Spring 1991 // Volume 29 // Number 1 // Feature Articles // 1FEA5

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Getting the Right Stuff into the Right Hands

A common challenge for Extension is getting clientele to pay attention to what they need to know but may not want to hear. Our experiences with an educational program on pesticide safety provide lessons that can be applied to any challenge Extension topic.

Charlotte W. Coffman
Extension Associate
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

Susan M. Watkins
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

A common challenge for Extension is getting clientele to pay attention to what they need to know but may not want to hear. Our experiences with an educational program on pesticide safety provide lessons that can be applied to any challenging Extension topic.

"We can't teach pesticide safety-no one wants to hear about it," say reluctant educators. "Pesticides haven't killed me yet," declares a veteran farm worker. These attitudes demonstrate the need for educational materials on pesticide safety. They also emphasize the difficulty of developing effective materials.

Cornell Cooperative Extension's protective clothing program in the Department of Textiles and Apparel is charged with developing educational materials on the role of clothing for responsible use of pesticides. One component of this program is "Always Wear the Right Stuff" (see photo below), a portable exhibit informing viewers about the hazards of dermal exposure to pesticides and encouraging the right choice, use, and care of protective clothing/equipment.

Developing this exhibit brought us face-to-face with an educator's biggest problem-how to interest target audiences in our message. Our approach had two components: early user- evaluation and multidisciplinary cooperation. We developed a test -as-you-go process that directly involved pesticide workers and educators in choosing the content, style, and design of the message. We asked pesticide handlers to evaluate the exhibit elements during, not after, development. We collaborated with knowledgeable people from many disciplines, taking particular care to solicit ideas from home economists and agriculturalists and to emphasize the overlapping interests of these two groups.

Why an Exhibit?

Why choose an exhibit to communicate the importance of personal pesticide protection? Obahayujie and Hillison2 ranked exhibits only 15th of the 55 methods tested in their study on dissemination methods for Extension information. That same study, however, concluded that a clientele is best served when its unique characteristics are considered.

To learn more about our anticipated clientele in New York State, we mailed questionnaires on pesticide protection information and delivery methods to each of the 57 county Extension offices.3 Agricultural and home economics agents were asked to discuss the questions and to jointly formulate an answer. Forty-five percent of the questionnaires were completed in this way. Individual responses ranged from "no interest" to "it's about time," but the majority indicated that additional information on protective clothing for pesticide handlers was needed, such information would be used, and the most useful forms for this information were fact sheets (89% of respondents), newspaper and magazine articles (62%), and portable displays (42%). Because fact sheets and articles were already part of our project, we chose to develop a portable exhibit.

Developing the Exhibit

To identify the points the exhibit should communicate, we reviewed current research and educational materials. We held formal and informal meetings with individuals working in agricultural sciences, environmental health, toxicology, worker safety, and migrant-worker programs. We discussed protective- clothing issues related to pesticides with people training New York's 30,000 certified pesticide applicators. We compiled the data from the questionnaires sent to agents and learned that care and selection of protective clothing were their greatest concerns.

Information from these sources helped us identify five concepts we incorporated in the exhibit: (1) human health risk, (2) clothing choices based on risk factors, (3) garment use, (4) care of contaminated garments, and (5) personal hygiene.

Before we put these concepts into an exhibit format, we consulted with media specialists on campus. They recommended we look for high quality visuals that clearly illustrated important points and could make a lasting impression on the viewer. They suggested a brief exhibit text, with more detailed instructions being reserved for supplemental handouts.

To determine which visuals made the strongest statements, we developed a slide set to pre-test and compare potential exhibit elements. It was shown to more than 400 viewers at regularly scheduled courses for pesticide applicators seeking certification and at workshops and planning meetings for county agents and faculty. After the slides were shown, viewers were asked to describe the slides they remembered best, to explain the message they received from each of those slides, and to state whether they planned to change their behavior on the basis of what they'd learned. Based on those written responses and the verbal suggestions from agent-faculty groups, final visuals and text were selected.

As an example, to test the effectiveness of visual images in communicating a single topic, we illustrated the dangers of dermal exposure to pesticides with five different slides:

  1. A bar graph comparing exposure of bare and gloved hands.
  2. A photo of bare and gloved hands after spraying with flourescent dye.
  3. A photo showing dermatitis on a person's skin.
  4. A photo of a person wearing the wrong clothes for the job.
  5. A figure showing body areas with high pesticide absorption rates.

The five slides were scattered through the slide lecture- introduction, main ideas, and summary-and were shown to every audience. Seventy-six of the 264 responding viewers said the danger of dermal exposure was the main message they'd received. Of those, 57% described the photo of bare and gloved hands after spraying with flourescent dye as the slide they most remembered. Therefore, we chose that photo to communicate the dangers of dermal exposure on the final exhibit (see photo in next column).

Production and Distribution

The final exhibit was composed of photos, drawings, and text that were silkscreened or mounted on boards that can be attached to fabric-covered display panels owned by each Cornell Extension county office. The four identically sized pieces can be mounted in minutes and fit together neatly for packing and shipping.

Eleven duplicates of the exhibit were produced. One is kept in the Department of Textiles and Apparel for campus use and short-term loans to other institutions. One exhibit was placed in each of the 10 Cornell Cooperative Extension administrative regions. When not using the exhibit, the host county may loan it to other Cornell Cooperative Extension offices or to interested community groups such as commodity associations, garden clubs, and environmental organizations.

Release and availability of the exhibit were publicized through the Extension on-line communication system, the Department of Textiles and Apparel newsletter, and the Cornell Chemicals-Pesticides newsletter.


Because the exhibit can be transported by car, we anticipate frequent use at meetings, fairs, farm days, training sessions, seminars, and workshops. It will introduce, balance, and complement oral presentations and written materials about protective clothing presented at training sessions for certification of pesticide applicators. Agricultural and home economics agents expect to reach additional audiences by using this display to supplement programs on agriculture, clothing selection and care, fabric properties, gardening, household safety, health and hygiene, home management, and environmental conservation. The exhibit can also stand alone, creating public awareness of the problem and of the information available from Cooperative Extension, even in situations where no formal presentation is made.


It's too soon to know how much impact these exhibits will have on worker attitudes and use of protective clothing, but the initial feedback from agents has been positive. We believe this developmental approach of multidisciplinary information coupled with in-process evaluation has produced a useful exhibit promoting the safe use of pesticides.

A portable exhibit on protection for pesticide handlers..

Photo chosen to show the danger of dermal exposure


1. To rent ($18) or purchase ($42) the 77-slide set, Always Wear the Right Stuff, with printed script and audio cassette or to order the brochure ($3.50/10), contact Distribution Center, Bldg. 7-8, Business & Technology Park, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14850. Phone: 607-255-2091.

2. Julius Obahayujie and John Hillison, "Now Hear This!" Journal of Extension, XXVI (Spring 1988), 21-22.

3. Charlotte Coffman, "Cooperative Extension's Role in Protective Clothing Education," Human Ecology Forum, XVI (No. 2, 1987), 19-20.