Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Politician Legibility Act - Part 3 of an Interview with Kate Gladstone

“If your handwriting is barely legible, it makes them think that you are not really an organized person. That you are writing too fast, and your are not thinking about it.” – Adam Levinson

I would like to welcome back Kate Gladstone. If you’ve missed any of the interview, here is Part 1 and Part 2. Now we’ll get right down to business.

What is the Politician Legibility Act?

Kate: The Politician Legibility Act is an on-line petition to establish a law requiring government officials to create only legible records, notes, or other documentation while in office. In other words, if they pick up a pen to write so much as a single word, the Act would require them to write it legibly. If they can't write legibly when they enter office, the Act would require them to learn how (within a specified short time after election or appointment) if they wanted to produce handwritten paperwork, memos, or other documentation while in office.

The Act doesn't mean they have to write anything by hand whatsoever. They can keyboard, they can dictate to a typist, for all the Act cares they can text-message everything. But if they pick up a pen or pencil to write, the Act would require them to write it legibly or quit their office.

I created the Politician Legibility Act petition out of my frustration with events involving Scooter Libby, assistant to Vice-President Cheney during the Bush administration. You may remember that Mr. Libby had some legal trouble.

When the prosecution subpoenaed the abundant handwritten notes, memos, and other paperwork Mr. Libby had produced in office, they quickly found that Libby's handwriting resisted all efforts at decipherment. Literally nobody on the prosecution team could even guess what anything said: they couldn't find anyone anywhere who claimed to know how to decode Scooter Libby's handwriting, except for Scooter Libby himself.

This put the prosecution team in the ludicrous position of relying on the defendant for translations. The prosecution would display a document, would ask Mr. Libby what it said – and would then just have to take Mr. Libby's word for it that the document said whatever Mr. Libby said that the document said. Very few politicians or other people, I think, could resist certain opportunities that might arise if they found themselves in such an enviable position while defending themselves in a court of law.

So, yes, I started the petition as a bit of a joke, but I take it seriously enough that I signed it – and other people are signing too. Our government – our elected and appointed officials – must ultimately answer to us. When government officials in any administration avoid communicating clearly, they show that they do not hold themselves answerable to or accountable to others.

Besides working with schools, I understand you also work with physicians. How receptive are they to improving their penmanship? Are there any other groups you work with?

Kate: Doctors provide 70% to 80% of my income. Most of them know that poor handwriting has caused medical errors – injuries or even deaths – so they generally have the motivation to improve. Those who don't come to class with the motivation generally find motivation pretty soon – because I open my class for MDs with some horror stories from my files. For example, I'll display a prescription from an actual death-by-handwriting malpractice case, and ask them to read it. Most of them can't – and most of the ones who think they can, read it wrong.

Some physicians do wonder if they can improve their handwriting at all – because of our cultural stereotype about doctors' writing, or because they have tried unsuccessfully all their lives to change their bad handwriting or at least to keep it from getting worse. Learning that their handwriting problems result from something they can change – their handwriting technique – brings them new confidence and makes them willing, even eager to progress.

In fact, doctors tend to progress faster than other professionals I work with. Anyone who makes it through medical school has spent so much of adulthood learning so many new techniques for doing even familiar everyday things – washing, cutting, stitching – that learning new techniques for the everyday skill of handwriting doesn't seem such a big deal once you see the techniques in action.

It shouldn't surprise you, then, that one of the biggest boosts to better handwriting in our own time has come from a doctor: an emergency medicine physician near Dallas, named Harvey Castro – Hi, Harvey! -- who has become fed up with the handwriting of his colleagues and others. (Harvey is also a father, so naturally he has a concern with children's writing too.) That's why Harvey and I have been working – through his medical software company Deep Pocket Series – to develop an iPhone/iPodTouch application that teaches Italic handwriting. The app is called Better Letters – we released it on November 10, and eight days later it featured in the December 2009 issue of GQ magazine, in one of that issue's three articles on handwriting. (You'll find Better Letters profiled – along with other handwriting resources for the information technology age – in the right sidebar on page 128 of the December 2009 GQ.)

