An illustrated graphic of a brain surrounded by accessibility icons (an ear, an eye, hands, and a wheelchair)

Make your content accessible with AI: Tips, prompts & strategies

march 8, 2024

If you're a writer or content creator, making your content accessible can help a broader and more diverse audience read, understand, and enjoy your work. And thanks to AI chat tools like Microsoft Copilot and ChatGPT, improving the readability and accessibility of your content has never been easier.

In this post, we’ll explore how to make AI your ally in creating engaging, reader-first, and inclusive content. I’ll show you how to use AI chat tools to follow what I call the 3 "golden rules" of content accessibility:

🧩1. Simplify complex language

🗝️2. Summarize and reinforce key concepts

🌈3. Provide options to meet different needs

To demonstrate each strategy, I’ll be using Microsoft Copilot, a free tool powered by OpenAI’s latest version of GPT-4. But you can also use ChatGPT or any other AI chat tool you’re comfortable with.

Let’s get started!

🧩Golden rule #1: Simplify complex language

Whenever you can, replace complicated language with simpler, more casual alternatives to make your content more accessible and easier to understand. This practice helps reduce reader frustration and disengagement. It also happens to be a cornerstone of great writing—the average reader doesn’t love wading through jargon or overly complex language, either.

Fortunately, analyzing and rephrasing text is the kind of straightforward task that AI excels at. Grab your favorite AI chat tool and use the methods below to detangle and clarify your writing.

🧩Demystify difficult topics

Let’s say you’re writing a blog post on Large Language Models (or LLMs—like Copilot and ChatGPT) for a general audience. You've decided you want to briefly touch on what an LLM is and how it works, but you know the “How it works” could open a whole Pandora’s box of complexity.

This is a perfect time to combine the powers of AI with the magic of ELI5 (Explain Like I’m 5)!

🤖Prompt: Explain how [large language models] work as if you were talking to a curious five-year-old.

(Prompt alternatives: “Explain how LLMs work in the simplest possible terms,” “Provide an ELI5 explanation of how LLMs work,” “Explain how LLMs work to a person who has never heard of them.”)

🪄The results:

The results of the prompt "Explain how large language models work as if you were talking to a curious five-year-old."

You don’t have to use the tool’s output verbatim, but it should at least provide you with some inspiration on explaining the topic in clear, simple terms.

Now, let’s say we’re not happy with the brain analogy in the response above. We can fish for other analogies by prompting, “Provide 5 analogies that compare LLMs to familiar things, people, systems, or processes.”

🪄The results:

The results of the prompt "Provide 5 analogies that compare LLMs to familiar things, people, systems, or processes.”

If I’m being nitpicky, the analogies above are nearly identical thematically, so I’m not sure if you can count them as five distinctive ideas (they all follow the same "learning leads to expertise" narrative). But they do give us a decent start, and that's exactly what we need. We can use this idea of "learning" to talk about how we need to train the LLM with reliable and high-quality data, just like we'd want to give a human learner correct and high-quality information.

💡Extra tips:

  • If the AI is taking the five-year-old part too literally (by, say, comparing every complex subject to naptime and chocolate milk), try adjusting the age to 10.
  • AI chat tools are still hit-or-miss with analogies—sometimes they're great; sometimes they're absolutely bonkers—so vet each analogy to ensure it makes sense.

🧩Make your writing clear and concise

After you’ve finished writing, paste your content into Copilot and ask it to rewrite your work in concise, simple language. If your work is longer than 1000 words, consider feeding it to the tool in chunks to get better results.

🤖Prompt: Rewrite this text in plain, concise, easy-to-understand language, suitable for someone with no background in the subject.

(Prompt alternatives: “Convert this technical explanation into plain English,” “Rewrite this text in a way that would be clear and straightforward for a fifth grader,” “Simplify this content so it can be easily understood by someone learning English as a second language”)

🪄The results:

For this example, I’ve pasted in the (initial) first paragraph of the post you’re currently reading:

“We’ve all heard plenty of buzz about generative AI and its potential to transform the future of work. And while these conversations are certainly exciting, the aspect of generative AI that excites me the most is often overlooked: The potential for large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT and Bing Chat to improve communication and accessibility for people with language and learning difficulties. Not only can AI chat tools help people with communication barriers express themselves fully, but they also provide a wealth of options for content creators who want to make their own work more accessible.”

Here’s the same paragraph, simplified by Copilot:

Copilot's simplified version of the example paragraph in the article.

