“Giving Notice”: The Divergence Between Legal and Practical Assessments of How Well Government Notices Provide Information to Vulnerable Audiences
When government notices are difficult to understand, making it difficult for intended users to navigate governmental systems, the consequences of failing to respond appropriately to such notices disproportionately negatively affects people from socio-economically marginalized communities, often with severe and long-term consequences to their lives. This paper will discuss current legal challenges in the United States to state Departments of Motor Vehicles’ practices of revoking or suspending the driver’s licenses for failure to pay traffic tickets without first providing them adequate notice of how to prevent or contest the suspension if they are unable to pay. People are less likely to understand confusingly presented information or be able appropriately act on it. People with limited financial means and limited literacy may lack the resources to hire someone to interpret poorly designed documents and are thus left unable to take the steps needed to protect themselves. This paper presents tools to analyze and evaluate the efficacy of government notices according to two questions: (1) Can the intended reader understand the notice?, and (2) How well does the notice inform that intended reader of the key messages?
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