Illiteracy, as a term, is fairly self-explanatory: the inability to read. In practice, it is a much more complicated question.
Many people would not consider themselves illiterate as they can, with enough time and effort, decipher an advertisement or a newspaper. They know that the red signs say “STOP” and what that means. They may be able to fill out a job application at home, with enough time and many misspellings.
But when reading and writing is difficult, time-consuming, and riddled with errors it can cause big problems. You can bluff your way through much of your life reading little, if anything, especially if you have a job that does not require paperwork. Can you imagine living in fear of the idea that your boss might leave you a note with instructions for a new task?
Adult literacy programs are available, if a person goes looking for them. Such programs must be widely advertised to be widely used, but how do you reach people who don’t read? Imagine how difficult it would be to figure out how to look up a reading class in the phone book or to write down the phone number on the TV screen when it flashes past.
Here, the adult literacy program is run by the school district. How intimidating that must be, to go to the district office, the school “headquarters”, and tell the desk personnel why you are there. One would think that a program run by your church or a social club like the Kiwanis or Masons would be far more approachable. The fewer barriers to learning that such programs present, the better.
So how can you help? By donating money, books, and time to organizations dedicated to teaching. Do an on-line search for national literacy organizations or to find a place in your area where you can volunteer. Give time to your local shelters. Know the location and contact information for local groups so that you can provide them if the subject comes up.
Teach your children to read and to encourage their peers to do so. Functional illiteracy is a problem that will not improve by itself and is wider-spread than you may believe. About 25 million adults in the US are functionally illiterate.
Reading difficulty influences the next generation as well, those raised by parents who can barely read themselves. Such children are twice as likely to be functionally illiterate as adults, thus continuing the cycle.
While you may not be affected directly, illiteracy does affect the economy as a whole. If you can only qualify for a low-paying job with no benefits, who is going to pay your medical bills or to keep you in your old age? How can you help fill newly-created jobs when they require higher and higher education levels? It is important for all of us to help address illiteracy and improve the ability of our society to read.