Your mileage may vary, but in my experience, it’s not a good idea to simply replace your original work with the AI-generated content verbatim. In its efforts to streamline and simplify your work, the tool will inevitably scrub away your fingerprints, too—and that’s where the magic is! AI chat tools also have a habit of replacing perfectly good language with synonyms and alternative phrases that don’t change or improve the writing.

So, instead of replacing the content, I like to compare my original version with the AI-suggested improvements paragraph by paragraph. If you’re using Copilot within a Microsoft Word document, there’s a handy way to do this:

  • Highlight the sentence or paragraph you want to change. You should see the Copilot logo pop up beside the paragraph. Select Rewrite with Copilot.
A screenshot of the Copilot feature in Microsoft Word
  • When Copilot offers the results, select Insert Below instead of Replace.
  • A screenshot of the Copilot feature in Microsoft Word

    That’s it! You can now see precisely what the tool changed and decide whether to keep or ignore each suggestion. I usually keep most of my original language and let the tool clue me in on tighter ways to construct each sentence.

    💡Extra tips:

    • One thing I struggle with sometimes is context: How much background information should I include, and when does it become unnecessary or overwhelming? When I'm not sure, drafting my post as a presentation can help me structure my content and understand which information I really need to include (it's usually less than I think!). As a bonus, the presentation format also helps me notice opportunities to replace text with visuals. If you're interested in trying this strategy, Microsoft Create has a range of presentation templates to get you started.

    🧩Have your content assessed for readability

    If you want to maintain more control over your writing, you don’t need to make the tool rewrite your content! Instead, copy and paste your finished work into Copilot and ask for a readability analysis. The tool will use guidelines like the Flesch-Kincaid readability score to offer insights on sentence length, word choice, and the overall structure of your text. You can then implement or reject each suggestion yourself.

    🤖Prompt: Provide a readability analysis of this text and suggest ways to improve it: [paste your text]

    (Alternative: “Provide a readability analysis based on the Flesch-Kincaid readability score, focusing on factors like sentence length, word choice, and the overall structure of the text.”)

    🪄The results:

    I’ve asked for a readability analysis of the (initial) introduction I wrote for this post (the same paragraph I shared in the tip “Make your writing clear and concise”). The verdict?

    Copilot's brutal tear-down of the readability in my intro paragraph

    Ouch! This is a terrible readability score, so I’ll likely scrap my whole introduction and start over (🔮note from the future: I did this!). But first, I want to say a few words in my defense. Readability guidelines can be really wonky sometimes. If you’re tackling a complex or technical subject, you’ll almost certainly get dinged for using jargon or complex language (including terms like “generative AI”) even if that language is baked into the subject.

    So first and foremost, readability is about understanding your audience. If you’re writing for a highly educated or technical audience, tailor the readability level of your work accordingly (while aiming to stay more readable, of course).

    💡Extra tips:

    • As always, use the AI’s suggestions as guidelines, not absolute rules. Paradoxically, paring your content down to its simplest possible version can make it less readable because you lose some of the variety in sentence structure and rhythm that makes writing engaging. Aim for a balance between simplicity and retaining the essence of your content.

    🧩Golden rule #1: Summary and tips

    So far, we’ve learned how to use AI chat tools to:

    ✅Explain complex subjects in a simple way

    ✅Simplify your drafted work

    ✅Analyze and improve the readability of your drafted work

    And we’ve learned the following tips:

    • Be cautious with analogies provided by the AI. Critically evaluate each one to ensure it actually makes sense for the intended concept.
    • Avoid replacing your original work entirely with AI-generated content. Instead, use AI suggestions to refine and tighten your writing while retaining your unique voice.
    • Feed longer content into AI tools in chunks for more effective simplification and rewriting.
    • Always keep your audience in mind so you can tailor your content’s complexity, terminology, and level of detail to your audience’s knowledge level.

    🗝️Golden rule #2: Summarize and reinforce key concepts

    AI chat tools can help you condense and summarize your content, helping your overwhelmed or time-constrained readers grasp key points without forcing them to wade through dense or intimidating material. Use the strategies below to provide an extra boost of knowledge at the right times.

    🗝️Summarize your article at the top

    Set expectations and orient your readers by kicking off your content with a summary of the main ideas you'll be discussing.

