The adults overcoming their reading struggles: ‘I was going to do it if it killed me’

Millions of adults have poor literacy skills (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Millions of adults have poor literacy skills (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Some of the people this article is about won’t be able to read it. Despite this, they have coped, some for decades, with day-to-day tasks.

Mum-of-one, Stephie, was diagnosed with dyslexia – a common learning difficulty which can vary from person to person but results in trouble reading – at 11.

“We hide away so much because we don’t want to be judged,” says Stephie, now aged 35.

She tells The Independent that she struggled through school where she recalled “being put down every day” and leaving with “F’s all around”.

Stephie has been learning to read for around a year and a half, with the help of Read Easy, but she confesses that prior to learning it was “very challenging trying to do things on a day-to-day basis”.

Being unable to read has seen Stephie rely on the help of her phone, which she admits has been “a big help” in assisting her with daily tasks and spelling unfamiliar words.

She said prior to having voice assistance on her phone she would “avoid writing and reading”.

Stephie worked as a post lady with the Royal Mail for four years, where she mostly hid her struggles with literacy, relying on her “really good memory”.

Stephie has been helped by Read Easy – a charity which offers free one-to-one coaching. “Just because it takes you longer than everyone else doesn’t mean you’re not capable of doing it,” she says.

Stephie (Read Easy Leicester)
Stephie (Read Easy Leicester)

The latest available data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows around 8.5 million people in the UK have poor literacy skills.

Horevia Brown is 72. Following jobs as a cleaner and working in kitchens, Horevia found herself working as a health care assistant for 22 years, retiring in 2012. She is now determined to now prioritise her own growth.

The West Ealing-based, mum, gran and great grandma, who admits she has “never had a certificate, diploma or GCSE”, says she struggles most with the pronunciation of words. The most important book to Horevia is the Bible.

Horevia tells The Independent she found it “humiliating” and “difficult” as “it [the bible] never made any sense”.

“I was going to learn to read if it killed me,” she says.

Horevia says she owed a lot of her success in her career to her personality: “A lot of people loved me and grew to love me as I am, even though I am a bit slow.”

Horevia Brown (Chantelle Billson)
Horevia Brown (Chantelle Billson)

Horevia says: “I was a person but I’m not a person. I was a shadow. Working among all these doctors and nurses, doing everything that they asked me to do, but I always dodged and always made excuses that I couldn’t do something or said I wasn’t interested.”

She is now rectifying the loss she feels she’s suffered by not being able to read. Thanks to the help of Read Easy. She says: “Now I can see everything in front of me, because I have the knowledge for it now.”

“Don’t let anyone tell you or put it in your mind that you can’t do it because you’re too old. Be positive and believe in yourself,” she adds.

Rebecca Perry, Head of Adult Literacy and Criminal Justice at the National Literacy Trust, says that although a number of factors contribute to poor literacy skills in adulthood, those from lower economic backgrounds are more likely to be affected. Marc Newall, head of policy and public affairs at the National Literacy Trust, says it’s important that the government invest in literacy from birth right through to adulthood.

Robert Halfon, the minister for skills, apprenticeships and higher education said: “Having good literacy skills improves employment opportunities, earnings potential and boosts social mobility, helping more people to climb the ladder of opportunity.

“That’s why we continue to offer a range of fully funded basic literacy skills courses and English qualifications to help more adults unlock their potential.

“To break the cycle of adult illiteracy we are making sure young people leave school with the literacy skills they need for work and life. England was ranked fourth in the world for reading at primary in the recent Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) rankings making our children the ‘best in the west’ for reading.”