Getting started with practical web accessibility, section 2 Demonstration: an analysis of a page:

Rule 1: Simple language

The external title (not shown in the image) is “WHO | Frequently asked questions - acrylamide in food”. This is not bad, but it is not optimal either. It would be more understandable if the most important word were placed at the start, e.g. “Acrylamide in food FAQ (answers to Frequently Asked Questions), by WHO”. The abbreviation “WHO” would remain unexplained, but for various practical reasons, the external title should be short, normally less than 60 characters. However, it might be a good idea to append the explanation “(World Health Organization).”

On similar grounds, the main heading would be better formulated e.g. as “Acrylamide in food,” with a subheading (in smaller font) like “Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)”. This would remove the problem that the page uses the abbreviation “FAQ” with no explicit expansion. Many people know what FAQs are, but surely not all.

The word “acrylamide” is of course a difficult one, but it cannot be avoided, since the page is about acrylamide. It is important that it will be explained very early on the page. (Explaining it in the heading is probably not practical.)

The structure of the FAQ is not quite obvious from the page, but it consists of four pages, each containing a few questions in one category. Obviously, the category headings are important texts, even though only one of them appears as a heading and others are just links. They are fairly simple and easy language:

If you wanted to know about acrylamide, you could probably find the right category for your question easily. However, “Questions related to cancer” is somewhat abstract; “Cancer risks” would be more direct.

The specific questions appear in heading-like manner, and they are of course important due to their role. The first of them are rather simple, but then things get confusing:

  1. What is acrylamide?
  2. What is the problem?
  3. How/why does acrylamide form when food is cooked at high temperatures?
  4. What can be done to avoid acrylamide in food? Should I stop eating starchy foods including potato chips/potato crisps?
  5. Are home-cooked foods safer than pre-cooked, packaged or processed foods?

This is rather typical: when writing headings, you start well and concisely, but then they get too verbose and either too vague or too specific. Besides, the last heading is a question that is not answered in the text after it! (“Elevated levels of acrylamide have been found in home cooked foods, as well as pre-cooked, packaged and processed foods.”) The second heading is too abstract, and this may cause problems to people who have forgotten the context. In general, a heading that is understandable in any context is better than one that relies on contextual information. The third heading is too abstract: “cooking at high temperatures” means different things to different people, and what is meant here is really frying and comparable methods.

A better set of headings would be the following:

  1. What is acrylamide?
  2. Why is acrylamide a health problem?
  3. How is acrylamide formed when food is cooked?
  4. How can I avoid acrylamide in food?
  5. Do home-cooked foods contain acrylamide?

The page does not contain any general introductory or summary paragraph. Maybe it should. Anyway, we can still classify the first paragraph as very important, since it starts the answer to a question about the central term. The paragraph contains relatively simple text, with short sentences and not many difficult words (beyond necessity):

“Acrylamide is a chemical that is used to make polyacrylamide materials. Polyacrylamide is used in the treatment of drinking-water and waste water where it is used to remove particles and other impurities (see Question 15). It is also used to make glues, paper and cosmetics. Polyacrylamide materials contain very small amounts of acrylamide.”

Yet, is this relevant to understanding the topic of the page—acrylamide as a health problem? The paragraph looks like a part of a lecture in chemistry rather than a simple description for simple people. A better description might be: “Acrylamide is a chemical that causes health problems such as cancer risks. It appears in small amounts in our environment, including fried food and tap water.”