    This strategy isn’t super compatible with Copilot’s character count limits, so you may have to switch to a different AI chat tool if your content is long. To get started, feed your finished work into the chat tool and ask for a brief overview of the content. For shorter work, consider asking for a bullet point summary instead.

    🤖Prompt: Write a brief summary of this article, focusing on what readers will learn.

    🪄The results:

    Switching to ChatGPT, here’s a summary of the article you’re currently reading:

    ChatGPT's summary of the blog post you're reading

    Click here to view ChatGPT’s full response

    Tailor the summary to your liking and add it to the top of your blog post. Clearly label your summary and adjust its format to make it visually distinct. Formatting adjustments can be as simple as using an italicized font for the summary, or as complex as turning your summary into a linked outline of the post.

    💡Extra tips:

    • Ask the tool to structure your summary in different ways—bullet points? An outline? A narrative paragraph?—until you find the right fit for your article.
    • The right document layout can make it easier to format your summary so it's distinct. Cruise through our Word templates and newsletter templates to see if you can find a layout option that works with your vision.

    🗝️Close each section with a bullet point summary

    If you’re writing a longer guide, research paper, or report, consider following each section with bullet points highlighting the section’s key ideas. This practice helps your readers reinforce what they’ve learned, and it provides extra skimmability for people with waning attention spans.

    Depending on the length of your article, you’ll probably want to tackle this task one section at a time.

    🤖Prompt: Provide a bullet point summary of key takeaways from the article section pasted below.

    🪄The results:

    Using ChatGPT again, here’s a summary of the first section of the blog post you're currently reading:

    ChatGPT's summary of the first section of the blog post you're reading

    Click here to view ChatGPT’s full response

    I like the response above, but I had a different format in mind. So, I’ll explain what I’m envisioning to the tool.

    My prompt with an example of the kind of summary I'm looking for

    🪄The results:

    ChatGPT's new summary after adjusting my prompt

    Much better! I can now select a few of the most salient tips and, after modifying some of the language, use them to wrap up the first section of my post (🔮note from the future: I did this).

    💡Extra tips:

    • If you’re not getting the type or format of bullet points you want, be more specific. How many sentences per bullet point? What kind of findings or takeaways do you want to focus on?
    • Alternatively, write the first part of the summary yourself and use it as an example in your prompt. In the example above, I wrote the first three bullets myself (“We learned how to use AI chat tools to…”) and fed those to the tool. This gave the AI a framework for sentence/bullet point length and kept it focused on actionable tips instead of basic summarization.

    🗝️Generate FAQs based on your content

    FAQs are an amazing way to reinforce key concepts and address details that would have muddied or slowed down the main content. They can also help your reader spring into next steps by addressing the practical questions people encounter as they implement what they’ve learned.

    🤖Prompt: Write a list of FAQs readers might ask upon finishing the article below. Focus on questions they might have as they start putting each tip into practice. Include answers to each question.

    Alternative: Break this task into chunks to get a different level of detail. Use one prompt to ask for questions, and another for answers. For even more detail, have the tool answer questions one a time using separate prompts.

    🪄The results:

    The results of the prompt "Write a list of FAQs readers might have upon finishing the article below. Focus on questions they might have as they start putting each tip into practice. Include answers to each question."

    Click here to view ChatGPT’s full response

    Not bad! I was hoping for more new information—the tool mostly repeats information we already covered—but these FAQs do a great job of reiterating key info in a different format. To get more precise results, my best bet would be to show the tool exactly what I'm aiming for by writing the first few questions myself.

    🗝️Golden rule #2: Summary and tips

    To tackle Golden rule #2 (Summarize and reinforce key concepts), we learned how to use AI chat tools to:

    ✅Create a summary for the top of the article

    ✅Close each article section with a bullet point summary

    ✅Generate FAQs that help readers apply what they’ve learned

    And we've learned the following tips:

    • If needed, use different chat tools to accomplish different tasks. ChatGPT is your friend when you need to paste in huge chunks of your own content; Copilot is solid for everything else.
    • Clearly label each summary and useformatting switch-ups like italicized font to make it distinct from the rest of the content.
    • Break down FAQ prompts into chunks if you want more detailed responses.
    • Provide examples to guide the AI. If you're not getting the specific kind of output you're looking for, write the first few bullet points or FAQs yourself and ask the tool to finish your thoughts.

    🌈Golden rule #3: Provide options to meet different needs

    The more pathways you can provide for understanding your content, the better! Here’s how AI can help you meet the needs of diverse learners.

