International Literacy Day
Audio of International Literacy Day
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International Literacy Day | by Tina Voizey, CENMAC Complex Needs Consultant
This year’s UNESCO International Literacy Day will be celebrated on 8 September. For over 50 years it has raised awareness “of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights, and to advance the literacy agenda towards a more literate and sustainable society.”
As a significant proportion of children using AAC have complex needs, literacy instruction can often fall by the wayside as the team around them puts priority on meeting physical, medical or sensory needs.
In response to the global impact of the Covid19 epidemic on education, UNESCO has chosen to highlight the inequity of access to meaningful instruction for the 773 million children and young people worldwide lacking basic literacy skills.
One population close to my heart contributing to this staggering number of non-literate school age children are those who use augmentative and alternative communication or AAC.
Often times AAC is put in to place to support nonverbal children when they are of an age prior to being able to read or whilst in the early stages of literacy learning. Therefore, communication supports are typically given in the form of symbol or picture charts, books or apps so the user can express themselves irrespective of their ability to read.
As a significant proportion of children using AAC have complex needs, literacy instruction can often fall by the wayside as the team around them puts priority on meeting physical, medical or sensory needs. This has led to approximately 80% of students using AAC lagging significantly behind their same aged, nondisabled peers in measures of literacy as reported by Koppenhaver, Hendrix & Williams in 2007.
Yet, having the ability to read and spell to express one’s thoughts is most crucial for those who use AAC. Using the alphabet to form words is the only way they will ever have the freedom to say exactly what they want to say to whomever they want to say it to. The best AAC symbol systems will always have limitations; sometimes due to space on a page, other times to how many pages you can put in a book, but mainly due to someone other than the AAC user choosing which words to include.
Many educators may not know where to start with providing students using AAC and with complex needs meaningful literacy instruction. The good news is, there are evidence based approaches which provide free professional development opportunities to help you get started! Teachers, speech language therapists, assistive technologist and researchers from English speaking countries such as the UK, US, Australia and Canada have shared theories, methods and practices which can help you get started. Can you think of a better way to celebrate International Literacy Day then checking one (or all!) of them out?
- Literacy for All by Candle: www.teachustoo.org.uk/candles-literacy-resources
- Shared Reader by the Centre for Literacy and Disability Studies: www.sharedreader.org
- Comprehensive Literacy for ALL by Jane Farrall: www.comprehensiveliteracy.com/
- Literacy Instruction for Students with Significant Disabilities by ERLC: literacyforallinstruction.ca
Please visit en.unesco.org/commemorations/literacyday for more information about UNESCO’s International Literacy Day.
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