Aiming for Equity in Health Materials

Alt: Above the word “equality,” 3 doodles of different heights stand on 3 same-size boxes. They’re trying to see over a fence to watch a baseball game — but the shortest doodle still can’t see over the fence. Above the word “equity,” the same 3 doodles stand behind the same fence — but the short doodle gets 2 boxes, the medium doodle gets 1 box, and the tall doodle doesn’t get any boxes. This way, they can all see over the fence.

Here at We ❤ Health Literacy Headquarters, we really enjoy talking about how health communicators (like you!) can help address health disparities. And since COVID-19 affects some groups far more than others, addressing disparities in our health materials is as urgent as ever.

So this week, we want to take a closer look at the difference between equality and equity. The George Washington University has a great resource explaining the difference, but we’ll give you a quick summary:

  • Equality means giving equal resources or opportunities to different people or groups. Think of a food bank offering a standard box of food to all of its clients.
  • Equity means giving each person or group the resources or opportunities they need to reach an equal outcome. So maybe that same food bank offers customized food boxes based on clients’ household size and dietary needs — and has a delivery service for folks who can’t physically get to the food bank.

How does this apply to health communication, you ask? Providing the same information to everyone, in the same format, doesn’t mean everyone will have equal access.

As you’re developing health materials, get to know your audience — or better yet, actively involve people from your priority audience in the process of creating your materials.

Then ask yourself how you can ensure an equal outcome for as many people as possible — especially those facing structural barriers or disadvantages. For example, depending on your audience, you might:

The bottom line: To tackle health disparities, go beyond one-size-fits-all communication materials — and remember that equal resources don’t always lead to an equal outcome.

Tweet about it: Equal resources don’t mean equal outcomes. So go beyond one-size-fits-all in your #HealthLit materials, says @CommunicateHlth: #HealthDisparities #HealthEquity

Image inspiration courtesy of Interaction Institute for Social Change and Angus Maguire.


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