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Case Study #1

Toward accessibility: Simplifying a complex report
(See complete document here)



This case study outlines how a team improved the accessibility of a detailed report about autism in Canada. The aim was to ensure people with lower literacy levels could easily grasp the content.


Even the report’s summary still presented a barrier to Autistic adults with very low literacy.


So, we used Plain Language and Easy Read approaches to make the content more accessible.


The team included graphic designer Kathy Kaulbach, CAHS, members of the Autism community and me. Together we refined the content until it satisfied everyone involved.

CAHS released the Easy Read version alongside the full report and the summary report. That day, the Easy Read version was downloaded more than either of the others. This shows that Plain Language and Easy Read are attractive to people who want to understand complex information.

Full case study

The client: Canadian Academy of Health Sciences 

The Canadian Academy of Health Sciences (CAHS) brings together Canada’s top scientists in the field of health research. They use evidence-based analysis to advise the Canadian government about health policy.

The challenge: Turn the executive summary of a CAHS report into an Easy-Read document [Heading 3]


CAHS provided graphic designer Kathy Kaulbach and I with the executive summary of their assessment Autism in Canada: Considerations for future public policy development.


The audience


CAHS told us that this particular document was for the following people:

  • Autistic adults

  • parents of Autistic children

  • caregivers and educators of both Autistic adults and children

  • support workers for Autistic adults and children


CAHS wanted Autistic people with limited literacy skills to be able to read and understand the document.


Easy Read


Easy Read is a way to make written information easier to understand for people with very low literacy skills. It advocates limiting sentences to one idea each. And accompanying each idea with an image. It also advocates using other plain language techniques such as these:

  • writing in the active voice

  • explaining difficult words or ideas in a separate sentence


In addition, I applied all my plain language expertise to the text. For example:

  • I grouped like-ideas together under headings.

  • I used vertical lists to make it easy for readers to spot items in the list.

  • I used examples to explain ideas.


The collaboration


There was a lot of collaboration, not only between Kathy and I, but also with CAHS and members of the Autism community. I worked with CAHS to find the ideas that would be most important for their intended audience.


Before CAHS published the report, members of the Autism community read through it and suggested revisions. It was only after everyone was satisfied with the report that it was published.


The result


CAHS published their full report, their summary report, and the Easy Read version at the same time. At that time, the Easy Read version was the most downloaded of the three. It was downloaded 670 times. The summary report was downloaded 550 times, and the full report was downloaded 450 times.

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