Rachael Van Horn
Woodward, Okla. —
Recent studies by the Centers for Disease Control have indicated a clear connection between the ability to read and a person's health.
"We know there is a real and measurable connection between low literacy skills and poor health," said Oklahoma Department of Libraries Literacy Coordinator Leslie Gelders. "We know 40 percent of our fellow Oklahomans may have limited reading skills and we know our state consistently ranks toward the bottom in terms of our health."
For that reason, ODL and the Oklahoma Department of Health have partnered last year to host Oklahoma's first Health Literacy Summit.
That summit brought together more than 200 tutors, adult new learners and health providers who learned about plain language techniques to help communicate health issues to low-level readers, Gelders said.
Those health issues could be a simple as reading the instructions on how to take medications, to being able to understand and read discharge instructions when leaving the hospital, Gelders said.
"For instance, if you look at a pill bottle, it may say 'take two tablets orally', but some people might struggle with the word 'orally', so we worked at the summit on writing much of these type instructions down in plain language," Gelders said. "So the pill bottle may say 'take two pill by mouth'."
After the summit, local literacy councils, such as the Northwest Oklahoma Literacy Council, housed in the Woodward Public Library, received an additional grant this year from The Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services of $3,000 to begin to put those communication strategies into action, according to NWOLC Director Jan Wills.
The grant is meant to target health and literacy and will fund activities such as providing plain language materials on different health topics to hosting health and wellness classes and workshops, Gelders said.
The Northwest Oklahoma Literacy Council is a non-profit organization that receives a good portion of its meager budget from the Oklahoma Department of Libraries, the United Fund as well as public donations and a private grant from Dollar General, Wills said.
The additional funding this year allows the Northwest Oklahoma Literacy Council to provide even more opportunities to those adults who wish to learn to read, Wills said.
Northwest Oklahoma Literacy Council has grown from 36 adult students in October 2012 to 86 this year, an increase of 139 percent. Volunteer tutors are up from 3 in October of 2012 to 11, an increase of 270 percent, Wills said.
Added to that growth, is an increasingly popular fund raiser here that is helping NWOLC fill their coffers called Arts and Hors d'oeuvres.
Arts and Hors D'oeuvres features an open wine bar, a well known artist and a night of painting, art instruction and fellowship, according to event coordinator, Betsy Baker.
The events help raise funds for increasing opportunities for the all volunteer organization to offer services to those who want to read better, Baker said.
"We will also be having another one December the 10th," Baker said. "They seem to be really enjoying those events."