    🌈Suggest or create visual content

    Images, infographics, and charts can make complex information more understandable and engaging, especially for visual learners. They also add breathability to the page and give you a chance to replace lengthy text descriptions with user-friendly graphics. Basically, they’re an accessibility powerhouse!

    The only problem? If you’re tunnel-visioned on perfecting your written content, it can be hard to spot opportunities to include visuals.

    So, have your AI chat buddy do it for you. Paste your finished article into the chat tool and ask it to suggest visuals that would complement your content. If your content includes lots of data, consider asking for charts and other data illustrations separately.

    🤖Prompt: Find places in the article below where I can add visual elements (pictures, illustrations, charts, icons, etc.) to enhance or replace the written content. Suggest what those visuals might be.

    🪄The results:

    The results of the prompt "Find places in the article below where I can add visual elements (pictures, illustrations, charts, icons, etc.) to enhance or replace the written content. Suggest what those visuals might be."

    Click here to view ChatGPT’s full response

    If you’re feeling brave, head back to Copilot and ask it to generate each image for you (Copilot uses DALL-E, a powerful image generation model, to create images).

    🤖Prompt: Create a cartoon or illustration showing a writer struggling with complex language, then getting help from an AI tool to simplify it.

    🪄The results:

    A cartoon of a boy at a desk. Half the picture is in disarray, with messy papers thrown everywhere, and half is tidy.

    I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure where Copilot was going to go with my challenging prompt (the scene I set was abstract and open to interpretation). I wouldn’t have known how to illustrate this scene, so I’m impressed with the image. It’s conceptually great!

    💡Extra tips:

    🌈Suggest videos and related content

    Help your readers continue their learning journey with suggested reading material at the end of each section. You might offer:

    • Deep dives into details you didn’t cover exhaustively
    • News articles on the real-world implications of your topic
    • Case studies, examples, or other applications of the knowledge you shared
    • Practical tips or next steps

    You can also have your AI chat tool suggest videos to embed within your article or include as suggested viewing. The more alternative learning formats you can provide, the better!

    🤖Prompt: Please find me news articles, case studies, videos, and/or other resources that shed light on the real-world implications of [article topic].

    🪄The results:

    Switching back to Copilot (which is best for web-crawling, in my opinion):

    The results of the prompt "Please find me news articles, case studies, videos, and/or other resources that shed light on the real-world implications of [article topic]."

    I like the diverse range of resources here! Before serving these to my readers, I’d want to vet each resource to make sure it’s:

    • High-quality, timely, and useful.
    • Not from a competitor’s website.
    • Different from my content in terms of scope, framing, and the information shared (we want our resources to enhance and deepen knowledge, not repeat it).

    💡Extra tips:

    • Consider using the same prompt early in your writing process as you research your topic. Real-world articles and case studies make excellent hooks for opening paragraphs.

    🌈Golden rule #3: Summary and tips

    In Golden rule #3 (Provide options to meet different needs), we learned how to use our AI chat tools to:

    Suggest or create visual content to illustrate concepts and break up text.

    Suggest related content to deepen reader understanding and provide real-world context.

    Suggest related videos to provide an alternative learning format.

    And we've learned the following tips:

    • Look for opportunities to replace words with pictures. If a lengthy text description can be summed up with a picture or diagram, cut the description and use the visual(s) instead. It takes less brainpower to view an image than to read a paragraph of text.
    • Make your visuals accessible. Add alt text or captions to each image to make your visual content accessible to blind or low-vision readers.
    • Make AI tools part of your research process. Use web-crawling chat tools like Copilot or Bing Chat to find high-quality, relevant resources for research and suggested reading.
    • Enhance and deepen; don’t repeat. If you provide additional reading or viewing material, aim for resources that apply or enrich the knowledge you’ve shared, rather than just rehashing it.

    Next steps: Go play!

    You now have some new strategies to make your work more accessible. It’s time to apply them!

    Start by picking one aspect of AI-enhanced accessibility that resonates with you—simplifying complex language, summarizing your content, or adding visuals and other media—and experiment with Copilot, ChatGPT, or another AI tool. Once you get a sense of what works for you, start adding other strategies to your toolkit.

    And don’t stress! Every small step you take is a win for inclusion and accessibility, so experiment and have fun. Not only will you make a huge difference for some of your readers, but you'll get to reach even more people with your content. Your bold, beautiful ideas deserve to be shared with everyone!

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