It’s a crisis hidden in plain sight. About 20% of people in the United States cannot read at all, and 50% of adults can’t read past an eighth-grade level.

An organization is looking to change the numbers when it comes to adult illiteracy.

From high unemployment, low wages, even poor health care.

“People who can’t read have all kinds of troubles in life that you might not even think of,” says Joanne Telser-Frere, director of program development at Literacy Chicago.

Issues for those who cannot read include trying to read street signs while driving, a prescription bottle from their doctor, or even a menu at a restaurant.

Joanne exclaimed, “You can’t read the menu, you don’t know what you are going to get, so they just say, ‘I’ll have what that guy is having over there.’”

Unemployment rates can be 2-4 times higher for those with little schooling compared to people with a bachelor’s degree.

“I was a little afraid of taking different jobs because I didn’t know how to read,” shared Janie Moore.

That’s why Joanne is part of Literacy Chicago, an organization whose mission is to empower adults through reading.

For adult learners wanting to learn to read, the first step is, don’t be ashamed. It can discourage you from even trying. To get over that hurdle, look for some support.

“People often need someone to tell them they can do it, because their whole life they’ve been told they can’t,” stated Joanne.

Label everything in your house and when you see a word, say it.

Finally, find something you want to read, which could be comic books, subtitles on a television program, and magazines.

“I used to tell people, I don’t care if you read Playboy, as long as you’re reading,” remarked Joanne.

Constant practice every day brings adult learners closer to learning how to read and more opportunities.

Literacy Chicago classes are free to students. It is funded through government grants and private donations. They currently have over 150 volunteers and with COVID-19 bringing classes online, volunteers can be from anywhere.