7 Unseen Problems Low-Literate Adults Experience When They Hide Their Secret

It may be a surprise to you that every American has most likely interacted in one way or another with an adult who has little to no literacy skills. The fact is that there are 36 million adults in the United States who can’t read above a third-grade level. That means the likelihood of meeting someone who struggles to read is truly staggering.

And while one in seven American adults struggle to read, you wouldn’t know it. Most of these adults find creative ways to hide their reading issues because of their own embarrassment. For example, someone might ask for help reading something saying they “forgot their glasses.” Or at a restaurant, unable to read the menu, they might ask what the waitress what she recommends. And contrary to popular belief, the majority of these people are very smart. I have met a successful business owner who went through most of his life without being functionally literate. I have heard stories about a truck driver making deliveries by following landmarks, business owners having their spouse sign documents, and parents pretending to read to their children by making up stories from the pictures in a book.


Working in ProLiteracy’s communications department has given me the opportunity to hear the firsthand stories of those who have overcome low literacy to find success. But it has also given me a chance to hear the accounts of those who struggle every day. I have also talked to people from across the country and world who are dedicated to making a difference through literacy. Each student’s story is unique, but there are also similarities. Based on the stories I have heard, here are just some of issues people who are unable to read deal with on a daily basis.

  1. Worrying if they are giving their children the right dose of medicine
  2. Unable to fill out a job application. 
  3. Hiding their low literacy from their employer. 
  4. Not being able to help their children with homework. 
  5. Memorizing products so they can find them at the store. 
  6. Making excuses to avoid activities that might involve reading. 
  7. The constant stress of hiding your secret.

Low adult literacy affects people in more ways than most of us realize. If you’re ever in the grocery store and someone says they forgot their reading glasses and they need help to find a specific item, ignore your initial urge to say no and give them a moment of your time.

Do you agree with the list? Did I miss something? Please leave a comment to let me know.


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