Understanding written text can be difficult

Trying to decipher text and meaning is a daily struggle for many adults

By Carla Bullinger

Vorsicht! Das Wasser ist nicht trinkbar! Voorzichtig! Dit water nit drinken.

A small percentage of readers will be able to read and understand this opening line; they’ll know not to drink the contaminated water. The rest of us will enjoy a glass and then spend the next several days running to the washroom.

Trying to decipher text and meaning is a daily struggle for many adults, often with serious health and safety consequences.

June 6 was National Access Awareness Day. We celebrated it by raising awareness about disability, accessibility, and inclusion.

The goal is to build a society where barriers to inclusion are removed, and to ensure the independence, self-esteem, dignity, and security of all citizens.

Literacy is about accessibility and inclusion. Forty per cent of British Columbia adults have difficulty reading a newspaper, filling out a work application form, reading a map, or understanding a lease.

There are a lot of reasons why many adults have reading challenges. English might be their second language; they have a learning disability; they were unable to finish school; mental health concerns; traumatic childhood experiences, such as domestic violence or residential schools that impact on a child’s ability to learn; brain injuries; lack of opportunities; and the list goes on.

Literacy matters.

We want our workplaces, organizations, institutions, schools, our community to be safe and inclusive places for all our citizens and families.

Here are some tips to make your space more accessible to people with literacy challenges:

• Write information in a positive tone (Stop on red, but not Don’t cross on red).

• Use common words (use instead of utilize; show instead of demonstrate; go with instead of accompany).

• Organize your text so there is white space.

• Use pictures that help show meaning.

• Use a plain font.

• Use short sentences.

• Go through a form or application with people. Don’t just hand it to them, and leave them on their own to fill it in.

Carla Bullinger is the literacy outreach co-ordinator for Cariboo Chilcotin Partners for Literacy. She can reach at carla@caribooliteracy.com.