News and Articles

Social Connectedness & the Importance of Easy-to-Read Documents

August 19, 2021

Adrianna Vanos (she/her) is a 2021 Social Connectedness Fellow working with Special Olympics International. She grew up in Guelph, Ontario before moving to Halifax, Nova Scotia to attend the University of King’s College and Dalhousie as an undergraduate student. As a Loran Scholar and combined honours student, she studied social anthropology and contemporary studies. She loves to learn and is passionate about accessible education, writing, and youth theatre. Adrianna has a goal to attend a Master of Human Rights program and apply her education to the NGO sector. Moreover, one day she hopes to start a not-for-profit youth-based theatre company to promote financial accessibility in the arts.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of sharing and receiving knowledge through written documents, such as online or hardcopy newspaper articles, government infographics, and websites. Throughout the past year and a half, we have all depended on these written documents to stay updated on the latest COVID-19 symptoms, vaccine information, and restrictions. 

Even though these documents are important, the language and formatting they use often makes them inaccessible [1]. In response, disability rights organizations, such as Autistic Self-Advocacy Network and People First of Canada, have created accessible documents for individuals with an Intellectual disability (ID) by formatting them in an easy-to-read style [2].

Easy-to-read documents use language on the second or third level of the Canadian literacy scale. This is the average reading level of individuals with ID and, as of 2009, the literacy level of 48% of Canadian adults [3][4]. Easy-to-read documents emphasize important details by using an active voice. This style of writing creates accessible documents because it makes important information clear and easy to understand. 

The 2003 International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey found that 2 in every 5 Canadians aged 16 to 65 do not have the literacy skills to read and understand written documents in their everyday life [5]. Similarly, in 2013, Statistics Canada found that 1 in 6 Canadians over the age of 18 cannot pass a standard literacy test [6].

These statistics highlight a troubling reality that has only been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. Without easy-to-read formatting, nearly half of all Canadian citizens cannot understand documents that contain potentially life-saving information. As written documents become more valuable and important in our everyday lives, the need for their formatting and language to be accessible does too. 

With this in mind, we are faced with an important question: how do we support easy-to-read documents and commit to presenting information in a more accessible way? To find an answer to this question, I spoke with People First of Saskatchewan and Inclusion International to learn about their programming and advocacy efforts. 

During these conversations, I learned that accessibility and easy-to-read documents are about much more than making sure we use a clear and active voice. It is also a matter of self-advocacy, respect, and social connectedness that is relevant beyond the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

People First of Saskatchewan is a chapter of People First of Canada. Their chapter president sits on the People First of Canada board to advocate for the rights of individuals with ID. 

People First of Saskatchewan believes that easy-to-read documents are a stepping stone to accessibility, self-advocacy, and respect. They want to make sure that everyone in their community understands information, feels comfortable voicing their opinion, and can make informed decisions. To reach this goal, they created an online community space where everyone is respected and included. 

During the pandemic, members of People First of Saskatchewan worked to create easy-to-read documents about physical distancing, restrictions, symptoms of the virus, and vaccine information. Their work to make information accessible did not end at the creation of easy-to-read documents. They also hosted live conversations where members could virtually gather to discuss the pandemic and ask questions.

Like People First of Saskatchewan, Inclusion International is an organization that believes that easy-to-read documents are just one component of accessibility and advocacy. Inclusion International makes the point that if individuals with ID can understand information, they can make decisions and self-advocate on other issues facing their community. 

Inclusion International’s program “Listen, Include, Respect” is an example of how easy-to-read documents can move beyond a written form to ensure that everyone is respected and fully included. In partnership with Down Syndrome International, Inclusion International is developing guidelines that will help organizations be inclusive of individuals with ID. To develop these guidelines, they have collected feedback from over 1500 individuals with ID and their care workers. In the creation of this program, Inclusion International has gone beyond creating a checklist of inclusive criteria that organizations can follow. Instead, they are actively listening to, including, and respecting the voices of individuals with ID to ensure that their needs are met.

People First of Saskatchewan and Inclusion International can teach us how to make information accessible. We must practice using easy-to-read documents and create spaces where everyone is respected, included, and heard. To cultivate social connectedness each of us needs to look beyond our perspectives of the world and connect with others. This can only be accomplished if we make important information accessible to everyone. 

To help foster social connectedness and make your conversations more accessible, I encourage you to research the work that these organizations are doing. 

Finally, I urge you to connect with individuals with ID in your community so that you can practice respect, inclusion, and listening in your everyday life. 


[1] Autistic Self Advocacy Network, “Plain Language Covid-19 Resources,” Autistic Self Advocacy Network, January 6th, 2021.

[2] People First Canada, “COVID-19 Resources,” People First Canada.

[3] International Association of Business Communicators, “The Importance of Plain Language,” IABC Waterloo, January 26th, 2020.

[4] CBC News, “Canadian Literacy Levels Mapped Online,” 2009.

[5] PoliceABC, “Measuring the Literacy Problem in Canada,” Literacy and Policing in Canada, 2003.

[6] Statistics Canada, “First Results from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies,” Statistics Canada, 2013.