Accessibility Tip of the Week

Focus on the positive.

  • Summary: Avoid double negatives to simplify the meaning of a sentence.
  • Who it helps: People with cognitive and learning disabilities that impact language skills, such as dyslexia and limited memory, people with low reading literacy and people who natively speak another language.
  • Additional benefits: Almost everyone finds double negatives and negative statements confusing. We all benefit from using clear, understandable language.

Negative statements and especially double negatives make it difficult to understand the meaning of a sentence, particularly for people who have a disability that affects reading or understanding language. Negative words and phrases can also be isolating and challenging for people with mental health issues. To be inclusive, try and avoid using negative statements and simplify the meaning of a sentence.

For example, which of the following do you find easier to understand?

  • Option 1: I don’t not know that we need fewer than 5 pounds of flour.
  • Option 2: I know that we need at least 5 pounds of flour.

What can I do?

Use the following guidelines when writing your content and messages.

  • Use positive statements instead of negative ones to clarify the sentence’s intent. Write positive statements as much as possible.
  • Do not combine two or more negative words to create a positive statement.
  • Avoid negative statements that include words such as not, can’t, don’t, and words starting with “un.” If you find statements like these, consider whether they can be simplified and written from a positive instead of a negative point of view.

Check out Using Positive Language for more examples and additional writing tips.

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