Creating Appropriate Preparedness Outreach Materials

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May Flowers

Creating Appropriate Preparedness Outreach Materials

Alice Frame, MA - MDHHS Disabilities Health Unit Coordinator

Formative research (also known as formative evaluation) is research done during the design process of a project to better understand audience needs, test possible program or campaign messages, and get feedback on plans. Formative research is so important – it helps guides researchers, designers, and public health officials in designing, implementing, and evaluating campaigns and interventions. Gathering information from the target audience can prevent the implementation of campaigns and interventions that are ineffective and financially wasteful.

One area of formative research is the testing of messages and visuals used in interventions. People with different types of disabilities may process, understand, or react to messages different than people without disabilities, so it’s important to include them in in formative research. Here are some aspects of messaging that are important to test before implementing:

  1. Tone – some people with intellectual or cognitive disabilities may not understand certain tones or language devices, such as sarcasm. Make sure the message is being understood as intended. Tone also applies to the imagery and visual representations being used. For example, if zombies are being used for humor in messages, make sure the audience is interpreting that as humor. In some cases, individuals with disabilities may interpret visuals of ‘scary’ creatures (such as zombies or vampires) as an actual threat, rather than humor.
  2. Literacy-level – communication materials will not be helpful to an individual if he or she cannot effectively read and process the message. Making sure that materials are written at an appropriate literacy-level for the target audience is an important part of formative research. Some people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities may process words at a lower literacy level than the general public.
  3. Format – certain disabilities affect the formats in which people can process information. For example, if materials are only available in printed copy, people with blindness or visual impairments will not be able to process the information independently. It’s important that messages be available in multiple formats to meet the needs of the audience.

Doing formative research up front will ensure that the messages and materials used are accessible for all people – including people with disabilities.