News & Blog: Community

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Mark Peters: The Hidden Issue of Low Literacy

Mark Peters is the CEO of Butterball Farms, Inc. and the Chair of the Literacy Center's Donor Development committee

Mark PetersLiteracy. Why is it important?  Well, if you are reading this, you may actually take your literacy for granted.  But imagine for a moment that reading this was a matter of life and death. Maybe your own, or maybe that of a loved one. Imagine that this paragraph was the dosage instructions for one of your parent’s heart medicines, and you could not read it.  The reality is that 10-15% of the adult population in West Michigan would not be able understand this paragraph.

Sad? Yes. It makes me sad because I get so much joy from reading. From great books, to the learning I get to do on all sorts of topics. To be locked out of the opportunity for personal enjoyment and development because I could not read would not only be sad for me, but tragic.

Beyond sad to scary? Yes. As an employer and a food manufacturer, I am faced with the ever-increasing complexity of compliance regulations and measurement standards, both on the food safety and workplace safety fronts. If the people coming to work in my organization cannot understand work and safety instructions, the costs could be huge.

Again, this issue is hidden from most of us. But if you stop to consider how often you might encounter someone who has not attained an adequate literacy level, you may be surprised.  Ever eat in restaurant?  Go to the grocery store? Buy a car? Clothes? Go to the hospital? Fly on an airplane? Use public transportation? Take a taxi or an Uber? There are many people who have a very low level of literacy and have learned how to compensate for a larger literacy deficit. They have managed to get jobs and, once hired, quietly struggle to hide their secret in order to keep that job.

Just think about it as you go through your life. If you think you might like to help make an impact on this problem, contact the Literacy Center of West Michigan.

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