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Government jargon limits accessibility

The Grade 8 cap actually has little to do with the author’s abilities, and rather has everything to do with the reading level of  the average Canadian.

Now, before you open your email or grab your pen and paper to write a letter to the editor defending your intelligence, hear me out.

According to a Statistics Canada report from 2005, four out of 10 Canadians, aged 16 to 65, struggle with low literacy levels. To put that in context, that’s about nine million Canadians who struggle to read the label on a medicine bottle.

Of those nine million people, nearly 3.1 million had reading levels below that of a middle school student, and the other 5.8 million were below the skill levels of a high school student.

So, you see, writing for a Grade 8 reading level is the media’s attempt to keep the news accessible for all Canadians. We do this because we believe everyone should have the opportunity to get educated and make informed decisions.

Now, if only the government felt the same way and committed to accessibility, rather than producing paperwork and reports written to exclude Canadians with low literacy levels. 

As a privileged Canadian with two university degrees, I haven’t always recognized this glaring error on the part of our government. In fact, it just dawned on me last week when I received an invitation to attend a discussion funded by the provincial government.

Part of that invitation included a list of discussion questions. While reading them, I began to wonder, “at what reading level were these written?” 

The questions were full of vague language and government jargon.

The worst part was, the discussion was about the future of social policy in the province. So to me, that would suggest talking to and learning from some of the people who use social services in our community. But instead, the discussion was populated by educated people who work in social services. 

Although I can only assume, I would bet on the fact that language accessibility had something to do with the turnout. 

I mean, how accessible is the term “Social Policy Framework?” For most people in Jasper, I’d imagine that doesn’t mean much, especially if English isn’t their first language.

So it seems to me, it’s time the government take a page out of the journalists’ handbook. If not in all things – although I believe everything produced by the government should be accessible – at least in the material used to solicit public feedback.

Canada’s privileged aren’t the only people who should have a say in what happens in this country.

We live in a democracy, after all. This is a country for all the people, not a select few. 

So, let’s make Canada a country that’s accessible for all of its citizens. Let’s write for the whole community, the entire province and the entire country in a clear and concise way, engaging all Canadians in meaningful discussions.

Out with the jargon and in with common, everyday language.


DISCLAIMER: The Last Word is an opinion column, it is meant to provoke thought and debate. As such, any opinions written here are the writer’s own. 

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