One of the most important things about communication is making yourself understood.
Simple messages, expressed clearly using uncomplicated language.
Left to my own devices I’m naturally pretty voluble, thanks to my formative teen years reading swathes of Victorian literature, lol.
But where I let rip in my personal writing, when it comes to sharing essential information, I believe in getting to the point.
Management speak annoys me. Bureaucratic twaddle infuriates me. Complicating a sentence doesn’t make it more important. Making up new words in place of perfectly serviceable ones that already exist isn’t clever, it’s egotistic.
But if corporate jargon irritates me – someone who works with words – what about those with much more serious literacy issues?
The isolation and exclusion faced by those who struggle with reading and writing is something that has bothered me for some years, ever since I started helping five-year-olds to read in my children’s primary school classes.
But it was highlighted and emphasised during a workshop at last year’s CIEP conference.
The conference was hosted by Cathy Basterfield, of Access Easy English, a service which interprets written content into simple everyday language, often supported by images.
The statistics Cathy shared at the workshop were eye-opening, to say the least.
Data from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult
Competencies has shown that 33.1% of UK adults and 31.5% of US adults do not have the literacy to manage a range of day-to-day reading tasks.
When you think about the sheer amount of written information you encounter every day, imagine how hard it is for someone who can’t read to navigate.
Instructions for medication. Bank statements. Letters from the local authority. Ingredients on a cereal packet. Directions to a venue. Consent forms.
As Cathy pointed out, everyone has a right to access the same information, and everyone has an equal right to be able to access it at the same time.
Indeed, this right is expressed in the United Nations’ Article 21 – Freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information.
Put simply, everyone has the right to receive information in a way that is understood, such as sign language, braille, large print, so it can be heard, using easy words and pictures, or in a different language.
It’s not just a case of being “fair” or polite*.
People with serious literacy issues are more likely to:
• live in poverty
• struggle with employment
• have poorer health
• be involved in the justice system.
It is incumbent** upon us all to make sure our message, whatever it might be, can be understood by everyone. Whatever the reason for an individual’s issue with literacy, that isn’t the point. Making information accessible and easily understood makes people’s lives easier.
And who wouldn’t want to help with that?
*At this point, some people would probably use the word woke. I’m not going to.
** I could have just said necessary