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Literacy tutoring goes mobile and other notes on Literacy Day

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The level of adult illiteracy in Onondaga County has held steady at just above the national average for the past several years. Nearly 1-in-5 adults in central New York can’t read and write beyond an elementary school level.

But it’s not all immigrants taking up English as a second language. There are just has many adults who graduated high school but could never read as well as they should.

"If you look around you, that could be anyone," said Amy Schmitz, a spokesperson for ProLiteracy. "That could be somebody who has a job, but hides the fact they can’t read and write very well on the job."

Proliteracy is a global adult literacy education center headquartered in Syracuse.

As workplaces require more reading and a high school diploma doesn’t go as far in earning a steady, well-paying job, Schmitz said more adults are realizing literacy is key to nailing down a good career.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t still a stigma around admitting difficulty reading. Today is International Literacy Day. About 35 million Americans are considered illiterate, according to ProLiteracy, up from 30 million a decade ago.

Mobile technology is helping tutoring centers like ProLiteracy educate more people. With smartphone use nearly ubiquitous, Schimtz said mobile apps help people study when they have the time to. 

"And what better way to learn on your down time, if you’re on the bus or walking your kids to school or whatever, than to download something that helps you learn to read and write," she said.

ProLiteracy is currently working with a group of programmers to develop its own app.

Schmitz says as health care and finances become more complicated, many people are seeking help understanding the complicated world of home loans and health insurance paperwork.

Even adults that can read and write well enough for their job and lifestyle may have trouble understanding the more complicated language of health care and health insurance.

Schmitz said many adults are coming to them needing help with the new Affordable Care Act.

"That insurance law opened up a whole other can of worms, sort of speak. People need to understand how to read prescriptions, how to understand insurance policies in order to stay healthy," she said. "And those are things that a decade or two ago we weren’t necessarily paying attention to." 

That can lead to other health issues if doctor’s instructions are not followed properly.

And a similar thing can be said about the financial sector and comprehending home loans or retirement plans.