Discussion on Supporting Health Literacy Equity in the Age of COVID-19

 Join the LINCS discussion on health literacy equity in the age of COVID-19 with the Florida Literacy Coalition (FLC), this Thursday, July 16th. We will be joined by FLC's Health and Financial Literacy Coordinator, Heather Surrency MPH, and executive director, Greg Smith, to learn how they are working to ensure equitable access to health literacy information for all of Florida's adult learners.  

As Florida's umbrella literacy organization, FLC provides a range of services to support more than 250 adult education, literacy, and family literacy providers throughout the state.  In 2014, FLC published Staying Healthy for Beginners Student Workbook and Teacher Guide.These resources were designed and written at a 3rd-4th grade level and are supported by pictures, a glossary and a plain language format.

More recently, FLC started a COVID-19 Resources for Adult Learners website, with links to a Coronavirus Lesson Plan, which includes several plain language resources and a vocabulary activity.  FLC also recently hosted a webinar on helping adult learners identify key health and financial resources during COVID-19, which you are encouraged to check out.  As part of our conversation, we will also be discussing other national programs, and specifically ones addressing the needs of learners with disabilities.

Our discussion will begin here at 9AM EST on 7/16/20.  Bring your comments, questions, and experiences incorporating COVID-19 public health information into your adult education programs.  We look forward to your participation in discussing how we can support the safety and wellness of all adult learners.


Mike Cruse

Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator






Welcome to our discussion on supporting health literacy equity in the age of COVID-19.  We're joined today by the Florida Literacy Coalition (FLC) who will be sharing with us how they support more than 250 adult education, literacy, and family literacy providers throughout the state with information on public health and safety during this pandemic. 

FLC's Health and Financial Literacy Coordinator, Heather Surrency MPH, and executive director, Greg Smith, will be responding to your questions and comments. 

To begin, I want to ask how have adult education programs in Florida been responding to the needs of learners in accessing and understanding information related to COVID-19?  What are their needs and priorities for addressing the public and mental health of their learners?

For more than 10 years, adult education programs in Florida have been actively working to provide learners with the health literacy information and skills they need to make informed choices about their health. The complexities of COVID-19 have highlighted the need for plain language, easy to understand health materials. Instructors are trusted information resources for adult learners and play a very important role in this process. Our goal is to ensure that learners understand the basic recommendations to both prevent virus spread and manage possible infection exposure. Identifiying high quality health information has been difficult in our current world of information overload. We have compiled a selection of plain language resources, videos, and virtual classroom activities to help instructors work with leaners to improve understanding about the virus as well as common terms being used in the media.

Thanks for sharing some of the context for your work.  You note that 'the complexities of COVID-19 have highlighted the need for plain language and easy to understand health materials. Instructors are trusted information resources for adult learners and play a very important role in this process.'  Would you tell us more about the recent webinar that you hosted for FLC on helping adult learners identify key health and financial resources during COVID-19?

In your presentation, you shared a number of resources for anyone looking to support educators and learners.  Which resources have you heard members found most useful in addressing their learners’ and community needs?

The sudden closing of schools as well as many key parts of Florida’s economy has been a challenge for all of us. With so many of our state’s jobs rooted in tourism, we have seen huge increases in unemployment. FLC felt that it was essential to get the word out about the financial and health resources available to those who were struggling. Many of our learners are in low-wage jobs without health insurance or sick leave. During a crisis such as this pandemic, we have to focus on making sure basic needs are met. Learning can’t continue when families are in crisis. The Resource Roundup Webinar highlighted a wide range of resources including government assistance programs, housing supports, utility assistance, free food distribution, free financial counseling assistance as well as health and wellness assistance. All of these resources are listed on our website at https://floridaliteracy.org. I have heard from our organizations that the financial information provided by the Consumer Financial Protection BureauFeeding Florida’s zip code search for food resources; Everyoneon.org’s internet and device purchase assistance; and mental health resources such as Broward County’s Mindfulness and Stress Management Resources and Florida Blue’s Bilingual Mental Health Helpline to be especially useful.Many of these resources are also available to those who are outside Florida.

While the development of COVID-19 plain language consumer materials was a bit slow in the beginning, there are a lot of great resources out there. I recommend that instructors pick a few, high-quality resources to review with learners.  A few that I have found very useful include CDC's Communication Toolkit for Limited-English-Proficient Populations; the World Health Organization’s Mythbusters website; Lifeology’s Flip Book on COVID-19; and the COVID-19 Health Literacy Project. What are some resources that you have found to be useful?

This pandemic has impacted communities in multiple ways.  It makes sense that we need to be thinking broadly about how health literacy and financial literacy intersect, and sharing resources to address the impacts on both physical and mental health.  Next, I want to ask more about what you're seeing work to support equitable access to curriculum and materials. 

