Reach a Reader: Communicate clearly — today and every day

Vorsicht! Das Wasser ist nicht trinkbar! Voorzichtig! Dit water nit drinken.

Vorsicht! Das Wasser ist nicht trinkbar! Voorzichtig! Dit water nit drinken.

A small percentage of readers will be able to read and understand this opening line. They’ll know not to drink the contaminated water.

The rest of us will enjoy a glass and then spend the next several days running to the washroom.

What’s the reality in B.C.?

Forty per cent of adults have difficulty reading a newspaper, filling out a work application form, reading a map, or understanding a lease.

There are lots of reasons why many adults have reading challenges.

English is a second language.

They have a learning disability.

They were unable to finish school.

Traumatic childhood experiences such as domestic violence or residential schools have had an impact on a child’s ability to learn; brain injuries; and the list goes on.

Trying to decipher text is a daily struggle for many adults, often with serious health and safety consequences.

January is Reach a Reader Month in the Cariboo.

It is a great time to look at your workplace and see how you can communicate more clearly with your customers, clients, and staff.

Here are some tips.

• Write information in a positive tone (E.g. “Stop on red”, not,  “Don’t cross on red”)

• Use common words. For example use instead of utilize, or show instead of demonstrate.

• Organize your text so there is white space.

• Use pictures that help show meaning.

• Use short sentences.

• Go through a form or application with people.

Many adults struggle to fill in forms on their own.

We’re in good company when we go plain.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Leonardo da Vinci.

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” Charles Mingus, jazz musician.

It’s cool to be clear and simple!

Carla Bullinger is the Literacy Outreach Co-ordinator for Cariboo Chilcotin Partners for Literacy.  She can be reached at

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