Forty-five percent of people have trouble reading a newspaper. (File photo).

Forty-five percent of people have trouble reading a newspaper. (File photo).

Literacy: Strong literacy skills now matter more than ever

45 percent of people may have difficulty understanding newspapers or following instruction manuals.

How often do you take for granted having the ability to read and write? As an adult literacy practitioner, I think about this often, but never quite as much as I have during this time of COVID-19.

We are constantly being overwhelmed by a flood of information that is changing all the time and the worrying part is that most of this information is vital to our well-being.

What are the new work protocols? What government support is there when I’m out of work? How do I access them? How do I stay healthy? Where do I find the latest COVID safety protocols?

The only way to find the answers to these questions is by having strong reading and writing skills. Even then, it can be stressful and time-consuming to sort through information or navigate our way through online forms and applications. However, there are many British Columbians who don’t have these skills and may be left without this vital information.

According to Statistics Canada, 45 percent of people may have difficulty understanding newspapers, following instruction manuals, reading health information, amongst other daily living tasks. Furthermore, 20 percent of British Columbians reported no previous computer experience and on top of that, 13% described their computer skills as “limited”. These are enormous, additional stresses many of our neighbours, clients, patients, and customers are experiencing.

There is no way to tell just by looking at someone whether they have literacy challenges, so here are some tips on how we can help:

• Use plain language to summarize the legal and technical jargon on forms you need a client to sign

• Keep instructions simple and deliver them in a step-by-step format

• Ask if you can help someone to complete an online form

• Pictures help get the point across quickly! Keep your information simple and use graphics whenever possible

Contact me if you would like to make your workplace, business, or organization more plain language friendly at

Carla Bullinger is the Literacy Outreach Coordinator with Cariboo Chilcotin Partners for Literacy.

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