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As We Are: Illiteracy

OPB | June 12, 2009 9 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 8:53 p.m.

Imagine what your life would be like if you couldn’t read. How would you order from a menu or understand food labels in a grocery store? How would you find your way around in an unfamiliar city? What would you do when presented with forms at the doctor’s office? The short answer is, you’d ask for help. But ask anyone who struggles with reading as an adult, and they’ll tell you it’s not easy to admit they need assistance with something that seems so basic to many people.

The people I’ve spoken with for this show have told me the reaction they fear from strangers when they ask for help is the incredulous question, “Can’t you read?” Illiteracy comes with a social stigma. Many adults who never learned to read in school carry painful memories of being ridiculed by their fellow students. Yet, 11 million adults in the U.S. were not literate in English as of 2003 when the National Assessment of Adult Literacy conducted their most recent study.

Did you learn to read as an adult? What was that like? Do you work with adults who are struggling with literacy? What works and what doesn’t?


  • Sergio Suarez
  • Archie Hendricks


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