DOVP Week: John Kramer on Universal Design Principle 3: Making Language Understandable for Everyone

My name is John Kramer and I am currently a Research Fellow at the Institute for Community Inclusion, University of Massachusetts Boston. My work focuses on research and evaluation of employment outcomes of people with disabilities, participatory research, and aging issues for families of people with disabilities. I am a new member of the American Evaluation Association.


  • Universal Design Principle 3 is “simple and intuitive”. Incorporating clear, simple language in writing while also providing concrete, every day examples improves access in two ways:
  1. it clarifies your intention as a writer and helps you focus on the basic idea you are trying to convey
  2. it allows for more stakeholder access and participation.

Hot tips:

  • Use plain language. This means substituting simpler words for more complex ones. It also means writing sentences that are free of excessive subordination. Also, try to avoid unnecessary modifiers like “really, totally, very, only, quite,” which may interfere with clarity.
  • Use concrete, accessible examples including images when helpful. Try to think of examples to illustrate your writing that are easy to picture and relate to. Using images is a good approach as well when appropriate.
  • Use clear, parallel examples in your writing. For instance, if you frame an example as noun, verb, recipient noun, then make sure all your examples use the same order of presentation.

Rad Resources

There are many good resources for how to incorporate plain language and images into your work. A few especially helpful ones around the web are:

  • -A website by the United States Federal government that gives some useful strategies and examples in using plain language.
  • Grammar Girl -A website that provides some basic tips and tricks to clarify your writing. Not for cognitive access per se, but elements can be useful in UD.
  • Picture Planner – A website that illustrates an example of how pictures can be used to facilitate cognitive access.
  • Creative Commons -Here you can find free pictures that you can use, often with attribution, to illustrate your work and writing.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating the Disabilities and Other Vulnerable Populations TIG (DOVP) Week. The contributions all week come from DOVP members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluator.

2 thoughts on “DOVP Week: John Kramer on Universal Design Principle 3: Making Language Understandable for Everyone”

  1. John, I really appreciate your contribution and points here – simplicity in writing is a personal passion for me.

  2. I like your tips!
    Another resource that I have found helpful for writing in more understandable language is the “show readability statistics” option in Microsoft Word’s spelling and grammar check feature. It gives several readability statistics for your document, including:
    * Sentences per paragraph
    * Words per sentence
    * Characters per word
    * Percent passive sentences
    * Flesch-Kincaid reading level

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