Making Complex Topics Easy to Understand

Why Iowa Compass Rewrote Its Tip Sheets in Plain Language

Iowa Compass is the state’s leading source of information on services and supports for Iowans with disabilities. The Compass database has thousands of records that guide people to disability-related services and programs. But Compass also has records called “tip sheets.” Tip sheets give people an in-depth look at some disability-related topics.

Tip sheet topics come from Compass users. What do users search for in the database? How do they answer survey questions? What do they ask about on phone calls?

Last fall, Iowa Compass began to rewrite all of its existing tip sheets in plain language.

What is plain language?

Plain language is clear communication. This means people can find the information they need. They can understand it the first time they read or hear it. They can use it to meet their needs.[i]

Using plain language is an important step in meeting health literacy standards. Health literacy standards help more people understand what their health care providers tell them during a visit. The standards also help them remember what they are told, and remember it correctly.

Health literacy standards help Iowa Compass connect people with the disability resources they need. The standards make sure people can act on the information they get from Compass records and tip sheets. But using plain language to meet these standards is only part of the Compass strategy for clear communication.

It is not always possible to use plain language. Disability-related terms and program names may be new and long. The names of health conditions or technical terms can be complex. To make tip sheets more clear, Compass:

  • Follows new format, starting each tip sheet with the main purpose.
  • Defines new and complex terms and names.
  • Adds headings to help people find what they need.
  • Uses bullets and lists to organize facts.

What can you find out from Compass tip sheets?

At this time, Compass has nine tip sheets. All of them are now written in plain language. These are the tip sheet topics:

  1. Finding Accessible Housing
  2. Finding Local Assistive Technology Equipment Loan Programs
  3. How Section 504 Protects Students with Disabilities
  4. How to Ask Private Agencies for Help Paying for Assistive Technology
  5. How to Use Crowdfunding to Buy Assistive Technology
  6. IDEA as a Source for Assistive Technology
  7. Microboards in Iowa
  8. Tax Facts for People with Disabilities
  9. Workers’ Compensation as a Source for Assistive Technology Funding


You can find the Tip Sheets from the homepage.

Compass is working on several new tip sheets now. Staff are doing research to pull together information from multiple sources and experts. All new tip sheets will meet health literacy standards.

Got an idea for a new tip sheet? Get in touch with Iowa Compass to let us know.


[i] What is plain language? Quick Guide to Health Literacy. Retrieved from…