper's website:
  • Never start a sentence with a conjunction
  • Never split an infinitive
  • Never use "like" as a conjunction
  • Always i before e, except after c
  • Always use "fewer" for plural, and "less" for singular objects
  • Always use apostrophes for plural possessives
  • Always differentiate between "which" and "that"
  • Never use "me" as a subject pronoun.

My comments (from Seattle in the United States) are not likely to sway a British poll, but here are my thoughts on some of the listed rules--and related items in Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual.
First, though, the basic rules for using apostrophes are not that difficult to remember and follow. Here's the entry in my online manual:
apostrophe (') This punctuation mark has two main uses: First, it often shows possession: Dan Lindler's appointment. And second, it often marks the omission of letters in contractions and other words or numbers in years and decades: he'll, won't, finger lickin' good, the class of '68, the '90s.
Apostrophes never make a word plural, but they may be used to mark the plural of single letters and abbreviations with internal punctuation: Dot your i's. She got straights A's on her report card, M.A.'s Ph.D.'s. Don't use it in forming plurals of decades: the '70s, the 1980s, not '70's, the 1980's.

Second, highly respected language authorities, now and in the past, already consider the first two so-called rules to be myths--starting a sentence with a conjunction and splitting infinitives. I list those "rules" and others at Garbl's Myths and Superstitions of Writing

Here are my style manual items on those rules:

and, but Some teachers wisely taught us not to begin every sentence or fragment of a sentence with and (or but). And others taught us mistakenly not to begin any sentence with those conjunctions. Whatever the lesson, the result has been a common misunderstanding that it's incorrect to begin sentences with conjunctions. Ignore that myth!
And and but are simple, clear and correct transition words between related (and) and contrasting (but) sentences. Go ahead and use 'em--And instead of Additionally, Furthermore, In addition or Moreover, and But instead of However. But don't overdo it. They'll lose their punch. A comma is unnecessary following And and But at the beginning of a sentence.
split infinitives Avoid awkward sentence constructions that split the infinitive forms of a verb, such as to leave or to help, as in this sentence: Try to not awkwardly or incorrectly split infinitives. But splitting infinitives is grammatically correct--and even useful if it helps strengthen the meaning of a sentence by placing the modifier before the word it's modifying: He wanted to really impress the council. Unfortunately, split infinitives can distract some readers who think they're incorrect.
I realize the rule about using like as a preposition (and as as a conjunction) is often confused, but it's not a difficult rule to learn and follow. My style manual says:
as, like Often confused when comparing things. Both mean "equally" or "the same as." Use the conjunction as, however, to introduce a clause (a group of words with its own subject and verb), he should in this example: Jennifer saves her computer work as she should. Use like as a preposition to make a direct comparison of nouns or pronouns. It needs an object, an expert in this example: Jennifer saves her computer work like an expert. Memory tip: As is followed by a noun and a verb while like is followed by only a noun.

The "i before e" rule listed in the article is incomplete; the complete rule acknowledges exceptions  ("... Or when sounded as 'a,' As in neighbor and weigh"). Sure, that rule has other exceptions, but as a mnemonic tip, it's a good starting point before checking a dictionary.

The rule for using fewer and less is described incompletely in the article, even inaccurately. Here's a more complete description from my style manual that I think is clear and useful to readers:

fewer, less Fewer (or few) stresses number, and less stresses degree or quantity. Use fewer for plural nouns and individual items that can be counted, less for singular nouns and a bulk, amount, sum, period of time or idea that is measured in other ways: Fewer than 10 applicants called. I had less than $50 in my pocket. Fewer dollars, less money. Less food, fewer calories
Agreed, the rules about using apostrophes for plural possessives are not easy to remember, but that's why having access to a style manual is useful and smart. I think using them correctly aids reader comprehension. Here's an outline of related rules under possessives in my online guide:
  • Use only an apostrophe for singular proper names ending in sDrakes' decision. And add only an apostrophe to plural proper names ending in sthe Parkses' home.
  • Add 's to plural nouns not ending is schildren's passes, men's bike, women's rights, women's room.
  • Add only an apostrophe to plural nouns ending in sthe girls' books, boys' bike, plants' supervisors, families' cars.
  • When a plural noun is possessive but each person "owns" only one item, the item should also be listed in plural form. To confirm correctness, rephrase the possessive relationship as an of phrase: the children's brains or the brains of the childrenthe teachers' hands or the hands of the teachers.
  • When two or more people jointly own an item, put the apostrophe after the noun closest to the item: Gary and Gina's car(they jointly own car), Gary and Gina's cars (they jointly own more than one car). But when two or more people separately own items, put an apostrophe or an 's after each noun: Gary's and Gina's cars.
  • When writing about a family in the plural, add s and then an apostrophe: the Abernathys' Christmas greeting (but Bob Abernathy's Christmas greeting).
  • Add only an apostrophe to nouns plural in form, singular in meaning: mathematics' rules, United States' wealth.
Some writing authorities don't like differentiating that and which, but I agree with those authorities who believe making the distinction can aid readers. And it's usually not difficult to follow the rule. Here's the description in my style manual:
that, which, who, whom That is the defining, or restrictive, pronoun for essential clauses: The camera that is broken is in the shop (tells which one). Which is the nondefining, or nonrestrictive, pronoun for nonessential clauses: The camera, which is broken, is in the shop (adds a fact about the only camera in question).
In the examples above, note the correct use of commas: Which clauses are always set off with commas (or sometimes dashes or parentheses), and that clauses aren't. Essential that clauses cannot be cut without changing the meaning of a sentence. Don't set off an essential clause from the rest of a sentence with commas.
Nonessential which clauses can be dropped without altering the meaning. Set off a nonessential clause with commas.
James J. Kilpatrick, The Writer's Art, 1984: "Rule of thumb: If the qualifying phrase is set off by commas, use which; if not, use that."
In addition, that is the preferred pronoun to introduce clauses that refer to an inanimate object: Greg remodeled the house that burned down Friday. Which is the only acceptable pronoun to introduce a nonessential clause that refers to an inanimate object: The house, which Greg remodeled, burned down Friday.
When an essential or nonessential clause refers to a human being or something with human qualities (such as a family), introduce it with who or whomThat -- but not which -- also may be used to refer to human beings, as well as inanimate objects. Don't use commas if the clause is essential to the meaning. Use them if it is not. 
Theodore M. Bernstein, The Careful Writer, 1977: "Which normally refers to things, who to persons, and that to either persons or things."
Finally, I'm sorry (I guess), but I think using "me" as a subject pronoun makes a speaker sound careless and immodest at best, unsophisticated and illiterate at worst. It's just not that hard to remember and follow the basic rule correctly. I don't think this error comes up much in serious writing. My style manual:
I, me Often confused. the pronoun I (like he, she, we and they) is always the subject of sentences and clauses. And the pronoun me (like him, her, us and them) is always the object of verbs and prepositions. In other words, I is more likely to be at the front of a sentence or clause (typically before the verb). And me is more likely to be at the back of a sentence or clause (typically after the verb): I hugged her. He talked to me. She hugged him. We talked to them. They talked to us.
 Also, please remember these correct uses when the sentence has a conjunction (such as and or or): He talked to Linda and me. Linda and I talked to him. The horse carried Debbie and me. Debbie and I rode the horse. Incorrect: He talked to Linda and I. Linda and me talked to him. The horse carried Debbie and I. Debbie and me rode the horse. To be polite, me or I usually follows the conjunction.
To test for correctness: Remove the other person's name and the conjunction from the sentence, leaving the pronoun; if it sounds incorrect, it probably is. For example, you wouldn't want to be heard saying, "He talked to I" or "Me talked to him" or "Me rode the horse." 
The article from
The Telegraph is featured today, June 5, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

