Thursday, July 31, 2014

Primates, genus and the Congo: Who is CDC writing for?

More... Language Acting Badly

Today, I'm taking top tier headline news about Ebola to see how easy or difficult it is for the public to find understandable information from trusted sources.  

Here’s a quick health literacy load analysis of the first 2 paragraphs of what the public encounters at the CDC website's primary landing page about  Ebola.  accessed 7-31-14 7:00am

Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever
Ebola hemorrhagic fever (Ebola HF) is one of numerous Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers. It is a severe, often fatal disease in humans and nonhuman primates (such as monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees).
Ebola HF is caused by infection with a virus of the family Filoviridae, genus Ebolavirus. When infection occurs, symptoms usually begin abruptly. The first Ebolavirus species was discovered in 1976 in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo near the Ebola River. Since then, outbreaks have appeared sporadically.

Health Literacy Load Analysis (here just focusing on 2 categories - fundamental literacy & science literacy). 

Fundamental Literacy: Primary language acting badly in this text: Vocabulary
Numerous  (often)
Abruptly (all of a sudden)
Sporadically (off and on; from time to time)
Viral hemorrhagic fever, (pronunciation cues would have been useful) – virus is a more universally comprehended word
Filoviradae, genus Ebolavirus - Other technical terms that could appear later or in less significant position of first paragraphs –
Sentence structure – harder to read passive verbs: “is caused by” (Infection from 2 different kinds of viruses causes Ebola)

Science Literacy: Basic science concepts the text assumes readers understand
Relationship between viruses inprimates and other hosts, like humans. 
     Why is it important that primates get the disease? Should I not visit zoos?
What is a family of viruses? Genus?
Viruses have “species”
Viruses are discovered – what’s the significance that the virus was discovered in 1979?  In Congo? Can you get the virus from the river?
What a person with average to low literacy or low health literacy might take away about Ebola:
Ebola is a fever. It comes from animals like monkeys. You have to have the virus in your family to get sick. Infection begins. They discovered the Congo near a river in 1976.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Kids, Heat and Cars - can the message get any clearer? YES

Each summer we hear the heartbreaking reports of young children dying as a result of being left in hot cars. Approximately 37 children die this way in the US every year – 1 every 10days.
The media doesn’t shy away from alerting us, nor is there a shortage of public health messages from health and safety agencies. BTW give a shout out to states like Tennessee that have just passed legislation that’s allows a person to smash a window or forcibly enter a parked car in Tennessee without liability “if you have “a good faith belief” the actions help a minor who will suffer “harm if not immediately removed from the vehicle.”  
Psychologists and behaviorists tell us there are powerful factors, such as our daily habits and distractions that likely make it possible for some adults to forget that their child is in the car. 
As always, I wanted to take a closer look  at the actual language of the safety messages- what does it look like, sound like?
Here's what I found:

There were good, clear messages... and then there were not so good messages. 
A key culprit was Verbs Acting Badly

·       Generally we are more likely to notice, UNDERSTAND AND REMEMBER ACTIVE VERBS.  We have a harder time with  Passive Verbs.

Here's how one agency talked to parents about the care/heat hazard: 
           Avoid heat stroke-related injury and death by:
          “Never leaving your child alone in the car, even for a minute.
           Consistently locking unattended vehicle doors and trunks.
          “Never leave your child alone in a car.”

Two key messages do not use active verbs and are likely harder to notice and understand, especially for those who don't read with confidence. 

High profile agencies can help spread more understandable messages
State and local public health and safety messages often come straight from Press Releases from national organizations.  So if the language in these Press Releases is clear chances are those picking up the messages will use the clear language too.

Here's language used by a premier transportation agency (NHTSA) in its Focus on Summer Safety forKids
Notice, with just a few pen strokes the VERBS below can go from passive to active – resulting in more understandable messages.

Can you find the VERBS ACTING BADLY?

Focus on Summer Safety for Kids
  Never leave a child alone in a car. 
  Look before you lock: Make a habit of looking in the vehicle – front and back – before locking the door and walking away.
  Remember your precious cargo: Do things that serve as a reminder that a child is in the vehicle, such as placing a phone, purse or briefcase in the back seat to ensure no child is accidentally left in the vehicle, or writing a note to indicate a child is in the car seat.
  Act to save a child's life: If you see a child alone in a vehicle on a warm day, immediately call 911.
  A child in distress due to heat should be removed from the vehicle as quickly as possible and rapidly cooled.
  Teach children that a vehicle is not a play area, lock car doors and store keys out of a child's reach.