Inslee issues executive order to strengthen plain language writing and design requirements

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Gov. Jay Inslee signed an executive order Wednesday that requires state agencies to create and adopt a plain language policy. Plain language writing and design ensures information is concise, inclusive and easy to understand.

Executive Order 23-02 directs agencies to prioritize their most-viewed, public-facing materials. Then, agencies will simplify and review the content on a regular basis to ensure these documents follow plain language writing and design principles. Agencies will also assign certain employees to take plain language training, and the Department of Enterprise Services will update its plain language curriculum.

Using plain language minimizes confusion and errors. It also supports efforts to make information available in multiple languages and improves accessibility for people who use screen readers or other accessibility tools.

Inslee has connected the state’s equity efforts to how important it is for the public to access easy-to-understand information.

“Any complexity adds to inequity,” Inslee remarked at a July 2021 meeting about digital equity. “The more complex [something is], the more challenging because of language or disability to navigate [a system], you’re just putting up more U-turns and dead ends.”

Inslee has championed a statewide Pro-Equity Anti-Racism (PEAR) approach to serve Washingtonians, and accessible communication is part of PEAR efforts. The updated order also supports a multilingual environment where more than 230 languages are spoken in the state.

The order replaces a 2005 executive order signed by then-Gov. Christine Gregoire that was limited to fewer agencies. In 2010, President Barack Obama signed a federal measure, the Plain Language Act of 2010. Much of Washington state government continues to be one of the nationally known adopters of plain language principles over time. Inslee’s new order builds on these policies and installs leadership within each agency to improve public-facing communication.