Saturday, November 06, 2004

speakeasy - the accessibility of language

It's funny when you are thinking about something one day and it becomes reality, or at least springs into focus, the next.

There has recently been a changing of the guard in my place of employment that I haven't quite liked. A new broom can be a good thing but when that broom brings all its little dustpans and mops (aka a personal posse) along with it, it can be disconcerting. I think, 'Hey, whoa there, hang on a minute; what just happened?'. Suddenly, it seems that that everyone around me is walking the new walk and talking the new talk and I feel left behind or 'out of step'. But deep down I have a suspicion that much of it is for show; they are afraid that if they don't take on the 'new culture' that they will be discarded.

managerial jargonism
The other day I listened (accidentally of course; I had nowhere else to go) to a phone conversation that one of the mops was having with some of my team members. This person's entire conversation was smattered with managerial new-age and I found myself screaming, 'Just talk plain English why dontcha!'.

Luckily I was only screaming on the inside.

Eventually I couldn't stand it any longer and stuck my earphones in as far as they would go and let the music drown out the drivel.

It's all about 'committing to outcomes', 'being comfortable in your space', 'developing strategies to move forward' and 'taking responsibility for value-adding to the workspace'. Aaargh!

chunking down not dumbing down
I spend my days turning technical, legal and business mumbo jumbo into chunks of easily digestable information that my audience can swallow. In one sitting. They don't have time to read and re-read details so it has to be in a format that is instantly understandable and clear. So why is management feeding back this corporate gobbledegook that means little and acts as a coverall for their (hidden) agenda? I don't respect it and I don't respect them for forcing it upon us.

weasel words
And then yesterday I read a book that delighted me. by Don Watson exposes these 'Weasel Words' as nothing more than a sort of slang that has seeped down from politicians to everyday language use. He expounds that we shouldn't be accepting it. We should fight it off - on the beaches and off - and question its use.

accessible language
This led me to thinking about the accessibility of common language. By using this twaddle aren't we actually disadvantaging our readers? If it becomes harder to understand the written or spoken word, is it not making our content less accessible? Of course!

This quote as stated in the book is from the Human Rights Commission:
Language is a key issue of access for people from a non-English speaking culture. It affects the individual's ability to access and use services and their knowledge of services.
From my experience, I would extend this to all individuals, especially when you are trying to teach something; clinging to some expectation that the bigger, more corporate-sounding a sentence is the better, only results in muddled meanings.

the language of cliche
Here's an example from Don's book:
Given the within year and budget time flexibility accorded to the science agencies in the determination of resource allocation from within their global budget, a multi-parameter approach to maintaining the agencies budgets in real terms is not appropriate.
Hmm. Yes. I see... And another for good measure:
Teamwork is critical to effective continuous improvement and standardization. Individuals can support the team by taking responsibility for the successes of the team following through on commitments, contributing to discussions, actively listening to others, getting your message across clearly, giving useful feedback, accepting feedback easily.
It's the language of cliche and doesn't really say a whole lot, does it?

Let's factor in plain speaking and clarity of meaning when we talk about accessibility, and not just Web Standards and validation, alright mate?

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