Supporting Adult Learners

More than 36 million (about 1 in 10) adults in the United States cannot read, write, or do basic math above the third-grade level. It’s likely that a neighbor, client, friend, or family member struggles with reading—and you may not know about it. 
 
Have you ever noticed someone who:
  • Asks you to fill out forms for them, or makes a lot of mistakes when they fill them out themselves?
  • Brings a friend to help with filling out forms?
  • Makes excuses for not reading instructions or brochures (“I forgot my glasses,” “I have a headache,” “I don’t have time”)?
  • Tries to memorize information, or asks you to write it down for them (“My handwriting isn’t very good”)?
  • Repeatedly asks you to explain what they just read?
  • Fails to respond to mailed notices, bills, etc.?
  • Asks you to call rather than email information to them?
  • Repeatedly misses appointments, even though they are written down?
  • Turns down opportunities that require reading or writing?

Many of these statements apply to adults who struggle with reading. Many adults who struggle with reading feel shame and embarrassment, and many feel that they will never be able to change. They may avoid unfamiliar situations, and feel vulnerable around someone who is more “educated.”Here are some ways you can help them:

  • Be understanding and encouraging.
  • Create a climate of confidence and trust.
  • Try using simpler vocabulary and shorter sentences; rephrase your idea if you sense it has not been fully understood.
  • If they want to read something you give them “at home” or “later,” offer a short, clear summary of its content, providing the main information.
  • Write down the most important information you want to convey.
  • Make sure the date of an upcoming meeting or an event is clearly understood, and provide reference points such as “two days from now."
  • Call them to confirm an appointment, or send a brief text message, rather than a long email.
  • Refer them to VITAL.