Why an easy to read newspaper is needed for people with learning disabilities
A newspaper for people with learning disabilities is to be launched at the House of Commons today. But why do learning disabled adults need a separate news source? And What will it look like?
When someone with learning difficulties says they're interested in the news yet seemingly don't understand all aspects of each story, then perhaps there's a problem that needs solving.
"I don't know why all the shops are closing down," said John Nettles, a 40 year-old from Trafford with learning difficulties, "but I want to know."
He was particularly upset by news reports he'd heard relating to one of his favourite haunts, HMV - the long-established music retailer that went into administration last week. Perhaps relating it to the recession news, he complained to the United Response charity: "David Cameron stole all my DVDs."
In this instance, it's less about the double dip economic problems we hear about on the news daily, and more about the march of technology and how consumers are purchasing their music on the internet rather than on the high street. But with such big concepts regularly fed to us in an ever more complex world, it's understandable that some people might get mixed up.
United Response has discovered that just one in 10 adults with a learning disability read newspapers. A third of those who don't read them say its because they find the stories difficult to understand.
Spokesman Jaime Gill explains: "They might have limited or no reading ability or, the language used is so complex and full of jargon that they can't grasp what's being said."
There's more jargon around than we might realise. Politicians are some of the biggest language offenders, says Jaime: "They regularly churn out phrases like 'European realignment' or 'boundary changes'," expecting that everyone will understand what they mean.
According to a survey of 133 people with learning disabilities, mostly comprised of those who use United Response's independent living services, 38 per cent feel the news in papers is irrelevant to them but 56 per cent of those surveyed said that they would read the newspaper if it were made easier to understand.
Enter Easy News which the charity claims is the UK's first paper for adults with learning disabilities.
The stories you'll see in the paper have been collaboratively chosen by in-house producers and learning disabled people who get paid for their work.
Jaime says: "For every issue, we'll present a range of stories to consultants and they get to decide what goes in to the newspaper". The consultants he refers to are people with learning difficulties, who, with support from a facilitator, are also employed to translate documents to Easy Read for external clients like banks.
Their research found that the learning disabled adults were most interested in news about money and benefits, transport, sport, health and celebrity gossip.
"The first issue recaps stories from recent times like the Jubilee and the sentencing of workers at Winterbourne View," says Jaime. "For future editions, we'll give them more current news stories to work on. "
We help them to pull out the key points. They decide as a group what is most important and what pictures to use. It is then Sent back to us and we design it."
Easy Read is where big type, simple language, clear layout, pictures and symbols are used to turn complex ideas into a more digestible form. The format was developed for use by people with learning disabilities but it is thought that others can benefit from it too, like those for whom English is a second language, people with general literacy difficulties or those whose eyesight is failing.
Last year the widely circulated Spartacus Report written by grassroots activists was reproduced in Easy Read form by United Response. Both parties felt that, due to it having details about ongoing welfare reform and its impact on disabled people, it was important to do so. The high level of positive reaction led United Response to have confidence in the idea that, with the right support, learning disabled people could become engaged with current affairs.
Activist Kaliya Franklin, who suggested the document's translation, saw it as a great way to get the complex details of disability rights campaigns across to people with learning difficulties and has been helping with the newspaper ever since.
The resultant publication will be produced every two months throughout 2013. At present it's a pilot project and gets most of its money from the Big Lottery Fund.
Pictures are at least as important as the text in Easy News. Unlike in other papers where photos play more of an illustrative role, Easy Read images and icons may literally tell the entire story.
"Having simple words right next to pictures helps people understand the news", says John Nettles, also one of the consultants on the first edition. "I can't read but I hope something like this could help people like me learn to read. It's important to know what's going on in the world."
• Take a look at Easy News for free on the United Response website.