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Award Report: Improving Health Literacy Skills of Low-Literate Adults–Literacy Volunteers of New Jersey

Navigating the U.S. healthcare system is extremely challenging. Two decades of research indicate that today’s health information is presented in ways that are not usable by most Americans, and low-literate adults have less ability to understand and act on health care information when compared to peers with average literacy skills.

This past year, with support from a MAR Health Literacy Award, Literacy Volunteers of New Jersey (LVNJ) offered a series of seven workshops to encourage an increased focus on health literacy within adult literacy programs. LVNJ provides support for 21 programs throughout New Jersey that train volunteers to teach adults to read, write, and communicate in English. Workshops were offered in Mercer, Middlesex, Union, Morris, Monmouth, and Essex counties and were attended by a total of 89 participants.

The first workshop in the series was created for adult literacy program leaders and trainers, who increased their knowledge of health literacy and explored ways to reduce health disparities by working with local health care organizations and providers. Five workshops were geared towards tutors, who examined the changing definitions of health literacy, the impact of low literacy on health, and the role that culture plays in determining health practices and beliefs.  They identified some of the many literacy tasks needed to understand and act on health information and learned how to incorporate skill-building activities into tutoring sessions. Finally, LVNJ piloted a workshop for adult learners on reading medicine labels, using materials from Staying Healthy: An English Learner’s Guide to Health Care and Healthy Living, published by Florida Literacy Coalition. Adult students in this session learned about different kinds of medicines, how to read medicine labels, and how to understand warning labels.

This project provided support to LVNJ’s goal of helping low-literate adults build the skills required to make informed health choices, reduce health risks, and live healthier lives.

Jessica Tomkins, Executive Director
Literacy Volunteers of New Jersey

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