AP Stylebook marks 60th anniversary with new print edition

If you're in the market for buying an easy-to-use, up-to-date editorial style manual, now would be a good time to check out the new version of the Associated Press Stylebook.

According to an AP news release:
The AP Stylebook is marking its 60th anniversary with the 2013 print edition, which includes more than 90 new or updated entries and broadens the guidelines on social media.
At about 500 pages, the AP Stylebook is widely used in newsrooms, classrooms and corporate offices worldwide.
The style manual includes new and revised entries that I highlight occasionally in this blog. such as the entries on numerals:

The numerals entries have been updated and consolidated for easier understanding and searching. The four-page section adopts numerals as the preferred usage for all distances and dimensions and provides, alphabetically by topic, almost 200 examples of when to use figures and when to spell them out.
Other updated entries include mental illness, illegal immigration and weapons. AP notes:

Among other new and revised entries are: Advent, Alaska Native, Asperger’s syndrome, athletic trainers in Sports Guidelines, disabled/handicapped, doughnut, dumpster, ethnic cleansing, homicide/murder/manslaughter, moped, populist, rack/wrack, red carpet, swag, underway, wacky and wildfires.
I subscribe to the online version of the AP Stylebook. AP gives a discount for the online version to people who buy the print version.

Of course, you can use my online reference for free: Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual. It mostly follows AP preferences but includes my examples and my interpretation of unclear styles and advice from other the Gregg Reference Manual, Chicago Manual of Style, Garner's Modern American Usage, and other references.

New Questions and Answers | Chicago Manual of Style

The Chicago Manual of Style announced June 3 its monthly answers to questions about writing--punctuation, capitalization, word choice, grammar, and so on. I subscribe to monthly email messages about the updates.

Items on the latest updates also appear today, June 4, in my daily online papers, Garbl's Style: Write Choices and Garbl's Plain Enligh Paragraphs. They're available at the Editorial Style and Plain Language tabs above and by free email subscription.

Here are excerpts from the latest questions:
Q. In an article I am editing, the book title Di kupe appears, and in the text the author will use the Yiddish word kupe. I am following CMOS advice to italicize a foreign word if it is not in the dictionary. I am afraid that it might confuse the reader. Should I translate the Yiddish word when it is not used as a title?
Q. Is it correct to have the exclamation point or question mark immediately after the period in each of the following sentences?
Q. In the following sentence, is a comma required before “and her ten-year-old son”? “She is especially distraught when her preteen daughter, Pam, rebels by befriending a navel-pierced neighbor and her ten-year-old son, Joe, betrays her by making contact with the father.”
 Q. A colleague said to me, “She is based out of Chennai.” Is this standard English?
Q. This material was published in the Philippines, but it was accessed in the United States. So we have an access date that is one day before the date of publication. Which option do you like best/dislike least?
Q. It has baffled me for years why the name of The New Yorker is sometimes written the New Yorker, and today I learned it is because the Chicago Manual advises it. I’m not sure why.
Q. When writing out a person’s title that includes a hyphen, when the first letter would be capitalized, should the word following the hyphen also be capitalized (e.g., Co-Founder)?
Q. I have an author who wants to use a quote about the subject of his book by a famous, now deceased news anchor on the cover, but it turns out that the quote is something he heard at a speaking engagement. Do you think it would be OK to use a paraphrase on the book jacket?
Q. In the following sentence, should “instead of” be replaced with “rather than”?
Besides buying a hardback version of the Chicago Manual, you can pay a fee for online access to the manual. My online guide, Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual, is free.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...