man using headphones at a conferenceAnyone who has been to a conference will know that they can be an incredibly valuable learning opportunity. And while they are a great chance to hear from people who are so familiar with a topic, sometimes speakers can forget that others aren’t. This means they may use language that seems so common and simple to them, but to others, they may as well be speaking another language. 

This is where the universal design for learning (UDL) principles come in. UDL is based on the belief that learning environments should be flexible to suit a diverse range of needs, including those of people with cognitive disability and people who speak languages other than English.

The study

To try and achieve UDL, two researchers worked to simplify the language of speakers at an international disability conference through simultaneous simplification. Simultaneous simplification is when information is translated into plain language in real time – meaning that an interpreter is taking the complex and technical language that the speaker may be using and transcribing it straight away into simpler language.

In order to do this, the translator needs to understand the complex and technical language, the simpler language, and the topic that is being talked about. In some instances, where the audience may include people from a different cultural background, the translator must also make sure that their translation is appropriate and sensitive to different cultures.

At the international disability conference, simultaneous simplification was made available to everyone through a set channel on an earphone-based audio system.

The results

Research into the use of simultaneous simplification was carried out during the conference through observations. It was also carried out after the conference through focus groups and interviews. The research found people with significant cognitive disability were able to fully participate in the conference. It also found that these participants still remembered the information a few weeks later.

It is hoped that through this study, the presence of simultaneous simplification continues to grow and support the learning opportunities of students with cognitive disability.

You can find out more on the Centre for Universal Design Australia website.