Web-Based Benefit Access Tools: Mitigating Barriers for Special Needs Populations. E. Strategies to Improve Comprehension


Strategies to improve comprehension are intended to aid limited English speakers and individuals with low levels of literacy and digital literacy. Through these strategies, sites design and maintain tools that can be used by speakers of a variety of languages, as well as individuals with different levels of reading and cognitive skills. Strategies include designing tools using simple language, providing information on tools in a variety of languages, and providing customer support for individuals who have difficulty understanding the content of web-based benefits access tools and navigating through the website.

Literacy. Web-based benefits access tools often use simple language and language targeted to low reading levels intended to make sites user friendly and readable for those with low levels of literacy. For example, ACCESS NYC strives for a third-grade reading level, eREP for a fifth-grade reading level, and Benefits CalWIN and HEA for a sixth-grade reading level. Many administrators of web-based benefits access tools also strive for uncluttered screens with graphical displays or easy point-and-click options, as well as dynamic functioning that skips unnecessary questions based on answers to previous questions.

Benefits CalWIN: Simple, User-friendly Text

County and contractor staff wanted Benefits CalWIN’s public interface to be self-explanatory and require no training. To meet this objective, they made significant changes to the wording of the online application questions to make them simple and user friendly. They also added "encouragement" throughout the screens—for example, "Nice Job <NAME>, only a few more questions to go!"—and built in skip patterns to help clients avoid questions that do not apply to their households.

Language. Tools may also provide information in multiple languages, usually chosen to represent the ethnic make-up of the community. For example, ACCESS NYC is available to the public for self-service use in seven languages. New York City’s Local Law 73, enacted in 2003, mandates that no individuals seeking benefits and services, specifically those with limited English proficiency, be discriminated against based on the language they speak. Thus, in addition to English, information about services must be made available in Arabic, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, and Spanish. Benefits CalWIN offers language options in English, Spanish, and Chinese, and had plans to provide Russian, Vietnamese, and Farsi language options in the future.

Support. Tools can also provide customer support to users who have questions regarding the content of eligibility information available on the website or who may be unsure how to use the web-based tool. Customer support may involve providing translation assistance to a user or providing more detailed information about eligibility for a particular individual. Customer support may also include helping customers to access web-based application information while being sensitive to specific customer cultural issues and needs. Customer support may also involve usability support in navigating through the site. For example, at any time, eREP users can click an icon on the screen to get help through an online chat feature or call a hotline for assistance. The Arizona Medicaid agency, which together with the DES manages HEA, also maintains an HEA call center to help public users.

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