To be literate, means that you have the ability to understand what you read and the skills to communicate and engage with others. One who is literate has the confidence to go through life’s experiences, initiating opportunities at work, at home and in the community.
Low literacy is not an appealing topic to discuss and can often be an uncomfortable one. Those that can read and are educated often find it hard to believe that many adults have challenges with literacy. To be literate is something that many of us take for granted. Unfortunately, millions of adult Canadians struggle with literacy barriers. 40 per cent of adults in B.C. do not have the skills they need to read the newspaper, or even read a map.
Low literacy and education among adults are the cause of many problems. Often, there is a social stigma that goes along with low literacy levels. One can be embarrassed and go to great lengths to hide their lack of skills. Can you imagine how it must feel to not be able to read simple things such as signs, maps, and a menu let alone the newspaper or prescription instructions? Those who struggle on a daily basis don’t speak out for themselves. They are frequently trapped by feelings of guilt and low self-esteem; they often work hard to hide this weakness. They don’t know who to turn to, or ask for help. This makes them “invisible”, and yes overlooked.
Yes – literacy is an invisible obstacle; those of us who are literate have forgotten how it feels to struggle with reading and may not see it. We may ignore it and hope it goes away. Those that are faced with literacy barriers often hide it and find ways to compensate. Canadians with the “invisible literacy barrier” face difficulties accomplishing the basic tools for living, personal enjoyment, self-awareness, the ability to communicate, increasing employability, contributing to community and improving their health and wellbeing.
What can we do is the question?
We can all become lifelong learners and encourage others to become lifelong learners. We must provide support to family and community members. Make sure that you read to your children, 15 minutes every day will make a difference.
If possible volunteer your time to a literacy program in the community and speak out in support of literacy programs.
Listen and pay attention to what is going on in your home and community and ask don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Janette Moller is the Partner Assisted Learning co-ordinator for Cariboo Chilcotin Partners for Literacy.