Did you know that more than 30 million adults in the U.S. can't read, write or do basic math above a third-grade level? Besides literacy challenges, many cities have hundreds of languages and dialects spoken in their communities.
How do we effectively deliver fire safety messages to people who speak different languages and come from diverse cultural backgrounds?
In 2017, we wrestled with this question. Fire departments were requesting translations of materials in hundreds of languages. Many times, the translations provided were not helpful because the translation was not understood by the intended audience. They spoke a different dialect.
Through focus groups on other projects, USFA found people were not taking the time to read flyers and other printed information. They would look at the picture in an advertisement and assume they understood what the ad about. We knew there had to be another way to get the important safety messages to the people who needed them.
This wildfire safety pictograph encourages viewers to have prepacked kits with essentials such as medicine, family records, credit cards and a change of clothing. View pictograph collection
We started with the most important messages about smoke alarms and home family escape plans, distilling the messages to the essential elements. These elements were depicted pictorially and refined several times through consultation with fire and life safety educators across the country. Finally, we decided to test them with our intended audience.
Once the first round of testing was completed, we adjusted the pictographs based on the findings and retested with a smaller group that had the same demographics as the first.
This pictograph illustrates how to practice a home fire drill.
- Pictographs can help overcome literacy barriers by communicating messages with pictures.
- They can be used successfully to educate people we may have not been able to reach in the past.
- Pictographs are helpful in reiterating messages provided by a native speaker or posted on social media.
The pictograph collection
There are currently 111 pictographs under 18 topic areas available for your use. We began with fire safety messages but have expanded our collection to include life safety issues such as stop the bleed, bike safety and boat safety. Animations for some pictographs are also available for your use on digital platforms.
Pool safety pictograph animation
Use pictographs in your outreach materials
Pictographs can be used in educational outreach materials such as flyers, posters, banners and door-hangers. Available templates will assist organizations in creating materials. A how-to video helps you to use the templates.
Our pictographs have been well received by fire departments. Recently, the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services used pictographs to update their Fire Safety for Newcomers publication. The pictographs complemented their translations of important fire safety messages.
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