Does one ever really consider the importance of the skills that they have honed, developed or pursued ? Would it be true to say that one’s skills are directly related to ones interests ? If I have no interest in golf does that negate my natural swing ? If I have no interest in quantum physics does that mean I am not capable of learning about it ? In that particular case, the response would be yes. Quantum physics is really beyond me. I tried to do regular physics for a course I wanted to take and I just could not wrap my mind around it. Frightening how bad I was at it really. No amount of interest was going to overcome that particular hurdle to my education. However, I have always had an interest in reading. I appear to have been born with it so some would say that it was a foregone conclusion that my innate ability would turn into an interest. My reading skills are something that I cannot remember a time without. I’ve always been able to read and enjoyed it. If one was to choose a slew of adjectives or adverbs to adequately denote the vigor and love I have for reading, some of the favorites would be: voraciously, speedily, hungrily, avidly, or crazily. My parents are and were, respectively, readers. My mother seemed to read a lot of romance novels back in the day. Perhaps making up for the decided lack of the topic of the novels in the reality of her life. My father was a Dick Francis man. He also read books to improve himself at work as his own level of education stopped after secondary school. “How Not to Be an Idiot” was not a title that I recall seeing amongst his choice of literature but definitely should have been added to his list. This segue provides fodder for other essays, so we’ll move on from that.
I never truly examined or appreciated the gift of reading until I met my husband. He is dyslexic with language and reading has always been seen as a chore to him. This saddens me. Here is this very intelligent man cut off from some amazing resources of fact and entertainment. He has commented frequently that my ability to devour novels, treat magazines like fast food and for the heck of it get lost in a cookbook “sickens” him. He means this in what my mom refers to as “opposite talk”. He frequently tells our children about the uniqueness of my ability and they just look at him funny. They have never known anything different than their mom buried in some kind of book sitting cozily in her chair with the ever present mug of tea at hand. The odd biscuit might make its way to the table beside the chair but the basic equipment for the task varies quite little. The topics can go anywhere from bee keeping to chicken farming to getting up a gals kilt to deep existential discussion on the application of Buddhist principles for managing anxiety and stress. It is the music of the language that appeals to me. I will very quickly become engrossed in the book or just as easily decide that it’s not work the six hours it’s going to take me to slog through that particular tome. What I never truly appreciated was that I had that choice.
The point of this is that even with a dyslexic husband and now son, I’ve never truly realized what an unspoken bias exists towards those who struggle with or simply cannot on any level read. This was demonstrated to me recently when two women came in to my office for some mandatory training. They had chosen the online option to facilitate getting it done and I was very impressed by their proactive approach. I got them logged into the volunteer computer and went back to my desk. Luckily the proximity of my desk allowed me to keep an ear open in case they had any questions or I sensed them struggling at all. The particular training could be tricky but as it was mostly based on common sense, most had success with it. That is of course if you could read the questions and comprehend what was being asked of you.
What followed not only filled my open ears but became an eye opening experience as well. The manager for our office frequently reminds us that literacy comes at all levels. That not all the people who are expected to take trainings may have the necessary skills to process and understand the information that is being presented to them. When training is on a self directed basis, the level of comprehension will be directly affected by the person’s ability to learn and succeed. This is where the level of literacy will be most obvious.
I try very hard not to judge people based on appearance alone. If someone presents themselves as a well dressed, clean and somewhat upstanding citizen, it may be assumed that that person has a certain level of intelligence which has allowed them to be successful enough to create and maintain this lifestyle. If someone presents themselves as slightly scruffy, dingy, and rough around the edges then it may be equally assumed that they could have a lesser degree of intelligence than example one. This particular line of thinking would prove the adage “when you assume, it makes an ass out of you and me”. However, I have met some very well dressed people who were dumber than a bag of hammers. I’ve also met some people who look like they scout out the local garbage cans for their meals and they have proven to be surprisingly insightful and intelligent.
Today was not the day where that adage was going to be questioned. These ladies presented as example two and went on to prove it. Both had barely passed 30 and yet one had dentures already and one had teeth so black you would think she had sucked a piece of coal before walking in the door. They had the requisite stringy, bi-colored hair that hadn’t seen a decent cut in years and the clothing of those that frequently shopped the bargain barrel of the local charity shop. As I sat at my desk and kept the ears open, the situation evolved like this. It turns out that these two ladies were sisters. They each had a learning disability. One could not read and one could not write. Yet they would need both these skills in order to complete the online training. What emerged was a very interesting coping skills situation where one would read the questions and one would type the answers. And they both had to complete the training so the situation switched after one had completed the training but in name only. They still had to maintain the same roles as typist and reader otherwise neither of them would have successfully completed the training. I was really impressed by how they coped and when they struggled how they accepted my help. These two ladies were going to give of their time to the organization that I work for and they were willing to do whatever it took to complete the membership process. That requires a certain level of commitment that I don’t see very often. Once they had completed the training, they loaded up the stroller and went out to catch their bus. I don’t think either of them will ever know what kind of impact they had on me that day.
It was something that I’ll never forget. It forced me to look at several things about my life. The first being that I had won a golden ticket by being born into the family that I had been although it took that experience in addition to a couple of others to truly appreciate how the lottery could have turned out. I was exposed to culture and literature and music and art growing up. I was afforded the luxury of post secondary education and examples of parents that both worked outside the home. The second was that by exposing my children to the same things and making sure that they get to the library every week, I have hopefully helped them to avoid the pitfalls and biases that face those who struggle with literacy. I had never realized the importance of that role in my parenting play. I was simply exposing my children to my interests and lucky for me (and them) they also have the reading gene. After seeing what these ladies have to struggle with every day, it will keep me ever vigilant about watching my children and their education. It is experiences like this that people for the most part don’t even register or ponder except to say, “phew – glad that isn’t me”. What they don’t realize is that the only difference between them and the people who struggle is the ability to decipher the letters on the page in front of them. This is much the same as the difference between those begging on the streets and those walking by. As a friend once pointed out, they only difference between the two is the change in one’s pockets. What can make the difference between the skills people have or don’t have, are the changes that needs to happen to even the playing field both by those limited in the skills necessary to succeed and by those who make the skills necessary to succeed.
I will forever be grateful not to be held back by not having the necessary skills to succeed other than the bravery to try. Those two ladies that day inspired me to try harder. If they can face their disabilities and succeed in spite of them for succeed they did that day, then what right do I have to not even try ?