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
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
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
(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
years to reflect new research findings in health literacy and
plain language, the growing complexity of both the healthcare
health recommendations/instructions, and the increasing use
of technology in health communication.
Evolution in the New Century
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.