If you want to learn a bit more about Better Letters before downloading it from the App Store, I suggest out demonstration video at BetterLettersVideo and the product information page at BetterLetters – also, my own web-site links to both of these.

Doctors, of course, aren't the only people with bad handwriting: like quite a few other people, these days, I worry about the poor handwriting of teachers. And I admit that I giggle when I see the illegible signatures of community figures – politicians, for instance – who are trying to raise money for educational projects. I have a rule that, when I get an illegibly signed letter from a politician or other public figure looking for financial or other support, I ignore the letter.

Thanks again, Kate. During my recent hospital stay, I actually had one of the many doctors on my case tell me how difficult it was to read other doctors’ reports, which didn’t exactly instill confidence in me for my care. I think maybe I should forward a copy of this blog to them.

I hope you will all come back tomorrow when Kate talks about National Handwriting Day and a world handwriting contest.

Thanks for stopping by.

Tags: Adam Levinson, Kate Gladstone, Politician Legibility Act, handwriting,


Elisabeth said...

Oh dear, Jane. I'm one of the worst culprits. My handwriting is bad.

My only defense is that I always type up written communications, apart from my signature. And if I must share something written in my handwriting, I try very hard to make it legible.

Please forgive me.

KateGladstone said...

Elisabeth deserves praise for doing what we all should do, but too few of actually bother with: trying hard to keep her handwriting legible.

Further on in this series of interview posts on handwriting, Elisabeth and other readers will get some information on helpful resource material for handwriting improvement.

Stay tuned ...

Kate Gladstone --

Joanne said...

Interesting that doctors, who through the extent of their education, are well versed in mastering technicalities of everyday things. It's good to hear that retraining their penmanship isn't too difficult a task, for the benefit of so many.

The Old Silly said...

Very interesting. My cursive handwriting has atrophied - don't hardly ever use it anymore, I print in block letters. I've heard on talk radio that soo the schools are going to stop teaching cursive writing altogether!

joe doaks-Author said...

I love the idea of a law requiring better hand writing for government officials. Could we also get one requiring better writing period?? up the tax code, for example. I wish all involved with the act the best of luck. But, it seems to me we have various budget laws that are roundly ignored. So, my confidence index the handwriting law would actually work is shaken some.

Best Wishes Galen.
Imagineering Fiction Blog

KateGladstone said...

Galen -- Conceivably, a governmental agency *could* tackle your concerns together with mine if it made, and enforced, merely one law: a law that all future laws would be null and void until the text of the new law was copied out in full by hand (with 100% legibility) by whatever government official or other political figure had played the largest part in getting the new law passed.
Although I don't think this will ever happen -- it would be even harder to achieve than a Politician Legibility Act -- requiring political figures to write out all proposed legislation legibly by hand would at the very least force them to think *very* carefully about the length, comprehensibly, and needfulness of any law they wanted passed.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I'm sure pharmacists would appreciate the improvement of doctors' handwriting. I always wondered if there was a law that said it HAD to be scribbled. Why don't they hand-print the name of the medicine? Hopefully your italics app will help them!
I need to check out that app, as I'd love to see what italics looks like.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I have worried about my doctor's handwriting a million times! Thank GOODNESS he switched over to an online prescribing system that goes right to the pharmacy. I really couldn't read a word of his scripts!

My handwriting is naturally sloppy, but I make an effort when I'm writing for someone else to read. :)

Mystery Writing is Murder

JennyMac said...

Love the interview Jane. I am happy to say my handwriting is still in great shape. Lawyers dont get the sloppy free reign some docs do. LOL.

Jane's Ride - Novelist Jane Kennedy Sutton's journey through the ups and downs of the writing, publishing and marketing world