story by Claire Miller
To spread important health and safety information about COVID-19, public health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been updating their websites with the details Americans need to protect themselves and their loved ones.
But for adults who struggle to read, finding and understanding this information can be a major challenge.
Iris Feinberg, research assistant professor and associate director of the College of Education & Human Development’s Adult Literacy Research Center (ALRC), conducts research on several facets of adult literacy, including health literacy – how patients and consumers receive and understand health messaging.
“If you fundamentally don’t understand what is being said, how can you adhere to medication and discharge instructions, improve use of preventive services, care for yourself or family members, and create healthy homes and communities?” she said. “This is particularly challenging when we have a public health emergency like COVID-19. The amount of information, misinformation, conflicting and changing information is overwhelming even for folks with average and high literacy levels.”
In response to the recent COVID-19 crisis, Feinberg collaborated with colleagues at the Institute for Healthcare Advancement to create a series of easy-to-read resources related to COVID-19 for those who work with adults with low literacy, including health providers, adult education teachers and community organizers.
These resources cover topics such as learning how COVID-19 is spread, discussing the crisis with children, wearing and cleaning a face mask and other key information.
“I wanted the library to represent materials that were easier to read, organized by topic and could be accessed by anyone,” she said. “We graded the materials using two different tools that assessed the estimated grade reading levels and our max is the 9th grade level.”
The resources library is an important step, but Feinberg also encourages public health officials and community leaders to create preparedness plans for major health crises so that there’s a communication plan ready when an emergency rises.
She also recommends communicating easy-to-understand COVID-19 information through channels that adults with lower literacy levels use – TV, radio and familiar sources of leadership, such as teachers, church leaders and community organizations.
“TV and radio PSAs and other communication modes worked beautifully during the two most successful public health campaigns: wearing seatbelts and quitting smoking,” Feinberg said. “We need to use language that is familiar yet accurate, and we need to write in action-oriented language. People need short, to the point, meaningful information.”
To see the online resource library, click here.