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What does readability have to do with accessibility?

You may not realize this, but about 10% of the people visiting your website could have dyslexia. Still, others may struggle with cognitive or learning disabilities that make reading words and sentences difficult.

Turns out, the average reading level of adults in the U.S. is around 7th or 8th grade. According to an analysis by Gallup using data from the U.S. Department of Education, about 130 million adults in the U.S. struggle with reading. That's more than half of Americans aged 16 to 74 (54%) reading below a sixth-grade level.

The U.S. government recognized this issue, and on October 13, 2010, the U.S. government passed a law called the Plain Writing Act of 2010. It says that government information should be written in a way that regular people can understand. This law "requires that federal agencies use clear government communication that the public can understand and use."

What Can You Do?

What can you do to simplify the text on your website? Look at WCAG 3.1.5: Reading Level (Level AAA). I realize I'm referencing a AAA criterion, one that not many organizations comply with at that level. However, there is a specific technique for conformance included in that criterion that can be relatively easy to achieve. That is Technique G153: Making the text easier to read

Included in Technique G153 is a long list of "to-do's" to help you reduce the reading difficulty of your text. I’ll share some tips from the list that I find the easiest to implement and test for, but I highly recommend you read the entire list as well as the context of this technique:

  • Develop a single topic or subtopic per paragraph.
  • Use sentences that are no longer than 25 words if written in English.
  • Avoid professional jargon, slang, and other terms with a specialized meaning that may not be clear to people.
  • Replace long or unfamiliar words with shorter, more common terms.
  • Use bulleted or numbered lists instead of paragraphs that contain long series of words or phrases separated by commas.
  • Use the active voice.
  • Use names and labels consistently.

While researching writing tips, I found these from Yale University very useful:

  • Writing at a high school grade level, where possible and appropriate.
  • Limiting paragraphs to around ~80 words.
  • Using authoring tools such as the Hemingway Editor to provide readability feedback.

Readability Measuring Tools

The most common readability measuring tool for English is the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test. This is actually two tests -  a measure of reading ease and a measure of grade level. 

The DubBot app includes the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test, as well as 5 other popular reading / grade level scoring tools. For information on all of the scoring tools available, please read the Help Center article titled "What is Readability? Why does it matter?"

In this screenshot, a red rectangle highlights the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score for this particular page. If you mouseover the link for the name of each reading score tool, a box will appear with information to help you interpret the score for that page.

A screenshot from the DubBot app that highlights the score from the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test along with the pop-up that includes information on how to evaluate the score presented.

For consistency and proper benchmark testing, it’s best to choose 1 or 2 readability scoring tools and refer to them regularly, especially for new web pages or pages with significant re-writes.

Readability can influence how the reader understands text and engages with web pages, social media, and all other digital and printed materials. In addition, good readability is essential for writing instructional or "how-to" information / manuals / help documents.

Remember, the goal is to make sure that the text on your website is comprehensible, functional, and beneficial for as many visitors as possible.


Maggie Vaughan, CPACC
Content Marketing Practitioner