You've highlighted both interactive digital and paper and pencil curriculum resources in your presentation.  Would you tell us about a few of these and share any examples of how programs are using the combination to help meet learners where they are in terms of access to technology and digital literacy?

I also want to encourage members to share the resources that you have found most useful for your learners, whether paper-based or digital.

While many of us were hoping to see in-person classes resume this fall, many Florida organizations will likely remain virtual. I think this is also the case for many other states as well. We are challenged to use creative strategies to keep learners engaged. COVID-19 has highlighted the “digital divide” that most of us recognized long ago. Although we are seeing more resources devoted to helping people get online, many adult learners rely on schools and libraries to access computers and the internet. Therefore, instructors are having to be flexible based on their students’ digital access offering both paper and pencil assignments as well as virtual instruction or a combination of both.  Developing virtual activities can be challenging as we need to consider an individual’s learning style as well as the needs of those with learning disorders.

FLC continues to develop classroom resources that can be used in a flexible manner depending on student need. For example, our Staying Healthy curriculum can be used in a virtual classroom over a platform like Zoom with students viewing workbooks online with instructors in real time or can be used as a starting point for telephone or text conversation. Each curriculum also has an accompanying teacher’s guide with lots of ideas for implementation. Worksheets from the guide can be used in hard copy format or easily be converted into Google Forms if using a digital format. Check out this digital scavenger hunt example. I have also heard from instructors that they use What’s App and Remind for communication with students who have limited internet.

Some instructors have also started using learning apps to provide instruction outside the traditional classroom. These can be accessed by students 24/7. For example, FLC just launched a new math video app for the GED and a healthy literacy quiz app. USA Learns also recently launched a Learn English Vocabulary app. Instructors even make their own apps using their own content using the free Glide app.

FLC has also developed computer-based activities such as a COVID-19 Vocabulary Activity in Quizlet  and Kahoot games. There are so many virtual tools available to instructors, many of which currently have discounted prices for educators. I also really like Screencastify, which provides teachers with an easy way to record lessons, and Padlet, which provides a collaborative bulletin board environment for student projects.

Other good resources to look at include FLC’s Interactive Tools for Teachers and Digital Tools for the Classroom  as well as Google’s Teach from Home, Crowded Learning and Wide Open School.

Welcome to the second day of our conversation on health literacy in the age of COVID-19.  I want to follow-up on Heather's comments yesterday about the importance of digital health literacy.  I wonder if you would identify a few curricula that may be useful to programs who are building their own lessons to meet learners where they are in terms of health and digital literacy?

COVID-19 has really brought both the importance of digital literacy and digital health literacy to the forefront.  Acquiring basic digital skills is essential for both success in the virtual classroom as well as the current workforce. Instructors can utilize free, self-paced courses to improve learner skills. For example, Northstar is currently offering its Basic Computer Skills course for free. GFC Global also offers a wide variety of courses on using computers, the internet, email and Microsoft Office programs.

Once learners have mastered the basics, we can begin to help them build digital health literacy skills which continue to be essential especially as we navigate through this pandemic. The World Health organization defines digital health literacy as the ability to seek, find, understand, and appraise health information from electronic sources and apply the knowledge gained to addressing or solving a health problem. As instructors, we can guide them through this process using both in-person and self-paced curriculums. A joint project between the National Library of Medicine and  Wisconsin Health Literacy, Health Online: Finding Information You Can Trust is a scripted curriculum that helps instructors guide learners through the steps required to find and evaluate health information. Another good curriculum is MedlinePlus Evaluating Internet Health Information: A Tutorial. For instructors who may be looking for a self-paced internet-based course, I recommend DigitalLearn.org which offers three health-related modules.

Thanks for sharing these additional digital health literacy resources.  Yesterday we touched on the need to think about self-care and mental health as part of health literacy.  Would you tell us more about some of the other resources that you have found that can help educators to incorporate these subjects into the health literacy efforts?

Self-care and mental health wellness are essential components of good health especially now as many of us are restricted in terms of daily activities and social interaction. We can work with learners to build on the self-care strategies they already use. In my experience, this is a great topic to let the learners take the lead. Does someone like to meditate, garden, paint, do yoga? We can encourage learners to demonstrate these skills to their peers while building their communication and confidence skills at the same time. Self-care information can also be continuously introduced throughout the semester. Some instructors take a few minutes at the beginning or end of a class, for example, to practice a new stress management technique.

Some great free resources that our instructors have tried include FLC’s Coping with Stress curriculum, the headspace app; Self-Care during COVID-19 workbook developed by the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence; CDCs Taking Care of Your Emotional Health Recommendations; and the Minnesota Department of Health Managing Stress Article.

It is also important to consider our own personal self-care during this time as many adult educators are dealing with their own health and wellness issues. Instructors have shared with us that it has been difficult, for example, to find a new work-life balance with students' contacting them 24/7. Establishing a new routine with good boundaries and times for self-care is essential for us as educators and adminstrators as well.  

