Institute History

A Tribute to the Late Jane Root, Ph.D.

The first National Summer Institute was held in 1992 on the campus of the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine. It was born from the late Jane Root’s desire and enthusiasm to have health professionals write in ways that most adults could understand. Write It Easy to Read was, in fact, the official name for the Institute for many years.

Dr. Root, a national reading expert, had “retired” to Maine, only to be pulled into her self-described 5th career by Sue Stableford. Together, they founded the Health Literacy Center at the University of New England in 1990, and developed a statewide, health literacy training program. Professionals from Maine’s leading health and medical organizations participated in a series of carefully designed workshops. Jane’s friendly and energetic teaching style helped them accept that most of their health information was written far beyond the abilities of most adults to understand. Then she taught the writing skills to correct the problem.


The 1990’s: The First Institute
and Those That Followed

Success in Maine led to imagining a broad, national audience for the same kind of training. So the fearless duo created the venue — a campus-based Summer Institute advertised for July, 1992. Even before the publication of results from the National Adult Literacy Survey (conducted that same year), health professionals from around the country were eager to learn how to communicate more effectively with patients and consumers.

The rest, as they say, is history. That first National Summer Institute set the stage for an annual event. The curriculum evolved over the years to reflect new research findings in health literacy and plain language, the growing complexity of both the healthcare system and health recommendations/instructions, and the increasing use of technology in health communication.


Institute Continuation and
Evolution in the New Century

With Jane’s death in 1999, other colleagues, including Audrey Riffenburgh and Janet Ohene-Frempong, joined Sue in designing and presenting the Institute. In 2002, Wendy Mettger of Mettger Communications joined the training team.

Institute traditions created its reputation — savvy, up-to-date trainers; participatory learning; a focus on the spectrum of plain language tools and skills; and a curriculum grounded in evidence and best practice from multiple disciplines.