Communicating Clearly With Low Literacy Patients: A Skills Workshop

Julie McKinney, MS

Julie McKinney, MS

McKinney and Neuhauser moderated a panel discussion with adult literacy tutors and learners from Read Orange County, a local library program. The panel — tutors Barbara, Al and Fritzi, and learners Van and Jay, and Jay’s mother — shared their expertise for communicating health messages respectfully, clearly and effectively.

The co-hosts indicated that the best way to communicate is by interacting as a shared team – on equal footing, as partners who determine goals, barriers and what works well. Tutors have information about their learners before they meet, including an assessment of what the learners can and can’t do and what they want to accomplish. Tutors and learners then meet at a library or another public place for about an hour twice a week.

The tutors first establish short-term goals (perhaps reading a book) and long-term goals (e.g., getting a driver’s license). They establish a rapport and require learners to show comprehension (not yes or no). They explained that it’s important to use open-ended questions and to convey you’re there as a friend to help them. The tutors get to know their learners’ interests and family dynamics so they can relate to them, break down roadblocks and build confidence.  Each learner has strengths in other areas – not just challenges with reading and writing.

The co-hosts listed several sources for finding local literacy programs:

  • America’s Literacy Directory – lincs.ed.gov
  • Proliteracy – proliteracy.org
  • Ask your local library

At the end of the panel discussion, Jay, one of the learners, sang several bars of Louis Armstrong’s song – What a Wonderful World!