What would life be like if you were unable to read a menu, a
job application or even the label on a jar of aspirin? For thousands
of Americans, these seemingly simple tasks are all but impossible.
Many people have difficulty reading and writing because they
suffer from a learning disability that was not diagnosed while
they were in school. With special help, however, these people
can learn to read and write as well as anyone.
Among the places in the Hartford area where that help can be
found is the "Read to Succeed" program at the Greater
Hartford YMCA. Established in 1989, the program is designed specifically
for adults with reading disabilities, said Program Director Melody
Learning disabilities are more widespread than many people believe.
In fact, about one out of every six people in the United States,
including Tom Hanks, Cher and Robin Williams, have a learning
disability called dyslexia. One of the most prevalent types of
learning disabilities, dyslexia affects an individual's ability
to develop skills related to reading, including spelling and
In 1998, the National Institute for Literacy (NIL) reported that
overall, 16 percent of adults living in Connecticut - and 41
percent of those living in Hartford - are functioning at the
lowest literacy level. At this level, most people are unable
to read or write well enough to understand an ATM screen or to
take down a simple telephone message.
People who have a learning disability "need to be taught
differently than others because they process information in a
different way," said Kinder. Read to Succeed combines computer
programs with sessions of one-to-one tutoring. Students attend
classes four days a week, two hours a day, either at night or
during the day. Read to Succeed is a two-year program and the
average improvement is four grades per year.
Kinder said the average Read to Succeed student is 40 years old
and 75 percent have graduated from high school. Many have college
degrees. However, despite their diplomas, 67 percent enter the
program reading at less then a fifth grade level.
Three years ago "Joe," a Hartford resident was a part
of these statistics, said Kinder.
Joe graduated from a local public high school, where he played
football and learned to get by. Joe knew he had a problem from
the first time he tried to read. When he enrolled in the Read
to Succeed program at age 40, he was reading at a third grade
As is often the case because learning disabilities are inherited
genetically, Joe's sister had difficulty learning to read as
well. Unfortunately, she did not have a sport to help her "get
by" and so she dropped out. Kinder said this is the case
for many kids affected with reading disabilities - dropping out
of school out of frustration and in order to prevent themselves
Joe said he looked into local literacy programs that were not
designed specifically for people with learning disabilities.
However, because Joe has an above average level of intelligence,
the programs were too easy. Upon completing one of the programs,
he was still not at the level of reading he desired.
Finally, Joe went for a free screening at the Read to Succeed
program, found out what his problem was and enrolled. After three
years, having taken some time off in between, Joe is now on his
last book. He will graduate shortly, along with 15 or so other
students. Having entered the program reading at a third grade
level, he is now reading at the level of a junior in college.
As he explained, "the more I read, the better I get."
The Read to Succeed program is equipped for about 30 students,
with 15 graduating annually.
Poor spelling, mispronunciation of some words and the reversing
of letters or numbers are indicators that someone has a reading
If this is the case for you or someone you know, or if you are
interested in becoming a volunteer tutor, call Read to Succeed
at 522- 4183, ext. 322.