The ABS tell us that around 46% of Australians between the ages of 15 – 74 years of age do not “have the literacy to cope with the increasing and complex demands of modern life and work”. This is the modern gauge of literacy – whether a person has sufficient reading ability to perform everyday tasks, such as “read a bus timetable, read the directions on a medicine bottle, or read a newspaper”.
Within that group of people is a wide spectrum of abilities, from people that are simply slow readers, to people that cannot read at all. Often we forget that every one of those statistics is an individual, with their own unique story, challenges and abilities. This is Jason’s story, which hopefully will highlight what can happen when you can’t read, and how a person can so easily fall between the cracks. It also highlights how modern tools can help transform lives.
Jason was 11 years old and working in his grandparent’s dairy when part of the roof fell onto his head, impaling a stake several centimetres into his skull. He lost about 60% of the vision in his left eye, hearing on his left side and the ability to read. He can see words, he just can’t process them.
Returning to school after the accident his teachers found it impossible to teach him and in the small rural school he attended most of his time was spent looking after the small hobby farm at the back of the school. He left school at 13 and continued to work in the dairy.
Jason has developed a wide range of skills that do not require reading. He can work on just about any mechanical or automotive project and has learnt through trial and error that there are always different approaches to solving problems. Sometimes that has meant he has endured more injuries than most.
One of the toughest challenges however was reading books to his children when they were young. Jason made up stories to go with the pictures he was seeing and this often led to confusion and misunderstanding on the part of his children. Finding permanent employment has been another challenge and today he scrapes by doing manual labour and any work where a builder is prepared to take on a “non-ticketed” employee.
So this is a snapshot of the life of a person who cannot read. It is a life of unfulfilled promise and many frustrations.
Recently Jason was able to try out the OrCam MyReader. OrCam MyReader is a small camera that clips onto a pair of spectacles and will read out any text that it finds – up close or in the distance. This one small device has the potential to completely and profoundly change his life by giving him the ability to read wherever he is and whatever he is doing.
Only problem now is that Jason doesn’t have a formal diagnosis, and is on his own trying to navigate the complexities of NDIS applications and other possible supports. Until he gets some technology like the OrCam MyReader he is totally dependent on others to read the information he needs to understand the way forward. So while support is available, obtaining that support requires a lot of reading. This conundrum is unfortunately what many people who cannot read are facing in Australia today.
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