A before and after picture of making information easy to read
Client: Department of Health and Human Services, Tasmanian Government
Project: Housing Tasmania – 26TEN Fact Sheet Review
In 2014, the Information Access Group had the pleasure of working with Housing Tasmania on a comprehensive review and re-write of 20 fact sheets about using public housing in Tasmania. This project was funded by 26TEN, a literacy and numeracy program designed to increase literacy rates across Tasmania.
Tasmania has the lowest literacy levels in Australia. According to the most recent literacy statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, nearly 44 per cent of Australians have low levels of literacy. In Tasmania, this proportion is slightly higher, with 46.4 per cent of the population having lower levels of literacy.
Many members of the target audience group – tenants in Housing Tasmania homes – are considerably disadvantaged. Many are unemployed. Their relationship with Housing Tasmania can be strained because of distrust, past negative experiences and because Housing Tasmania is a government service. Also, it can be difficult for some tenants to follow the rules of their lease. The project was designed to increase awareness and provide better, clearer information on the key issues facing tenants, such as applying for a home, paying the rent, signing a lease and what to do when moving out.
Where did we begin?
This project gave us an important opportunity to paint a before and after picture of the benefits of Easy Read.
The project started with a review of the existing fact sheets. We tested the reading level of each fact sheet and, interestingly, many of them required a university level of education to be able to read and understand them.
We also conducted a series of focus groups on the original fact sheets. Participants were all tenants and covered a range of literacy levels. These focus groups showed that the target audience struggled with the language level used. The questions and feedback from the group informed the direction of the conversion into simpler language. Many members of the groups expressed a desire to receive clear information, answers to their questions and better communication in general.
What did we do?
- We converted 20 fact sheets into plain language and Easy Read versions. The Easy Read versions had pictures and simple text. In many of the documents, simple information graphics were used to get the message across in a clear and highly visual way. The text in the plain language versions was slightly more complex than the Easy Read. There were less pictures used in the plain language versions.
- We tested the revised documents with another round of focus groups that again included a range of participants with varying literacy levels, including testing the Easy Read documents specifically with people with intellectual disability.
- This project also had a capacity building focus within Housing Tasmania. We held a training workshop in developing Easy Read materials with staff. Members of the Housing Tasmania Review Team attended the focus groups to learn about the response to the documents first-hand.
Before and after example:
What did we achieve?
The project achieved several important outcomes:
- The revised fact sheets tested very well with the follow up focus groups. In the initial focus group sessions, we tested a maximum of three fact sheets with a group. In two of the follow up sessions, we were able to test seven documents in the same allotted time. This is testament to the ease of reading the revised information.
- The reading level of the documents vastly improved. Here’s a snapshot of the before and after testing of the text from one of the fact sheets.
Bedroom Entitlement with Housing Tasmania Fact Sheet
Because the demand for Housing Tasmania properties exceeds supply, there is a responsibility to ensure that properties are allocated in an equitable and efficient way. It is recognised that strictly adhering to allocations of standard bedroom entitlements may not be the most efficient way to manage the allocations of vacant properties in all areas.
years of formal education required to understand this text.
The priority is to offer you a home
In Tasmania, there are many people waiting for public housing. We will always try to offer you a home that suits your needs. But, sometimes, it is better to offer you a home that doesn’t perfectly suit your needs, instead of keeping you on the waiting list for a longer time.
years of formal education required to understand this text.
"The right information delivered in a way people can understand can assist in building trust and rapport." –
Rachael Andrews, Senior Policy Analyst, Social and Affordable Housing Policy
Here, Rachael Andrews, A/Senior Policy Analyst, Social and Affordable Housing Policy and leader of the Review Team, describes her experience of the project:
“Expanding my practical knowledge about Easy English and Plain English has been a valuable experience that I have been applying in my daily work since the beginning of the project.
The focus groups were useful as a reminder about how we need to provide information to people accessing our service. Hearing the comments first hand was an important part of the process for me and a useful reminder. The right information delivered in a way people can understand can assist in building trust and rapport. This can help people to have a positive experience with Housing Tasmania. I believe Housing Tasmania can be a positive example for other Tasmanian Government departments in this area.”
Another member of the Review Team also recently received some positive feedback from a Housing Tasmania tenant about putting the Easy Read approach into practice. Melanie Page, former Media Information and Events Officer and a member of the Review Team, explains:
“A colleague has shared with me a letter sent to the Minister from one of our tenants. The tenant has received the latest copy of our tenant newsletter and complimented the publication on being very easy to read and understand. This newsletter was the first I have produced since undertaking the plain and easy English workshop so it’s very exciting to get feedback like this!”
Now Housing Tasmania has a great set of Easy Read fact sheets to use with their target audience and they have also been able to build capacity within the organisation, developing a number of Easy Read champions to help continue the cultural change that has been achieved.