This is a guest post by Marisol Stork for the R.E.A.D. program in Michigan on the importance of adult literacy and literacy for healthcare.
Adult Literacy Awareness
Do you remember the first truly meaningful book that you read? That one, life-altering, where-can-I get-more-of-this type of book? For me, it was Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.
I can’t recall exactly how old I was when I read it, but I remember I liked it – a lot. The words on the page and the imagery they created in my mind of Fern and Wilbur, that “Terrific” pig, were inspiring. Of course, there was also Charlotte, who gave me a whole new outlook on spiders.
That book made me laugh, and cry, and smile. I had learned the power of a good story.
So, what was your first meaningful book? Do you recall how it changed your outlook on life and why? Now imagine what your life would be like if you had never read that book, or any book. In fact, imagine what your life would be like if you could not read.
“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” ― Frederick Douglass
Adult Literacy and Its Importance in Healthcare
Literacy is an important topic among health care providers today. The ever-changing demands of healthcare present persistent challenges on how to help patient populations understand their own diagnosis, medical options, and plan of care so they can become active participants in their own health plan. Healthcare literacy is an important topic, but at the core of healthcare literacy is basic adult literacy.
In 1991, Congress passed the National Literacy Act that defined literacy as:
“An individual’s ability to read, write, and speak in English, and compute and solve problems at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job and in society, to achieve one’s goals, and develop one’s knowledge and potential.”
Based on this definition, current statistics tell us that in the United States, 36 million adults need help with literacy. Among adults with the lowest literacy rates, 43 percent live in poverty and experience a higher rate of unemployment than the national average.
Translated into dollars, it is estimated that the effects of low literacy cost the United States more than $225 billion dollars each year in non-productivity in the workforce and loss of tax revenue due to unemployment. Furthermore, low literacy adds an estimated $230 billion dollars to annual health care costs in the United States.
A 2013 study estimated that 46 percent of American adults could not understand the labels on their prescription bottles.
Ultimately, a person’s inability to read or understand health information impedes their ability to make good healthcare choices. And to complicate matters even further, basic literacy in today’s 21st Century high-tech world is no longer enough.
Adults also need basic computer skills and access to technology to succeed in our society, whether it be applying for a job online, accessing health care information, or taking a test for a driver’s license, or perhaps the G.E.D.
A Grassroots Effort is Born
In Ottawa County, Michigan, where my family and I live, the population totals more that 260,000 persons. It is estimated that 23,000 adults in our county are functioning at the lowest literacy level.
Realizing that our community was not immune from the issues that impact adult literacy, a small group of concerned citizens met in November 2008 to discuss what could be done. By June 2009, the newly formed R.E.A.D. (Reading Enables Adult Development) program was successfully offering free tutoring to its first adult learners.
Today, free tutoring services continue to be offered to dedicated adult learners who wish to improve their reading skills by equally dedicated volunteers who wish to help them achieve their goals.
R.E.A.D. started with two willing learners. We now have thirty-three participants with about 50 percent being English-speaking adults, and the other 50 percent being E.S.L. (English as a Second Language) adults. These E.S.L. adults are immigrants who have come to this country, and to our community, searching for better opportunities. Learning English is a big part of fulfilling that goal.
The truth is R.E.A.D. is not alone in its efforts. There are concerned citizens and dedicated volunteers in communities across America. Online resources such as Proliteracy.org can help you locate the Adult Literacy programs in your area.
Get involved. Make a difference. Help someone discover the power of that first, meaningful, life-changing book. It just might change their life…and yours.
About the Author
Marisol Stork has a Masters Degree in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. She is currently the learner and tutor Pair Coordinator for R.E.A.D. If you are interested in learning more about the R.E.A.D program, please visit the website or follow R.E.A.D on Facebook or Twitter.