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Illiteracy vs. Blindness

Updated on December 1, 2011

Do you think you can go a day without being able to see? It would be very difficult, right? Well, millions of people live in blindness. As you can’t go a day without seeing, you also can’t go without being able to read!

This page is about literacy in the world. I will be providing some scary numbers, explaining what is being done, and how you can help.


“The word is not just a sound or a written symbol. The word is a force…” This was said by Don Miguel Ruiz, but the truth is quite scarier.

Let’s begin with some facts from United Nations:

  • 1 in 5 adults is still not literate
  • 2/3 of them are women
  • 67.4 million children are out of school
  • 793 million adults are lacking minimum literacy skills.

Literacy, according to UNESCO is the “ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts.” Being able to read and write is a human right, a tool for personal growth and self confidence, and a means for social and human development.


In 2005, National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) revealed that 14% of adults function at the lowest level of literacy and 29% of adults function at the basic functional literacy level. What does this mean to adults?

Well, adults who are illiterate have difficulty getting and maintaining a job, providing for their families, and even reading a story to their children. Illiteracy also directly impacts our economy. Businesses lose hundreds of millions of dollars because of low productivity, errors, and accidents.


In today’s day and age one would think that everyone must know how to read and write because it is the Information Age. Well, there are many reasons why that is not the case.

Many adults may have left school early, may have a physical or emotional disability, may have had ineffective teachers, or simply may not have been ready to learn at the time reading lessons began. Parents who can’t read often also cause the inter-generational cycle of illiteracy. If parents don’t have any books, newspapers or magazines in the house or if there is no parent who reads as a role model, many children grow up with very low literacy ability.

Illiteracy also leads to violence, destitution, and discrimination. To erode illiteracy and ensure that everyone can at least read the basics, many countries are taking actions. Many people are also volunteering, speaking up, and helping in any way they can to attain one goal – every child literate by 2015.

World leaders have promised to provide education to all children by 2015. Why? Because there are 35 countries that have a literacy rate of less than 50% or a population of more than 10 million people who cannot read or write.

Many organizations exist around the world to promote literacy and help eliminate this major issue. United Nations began an organization called United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This organization was founded in 1946 for global literacy efforts. UNICEF works around the world to provide broader access to schools and higher quality education for children, especially girls.

Many people in third world countries are willing to send their sons to schools, but not their daughters. However, when both boys and girls are educated, it transforms a family and therefore the community and country. What children learn at school, they take back home and teach their families. This encourages parents to also get educated. This is the goal for Global Campaign for Education (GCE).

Many public libraries also have programs to attempt to improve literacy rates in this country. Examples are READ, an Orange County program in California and BoulderReads! in Colorado.

As stated by Queen Rania of Jordan, literacy is essential for eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, curbing population growth, achieving gender equality, and ensuring sustainable development, peace, and democracy. Literacy is also required to address major global challenges such as food security and agricultural production, HIV & AIDS and other epidemics, economic growth, and intercultural relations.

A statement by James Earl Jones describes quite well how an illiterate person may feel, “To be illiterate in America – or anywhere for that matter - is to be unsafe, uncomfortable, and unprotected. For the illiterate, despair and defeat serve as daily fare. Can we truly relate to the silent humiliations, the quiet desperation that can’t be expressed, the hundreds of ways that those who cannot read struggle in shame to keep their secret?”

We live in a world that functions through knowledge, but how is this knowledge generated, transmitted, and transformed – through writing. Today, we depend on paper, a computer screen, a mobile phone, and many new technologies that develop at a fast rate. Without literacy, individuals are excluded from so much information and knowledge and even basic information they may need for daily life.

There still is a long way to go and many obstacle s to face, but it starts with only one person. Millions of people can be averted from blindness if each one of us reads or teaches our children to read, volunteers at a school or library, donates to an education-related organization, or spreads awareness about this issue.

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