As a plain language editor, I see my job as reducing extraneous cognitive load as much as I can, through language choices and document design. I’m motivated by the cost savings and simple empathy for my reader but also by the human rights and social justice aspects of the plain language movement. We have a right to understand our legislation to participate in our democracy. And patients and research participants should be able to understand their informed consent documents to make sound health decisions.

The model of mental burden as suffering gives us another ethical imperative to reduce cognitive load: people in marginalized groups are the most preoccupied and have the least working memory to spare. Forcing them to process more information than needed just reinforces the inequity.

The logical extension to my plain language work is to figure out how to relieve not only cognitive load but mental burden more generally. And, because relieving mental burden isn’t a zero-sum game, how can I do it in the most efficient way, to help as many people I can at once?

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