scrabble tiles spelling plain language

HDI Collaborates with UC Davis MIND Institute

Even dense and difficult information can be written so that everyone can read it.  That’s why the MIND Institute at UC Davis reached out to HDI, to teach them more about plain language.  

“They came to us on the recommendation of Association of University Centers on Disability because they recognized they did not have the training on how to work on plain language,” Patti Singleton, Division Director for Professional Learning, said. “They are a lot of researchers. They have a more clinical focus at their center than HDI does.”  

This means that they are more used to writing in a clinical setting, which can be difficult for an outside audience to read. Plain language would make the material they create more accessible to outside audiences – with an additional benefit to their institute specifically.  

Currently, Singleton and her team, which include Liz Weintraub from the Association of University Centers on Disability and Bev Harp from HDI, has met with the MIND Institute three times to teach them about why plain language is important and how to actually implement it.  

Singleton has been surprised and thrilled at how much they’ve embraced the lessons they’ve learned.  “I was really happy that they decided as a group to take on their website,” she said. “They have taken different parts of the public-facing website to try and translate into plain language.”  

Harp noted that opportunities like this offer an interesting way to both open the doors to more people, but discussions in how to apply plain language to academic writing are interesting in themselves.  

“Information is power and that information is conveyed through language. When we use unnecessarily complex language, we exclude people, usually those who already lack social capital,” she said. “As someone who requires precision in language and enjoys academic writing, I am especially interested in working with academics and others who must negotiate that tension between need for precision and need for accessibility. As advocates for people with disabilities, accessibility is our priority, but I believe that we can also help scholars in other fields to identify and reduce barriers.” 

Reviews from students of the class have also been glowing. Singleton shared just a few of the things they had to say.  “It was incredibly helpful to get the guidance and have more resources to add to my tool box,” one student said. “Also appreciated being able to work through examples!” 

One more session is planned for June, where Singleton hopes to discuss sustainability – in other words, how to ensure a culture of plain language usage continues as they go on.  “It was very active participation,” Singleton said. “It’s been a fantastic opportunity to work with this group.”  

This article represents the opinions of the author and interviewee, not that of the University of Kentucky. 


Increase Accessibility with Plain Language

Opportunities to make life more inclusive are everywhere – even something as simple as the language we use can have huge implications for accessibility.

One of the most powerful tools in creating accessible writing is plain language. And thanks to a recent request from the Association of University Centers on Disability (AUCD), HDI was able to do some very visible work in promoting plain language.

“We have, in the past, contacted with AUCD to do various plain language initiatives,” Patti Singleton, Division Director for Professional Learning, said. “They had a definition of what equity and inclusion was, and why it was important. However, the statement used language that was hard to understand.”

AUCD felt it needed to be more inclusive in how it defined inclusivity – and they chose HDI to help them fix it.

“AUCD came to us and said ‘This is what we currently have, would you like to revise it and write it into plain language,’” she said. “We said of course.”

Singleton gathered a team that included ISAW Principal Investigator Bev Harp, Medical Outreach Director Stephanie Meredith, DEI Director Dr. Nicholas Wright and HDI Staff Member Chelsea Bocard. She also worked with Liz Weintraub, who is the Senior Advocacy Specialist at AUCD and a longtime advocate for plain language.

Plain Language is a universal design strategy that seeks to make sure anyone can understand the language used in documents. There is even a law in place mandating that federal organizations use plain language when communicating with the public.

“We really want to make sure that all information we provide is written clearly, concisely and is well-organized,” Singleton said. “It really comes down to using common words…that everyone would be able to understand.”

It also means keeping away from jargon or acronyms that may be unfamiliar to outside sources, and ensuring that information is well organized and easy to understand. It can be vital to people with certain disabilities to make sure information is clearly conveyed.

“Research shows that people with intellectual disabilities often face discrimination and bias when trying to reach their goals in life. However, it can be hard to recognize what’s happening in the moment. I had that experience one time when my son with Down Syndrome was refused service at an urgent care facility,”  Meredith said. “That way they can advocate to be treated fairly and to get any support they might need.”

This, Wright said, is a subtle but important part of diversity and inclusion.

“Many people view diversity in the apparent view, but I believe in focusing on diversity more holistically,” he said. “Diversity is having individuals of various experiences, perspectives, identities, and abilities. Diversity involves having identities represented, but inclusion involves engaging these diverse identities and ensuring these individuals are fully included. Having our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in plain language is equity in action, and focuses on access by removing barriers.”

Plain language isn’t just important for accommodating people with disabilities, it can help everyone. Singleton noted that she always prefers plain language documents simply because as a mom who works full-time, she’s busy. Plain language is easier and less time-consuming to read.

And as a longtime partner for AUCD, Singleton thinks it’s great to both help out and to see an organization that is above HDI is embracing a cause that HDI has championed. “They value the work we do,” she said. “They see us as a leader. I love that they continue to rely on us for that information.”  

This article represents the opinions of the author and interviewee, not that of the University of Kentucky.