I was in a local drugstore over the weekend, and while I was standing in line, a man at the photo center was dropping off film to be developed. At first, he told the attendant that he wanted to send it off because it was less expensive. When she handed him a form to fill out, he balked and immediately changed his mind and said he would like the one-hour photo processing instead. When she STILL gave him a form to fill out, he was visibly uncomfortable and asked her to help him because he had left his glasses in the car. Here's the bad part: she told him she was busy and asked him to go get his glasses. He literally looked stricken. As a former reading tutor, I knew all too well that he didn't know how to read, and he wasn't about to admit that to her. I offered to help him fill out the form, which just asked him for his name, phone number, and photo preferences. It only took 5 minutes, and he was very grateful.
There are people everywhere, adults and children alike, who don't know how to read. There are adults who somhow managed to get through school without knowing how to read. My first reading student was a 25 year old woman with a high school diploma. Why this happens is way too complicated for a simple blog post, but many people have undiagnosed learning disabilities, and teachers chose to let them slide by instead of taking them the time to get the help they needed. Others were not afforded the opportunity to attend quality schools.
But the amazing thing is that people who can't read are masters at hiding it. They are ashamed to admit that they can't read and find ways to get other people to help them out. Their number one excuse? "I lost my glasses...can you help me out with this?" I can't seem to find any formal studies out there to back this up right now, but this is what all of my students told me.
Now, the man in the pharmacy didn't know how to read, but I didn't point that out to the cashier. I simply offered to help him fill out the form, and I did not mention to him that I was onto him. It goes without saying that the cashier was extremely rude and should have never been in the type of position where you have to help people, but that's not my point.
What IS my point here? You may be in a similar situation one day, and if you notice someone is struggling, take five minutes to help him/her out.
My only question here is that I WANTED to offer this guy help with reading. I wanted to point him to our local library that has a robust literacy program, but I didn't know how to do it without offending or embarrassing him. When I was a tutor, my students came to me for help and said they'd heard about the tutoring program through people in their community. How do we get people who can't read to seek help? How do we let them know there are programs out there to give them the help they need?