Thanks again for sharing these resources.  I also appreciate you highlighting the need to consider 'our own personal self-care.' 

My last question is to ask if given that different communities are being impacted to varying degrees by COVID-19, how do we work to create health literacy programming that is responsive to the needs and abilities of all learners. 

Do you have know about any other resources that are working to address the racial, economic and (dis)ability differences being highlighted the pandemic?  

I really appreciate this question as we are definitely seeing that in terms of both health and financial indicators, COVID-19 is not impacting all communities equally. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some members of certain racial and ethnic minority groups are at greater risk of developing severe illness as a result of COVID-19 exposure. As of June 2020, hospitalization rates are highest among non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native and non-Hispanic black persons, followed by Hispanic and Latino persons. Additionally, where we live, work, our health status and our ability to access health care resources also affect the ways in which we are impacted.

I wish I could provide an easy answer to this question but the factors affecting health disparities are complex. The most important things that we can do right now as educators, in my opinion, are to provide learners with the skills and confidence to communicate with others about their needs and concerns; ensure they have access to high-quality, plain-language information (in their primary language); and develop a resource list ensuring access to medical and mental health resources in their community. It is also imperative that we educate ourselves about the systemic and social inequities that result in some people being at a higher risk for both COVID-19 and other chronic diseases. By educating ourselves, we can be more responsive to the challenges facing our students and push for change in our communities.

Here are some excellent organizations addressing health disparity and COVID-19. I encourage you to explore some of these resources:
CDC’s COVID-19 in Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health

National Reach Coalition
Racial Equity Tools
American Medical Association’s COVID-19 Health Equity Resources
Exceptional Lives

Hello Heather and Greg,

In some states, at least as of a couple of weeks ago, adult education programs have been asked to re-open their in-person classes soon, of course in ways that are safe. I wonder, even if you don't anticipate that happening in Florida this fall, if you -- or other colleagues in Florida -- have had an opportunity to think about what safe practices should look like in adult basic skills classes or tutorials. For example, if a program were to ask for your advice, what would you tell them, or what resources would you point them to, to advise them on how to do this safely? I expect that programs will be required by state ABE funders to follow their guidelines; so, has Florida developed state guidelines for adult education programs yet? Has Florida Blue done that for for adult education? Has a funder asked the Florida Literacy Coalition to do that?

This question is also for those in other states. What guidelines are you using, or have you or your state system or provider organization developed? If you like those guidelines and they can be shared, I would be interested to see links to them.

As is the case for K-12 and higher education, teachers, program administrators and their organization administrators need good guidance and, very likely more resources, to address the return to safe, in-person teaching and learning, whether in classes or tutorials. I have not seen this discussed yet in the LINCS Community (although I might have missed it), and think it needs to be discussed, so I turn to those of you in this discussion who may have thoughts about how to do this safely. I am also seeking advice from others, and hope sometime in the next few weeks to start a discussion specifically on this topic in the LINCS Program Management group. If you know particular people who have expertise in this, please also share with me their contact information. Thanks for any light you can shed on this new challenge for adult basic skills programs.


David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS Program Management group


I anticipate that many adult education programs, based in school districts and state/community colleges, will be allowed to follow what is being done in their districts.  Since COVID is spiking in Florida right now, some districts haven’t established a firm time table, and if they do have reopening plans, are often giving parents the option to keep their children home.  Unlike K-12, adult education isn’t compulsory for most, so it could be especially challenging getting students to return to the classroom, even with safety measures in place.  From what I’ve heard, most of the community-based literacy providers are taking a wait and see approach. 

As to reopening safely, pubic programs will be following procedures established by their districts and colleges.  I expect the focus will be on social distancing (mostly through staggered scheduling), sanitizing surfaces and mask wearing.  There will also be a public health teaching opportunity, that in some ways may be just as important.   In May, FLC shared this Going Forward publication with community-based organizations, which provides some good practical tips to non-profits on how to conduct a risk assessment and safely reopen.  Given its release date, it doesn’t have a heavy emphasize on mask wearing, which goes to show how this is an evolving process. 

I want to extend a big 'thank you' to our panelists for this week's discussion on health literacy equity in the age of COVID-19.  While our understanding of the pandemic continues to develop, we need to ensure that adult learners and educators have access to information to keep themselves and their families safe.  

Heather and Greg have shared valuable resources with us to help reach learners at different literacy levels and across communities.  I hope that this conversation encourages members to share additional resources as they find them.  The phrase, "we're in this together" has been used to describe how this pandemic has impacted all of us.  In order to overcome it, we need to talk about it and share resources that educate each other.  As Heather pointed out, we also need to learn about and share those resources that support mental health and well-being during this challenging time.

Thank you again to Heather and Greg for showing us how they are supporting programs across Florida.  Tell us what is happening around health literacy and COVID-19 in your state or community.  What can you add to the conversation?  I hope you will share with us.


Mike Cruse

Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator