By Keegan Newberry, Assitant Director – DDA Residential Services
Language is complex. Consider the elements that go into understanding speech: interpretation of tone, cadence, speech rate, inflection – all in addition to understanding the actual words used when conveying a message. Words can share multiple meanings, some of which are completely distinct. Certain words even carry meaning through socially constructed word associations that are not necessarily obvious to those who don’t share the same background or experiences; and these are just the basic building blocks of understanding.
I repeat, language is complex. Developing written literacy involves not only understanding the complex nature of speech but also being able to translate it to a text where meaning is implied beyond what is explicitly stated and with fewer cues for interpretation. With all of these elements to consider, teaching literacy skills is challenging; however, developing literacy skills for individuals with developmental disabilities can have a dramatic impact on their ability to access their community. Literacy can increase independence in routines, allow for self-exploration into topics of interest, increase feelings of self-worth, and much more.
This process might seem overwhelming, and unfortunately, this article is not Quick Tips to Literacy, but in honour of accessibility week I would like to share one small change that can break down a barrier many do not realize exists:
Change your Font
We teach in concrete terms: there is a right answer and a wrong answer. Because of this, individuals with developmental disabilities tend to be concrete thinkers. Numbers, letters, and even social rules are taught explicitly with a single, finite, correct answer; but when it comes to literacy, there are often expectations of self-developed abstract connections. Consider the following:
Which one is ‘a’? If you are a true concrete, black and white, thinker the first letter is the only correct answer. Fonts matter. For those who cannot easily think in the abstract, each small variation on a letter must be taught individually. Just as one word having multiple meanings can convolute a message, one letter having multiple forms adds an additional layer of complexity that acts as a barrier to understanding.
If you are able to make one small change this week to improve the accessibility of written information: choose and use an accessible font. An accessible font is a font that most closely represents the letter shapes as taught in education programs. I highly recommend Century Gothic. This is a font revolution. Language is complex enough – your fonts don’t need to be.