April 3, 2006
The following story was written by students at the Adult Learning Association of Cape Breton County, from Sydney, Nova Scotia. The story is read by two students - Aileen Hall (standing) and Amanda MacVicar (seated). Aileen is 27 years old and single. She was born and raised in the countryside (Main-A-Dieu, Cape Breton). Family is very important to her. Thanks to her family and some close friends she got where she is today. Aileen struggled hard through her life and at times she still does. Some of the things she enjoys are: horseback riding, dancing, listening to music and going for walks.
Amanda MacVicar is 24 years old and she attends school at the Adult Learning Association of Cape Breton County. Amanda is completing her level 2 and she is off to NSCC, Marconi Campus next fall. She enjoys public speaking, loves to write and enjoys being dramatic.
Play an audio version of this story
Sometimes people forget or just are not aware of the connection between literacy skills and health. A person with lower literacy skills face many problems each and every day. If you are employed you are probably working at a low paying job that offers little or no benefits. The job may be unsafe and unhealthy for you. The working poor earn less money. They cannot afford to buy medication or join a medical insurance plan. Sometimes we are asked to travel to other places like Halifax to see a specialist or to go for a test or surgery. It is not affordable to the working poor. Not everyone can afford to eat healthy, to go to a gym to exercise, to go for a massage, or therapy. How can our children be healthy when we cannot afford proper food, clothing, housing or recreation for them?
For those of us who have health issues we have trouble reading prescriptions of when and how to take them. What if you take 8 different pills a day and they are all white in color? It can get very confusing. What about the side effects and the possible interactions with other drugs and foods? What happens if you can’t read the information pamphlet that comes with the medication? Would you know that if you take a certain cholesterol pill that you cannot drink or eat grapefruit? What if you are diabetic, or have high blood pressure and you have a head cold? Do you just walk into a drug store and buy the first over the counter bottle of medicine that looks familiar? It can make you seriously sick. Have you ever bought a bottle of cough medicine and tried to read the leaflet folded up inside of the box? The print is so small that it is almost impossible to read, and the wording of it makes us wonder who it was written for. Is this printed material for scholars only? Have you ever been placed on a special diet? What if you can’t read food labels? What if you have high blood pressure and you are trying to reduce your salt intake? What if you buy cans of soup and you don’t know what sodium means? You have just increased your blood pressure.
New mothers can have problems mixing baby formulas. It may be difficult to read the instructions so they buy the ready to pour formula that is much more expensive. That takes a big chunk out of their monthly food budget for the rest of the family.
Have you ever gone to a specialist or a dentist and been passed forms to fill out asking all sorts of questions about your family’s history? Have you had to use the excuse that you have left your glasses home and got the receptionist to help you? When the doctor speaks to you, have you ever wondered what planet he was from? He may have years of university but maybe you can’t read a nursery book to your child. People with lower literacy skills are afraid to ask questions and are embarrassed and ashamed.
Have you ever taken a job that you knew wasn’t safe, but you knew it was the best you could get to support your family? What if you can’t read hazard signs? What if you are afraid to say no to your employer and you risk your life or sacrifice a body part?
Have you ever lived in a home that wasn’t really safe for you and your loved ones to live in? There could be many heath risks such as mold, lack of heat and a lack of ventilation. What if the windows are all nailed shut, there are no smoke detectors, no fire escape, and leaking fixtures and creatures that like to run at night. Some people with low literacy skills do live in these conditions with their families. It fits the monthly budget.
What would be your state of mental health? What would your emotional health be like? How could you cope? It’s easy to see how quickly depression and anxiety fits in the picture.
We have asked you a lot of questions today and we have done so for a reason. We wanted you to think, to really think. We hope that you have made the connection between literacy and health. We need to talk about it more and we certainly need to have our health care professionals aware of the connection. There is a lot of work that needs to be done to make things work better for the health of all of us.