Barrier-Free Communication


written by Barbara Treichl as part of the Vienna Masters in Human Rights Program


Do we permanently discriminate against persons with learning disabilities by using difficult language?

Everyone has the right to social, economic and political participation in society. To ensure this right, access to information, culture, politics, science, laws, literature and leisure is necessary. In order for citizens to be able to actively contribute to the development of society, it is necessary for them to be able to obtain sufficient information in advance about the respective topic areas.[1]

For many people, this access is made difficult or even impossible by using difficult language. People with learning difficulties often lack the capacity to understand legal texts, lectures, films, books or information brochures. This does not only apply to people with learning disabilities or another kind of disability that affects their reading or understanding ability – but also to persons who did not receive a good education or whose mother tongue differs from the official language of the state they reside, elderly people or people with social problems might have problems to access adequate information too.[2]

Barrier-free information and communication are ones of the most important prerequisites to guarantee participation in social processes. Without adequate provisions of choices and information, decisions cannot be made.[3] However, current societal structures still prevent people with learning disabilities from accessing information and communication. Hard-to-understand information can be found in legal texts, medication leaflets, instructions for use and official forms. Even lectures are often held in difficult language. However, due to the difficulty of accessing the language, this information cannot be understood and interpreted. Even experts sometimes have problems understanding complex texts.

Not understanding difficult language often leads to exclusion, frustration, discouragement and self-deprecation. If people repeatedly are faced with texts that are too hard to understand for them, eventually they will give up continuing obtaining information and, as a result, a feeling of their own inability will arise. Understanding information is very important for self-confident, independent and self-determined action and interaction.

A democratic society cannot afford the denial of information due to incomprehensible texts to certain groups of people. Therefore, conditions must be created so that people with learning difficulties can understand important information and participate in social life.

But how can we provide barrier-free access to information in the context of communication?

This access can be guaranteed by using Easy Language. The so-called concept of Easy Language has been developed, which can make a significant contribution to reducing language barriers and is particularly dedicated to the concerns of people with learning difficulties.[4] The use of Easy Language could make a significant contribution to the realization and design of barrier-free information and communication and promote the social participation of people with learning difficulties.[5]

Contents of information and communication are usually not complicated at all, but only made complicated by the use of difficult language. Therefore, difficult to understand information cannot be justified. Responsible for the complex and difficult presentation of facts are authors and discussion partners.[6]

People with learning difficulties should be able to move around freely in their everyday lives without outside help – they should be able to read daily news, catch up on consumer information, use public transport and take advantage of leisure activities themselves.

Nevertheless, much information is still not available in Easy Language. Hardly any legal text is translated into Easy Language and official forms are rarely understandable for people with learning difficulties. Technical literature is filled with foreign words and the texts in it often consist of complicated, long sentences with as many explanations as possible. Shouldn’t Easy Language be recognized as an official language, as well as the sign language for people with hearing impairments? Wouldn’t it be the duty of democratic states to ensure that everyone has the same access to information? Why isn’t it a long-standing duty for authorities and courts to write their opinions and judgments in Easy Language and why are laws that apply to all people, including people with learning difficulties, not compulsory to translate into Easy Language with their pronouncements?

At least in Germany, public authority filings mandatorily must be written in Easy Language since 2018.[7] But many countries are still far from it.

Article in an Easy-to-Read Version

Every-One has rights.

For example, the right to participate.

That means being able to say what you want to say.

And being able to read about what you want to know.


Often difficult language is used.

Especially laws are often written in difficult language.

But also documents and lectures.

They are not understandable by people with learning difficulties.

Other people often cannot understand them too.

For example, people from other countries.

Or people, who do not have a good education.


When people do not understand texts, it makes them sad.

They do not feel well enough then.

And do not want to read any more texts.

It is important that texts are understood.

This is very important for self-confidence.

Self-confidence means that one is convinced of oneself.

And that the person knows what they can do.


Democracy means that all people are allowed to participate.

This means that even people with learning difficulties are allowed to participate.

A democratic state must therefore make information understandable to people with learning difficulties.


Easy Language should be recognized as an official language in every state.

Authority and courts should have the duty to use Easy Language.

Laws should be translated into Easy Language.

In Germany public authority writings are written in Easy Language since 2018.

That should be the case all over the world.


[1] Freyhoff Geert, Make it Simple, June 1998, available at: <> [accessed: 29.01.2018].

[2] Freyhoff Geert, Make it Simple, June 1998, available at: <> [accessed: 29.01.2018].

[3] Winter Linda, Barrierefreie Kommunikation: Leichte Sprache und Teilhabe für Menschen mit Lernschwierigkeiten, 2014, page 29.

[4] Winter, Barrierefreie Kommunikation, 2014, p. 32.

[5] Winter, Barrierefreie Kommunikation, 2014, p. 30.

[6] Winter, Barrierefreie Kommunikation, 2014, p. 31.

[7] Vogler / Reuter, Behördendeutsch: „Leichte Sprache“ ab 2018 Pflicht, SVZ, 21.11.2016, available at: <> [accessed: 30.01.2018].