Best Practice: Use Accessible Language

For most residents, “design jargon” and bureaucratic language are difficult to understand without years of experience. Translating jargon into layperson’s terms helps the public to decipher government acronyms and technical terms and better understand the roles of each participant as well as project goals.


Example: Hudson River

The Hudson River Project provides a glossary of planning terms for community participants at each meeting. The glossary contains commonly used design terms and government acronyms such as BFE (base flood elevation) and NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act), helping to foster community participation and understanding by lowering what can often be an intimidating specialized language barrier

Example: Manhattan & Meadowlands

In much of the Sandy affected region, residents speak a number of languages, and English is sometimes inaccessible to community members.  Therefore, the project teams for the ESCR and LMCR projects translate many of their materials to Chinese, Spanish, and English. They also invite translators to each public meeting. Tailored to their demographic, the Meadowlands team creates some materials in Korean and also offers translation services.

Example: Bridgeport

In Bridgeport, CT the team creates and distributes physical newspapers, called broadsheets, as a visual and tangible handout at various community engagement meetings. They provide a clear visual basis for understanding project challenges and progress.  

Example: Meadowlands

The Meadowlands project team has used diagrams and figures to quantify complex governmental processes in easy-to-access ways.

Example: Hudson River

Prior to the public hearing on the draft environmental impact statement for the Hudson River Project, the City of Hoboken summarized the technical language of the 1 ¼-inch thick document in easy-to-understand synopsis.  Members of the citizens advisory group used the summary to gain an overall understanding the document.  In addition, the summary enabled them to easily select a portion of the document relevant to their expertise to study prior to the hearing.  “Decoding” the document enabled citizens advisory group members to use easily understandable language when they spoke at the hearing