Accessibility is one of the European Union’s priorities, yet many member countries are lagging behind in putting in place accessible practices, not only in the area of physical accessibility but also, and above all, in the area of cognitive accessibility. A study of adult skills conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that, on average, 49% of the population aged 16 to 65 in the 24 countries and regions that took part in the study do not have the desirable level of literacy skills (OECD, 2013). Literacy is defined in this study as “the ability to understand, evaluate, use and engage with written texts to participate in society, to achieve one’s goals and to develop one’s knowledge and potential” (OECD, 2013, page 64).
We live in a society that is undergoing very rapid change and whose data is increasingly complex to grasp (new technologies, global warming, geopolitical issues, etc.). Clear and effective communication is therefore more necessary than ever to ‘translate’ the complexity of the world into a language that can be understood by all European citizens.
One of the ways of promoting understanding and access to knowledge and information for all is through plain language. This is a way of writing that aims to use everyday language to address everyone. Plain language proposes linguistic rules (short sentences, appropriate vocabulary) and rules for presenting information. Clear language also encourages writers to identify who their readers are, so that they can adapt to their needs. The “Clear writing for Europe 2023” conference, taking place on 23 May 2023 in Brussels, illustrates Europe’s desire to think about simplifying the language used in the administrations of its Member States to enable all EU citizens to participate more fully in democratic life. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities includes plain language in its definition of communication. Finally, other countries have led the way and continue to do so, such as New Zealand, which recently passed legislation to ensure that public sector documents and websites communicate in plain language.
With the development of artificial intelligence, technological solutions exist to massify the use of plain language, in the same way that new translation tools contribute to the internationalisation of resources and exchanges. These tools offer a real prospect of major progress in the medium term towards the inclusion of all citizens in society, by supporting professionals in the production and evaluation of written content that is accessible to all in substance.
The European Text it Easy project, funded by the Erasmus+ programme, aims to disseminate plain language, using tools based on artificial intelligence, in all professional sectors, first and foremost the education and vocational training sector, in order to improve access to information and communication for all citizens and thus promote their inclusion and involvement in society. The vocational education and training sector is at the heart of lifelong learning and the development of professional practices. Integrating and defending practices in favour of universal accessibility makes it possible to meet a dual objective:
-> better integrate learners with special needs into professional curricula
-> to raise awareness among future professionals of the challenges of universal accessibility, so that they can implement more inclusive professional practices in the future.