CAL staff members have been working with the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission since 2011 on a variety of accessible language projects. These projects are designed to increase the FTC’s ability to convey essential consumer protection and fraud prevention messages to readers with low levels of literacy in English.
In the first project, CAL provided training and mentoring in writing for native and non-native speakers of English who have limited English reading proficiency. The hands-on training consisted of two workshops that reviewed key principles and then gave participants opportunities to practice applying them in their own writing. Major topics included the following:
- The nature of reading and the experience of limited reading ability
- Similarities and differences between native and non-native speakers as readers of English
- Basic principles for content writing
- Basic principles for design and layout
- Techniques for supporting readers through graphics, audio, and video
The workshops were focused primarily on writing for the web. Following the workshops, CAL provided mentoring to FTC writers as they developed the design and content of a new English language consumer protection website, www.consumer.gov, and a parallel Spanish language site, www.consumidor.gov. The topics for the sites were selected by FTC staff members on the basis of need, as measured by the number of complaints and questions received from legal aid attorneys, social services staff members, and others working with at-risk and low income adult populations. Topics fall into three main areas:
- Managing Your Money / Manejar su dinero
- Credit, Loans, and Debt / Crédito, préstamos y deudas
- Scams and Identity Theft / Estafas y el robo de identidad
The sites had their official launch on October 4, 2012. Since then, CAL has continued its accessible materials work with the FTC in several ways:
- Providing additional face-to-face training and mentoring in writing for readers with limited literacy skills for FTC staff
- Developing and providing a webinar version of the writing training for the FTC and affiliated organizations
- Developing and delivering a webinar training tailored to the needs of legal services attorneys and attorneys-in-training in organizations affiliated with the FTC, such as the National Association of Consumer Advocates
- Providing technical assistance for a small usability study on the consumer.gov and consumidor.gov websites
In 2014-2015, CAL developed a set of curricular materials that will enable teachers to use the Consumer.gov and Consumidor.gov websites to develop content knowledge and the internet navigation skills of adult learners.
The materials on Consumer.gov focus on developing English reading proficiency in both native and non-native speakers of English, while the materials for Consumidor.gov promote development of reading proficiency in Spanish for native speakers with limited educational experience.