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How to Engage Low-Literacy and Limited-English-Proficiency Populations in Transportation Decisionmaking

What were the lessons learned?

Several lessons emerged during the research of this "best practices" report.

...some are unaware of the levels of low literacy and limited English proficiency that exist

The first lesson is how many practitioners are unaware of the state of literacy in America and the impact of limited English proficiency. Overall, practitioners are not conscious of the scale and distribution of the literacy and limited English proficiency problems. As a result, they do not understand the apparent correlations to low literacy and limited English proficiency of such characteristics as:

Independent or combined, these factors are barriers that affect the success of outreach and level of public engagement.

Not having anyone attend a public meeting is most likely a sign of lack of effective engagement rather than lack of public interest. Low turnout can be due to the public's constraints and abilities to participate. In other instances, it is simply an unwillingness to change the way it has always been done.

...some find creative ways to include those who are low literate and have limited English proficiency

The second lesson is that there are ways to include low-literacy and limited-English-proficiency populations. It is feasible to consider the correlations associated with low literacy and limited English

Watercolored photo of three people sitting around a table.

Holding meetings at times that conflict with the public's work schedule often results in poor attendance.

proficiency, and devise solutions to engage these populations. Solutions can involve leveraging, innovation, flexibility, adaptability, creativity, frugalness, common sense, politeness, and humbleness. Successful practitioners are alert to the subtleties often overlooked or misunderstood by others. Rather than assume, they ask. They realize that data obtained through conventional sources is two-dimensional, and that a community's true picture and willingness to participate often emerges with face-to-face engagement. The "best practices" described in this report are a testament to practitioners who use their ingenuity and determination to communicate with and engage the public in whatever manner is necessary.

...educators and literacy counselors indicate that low literacy and limited English proficiency will be a long-term condition

The third lesson is that low literacy and limited English proficiency will continue to be a long-term issue. Large numbers of students still dropout before completing high school, while many others finish high school but cannot read. Utilizing the data sources and incorporating the techniques identified and described in this report will equip practitioners with valuable, proven tools in providing everyone with meaningful access to relevant information and decision-making.

...in closing

This publication ultimately acts as a resource guide for transportation planners and practitioners. While this publication has many detailed examples of "best practices," planners and practitioners are not limited to these examples. It is reemphasized that when doing surveys and interviews, confidentiality and right-to-privacy issues must be taken into consideration. It is important to understand the abilities and limitations of low-literacy and limited-English-proficiency populations when planning outreach.

Watercolored photo of a group of people in a meeting setting.

Considering the public's abilities and constraints when planning public outreach can result in well attended meetings.

Updated: 03/21/2012
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