Digital City Brings Attention to the Devastating Impact of Illiteracy in the United States

A powerful visualization of the extent of illiteracy in the United States has been unveiled today in the form of ‘IlliteraCity’.

Supported by Actor and Activist, Idris Elba, in conjunction with Project Literacy a global campaign founded by digital education company Pearson, the city has been launched to bring to light the many real world problems that people who cannot read and write face.

‘IlliteraCity’ was constructed from real-world demographics and statistics around literacy, and was created to provide a startling representation of the ramifications illiteracy can have on a city and its residents, from issues such as gender inequality to unemployment and homelessness.

Astonishingly, if this city were real it would have a population of 32 million, the current number of adults in the U.S. who do not have basic reading and writing skills.

A physical model of the city has been built in paper by artist Sam Pierpoint and then digitized into an interactive user experience, which the general public can visit here:

Facts and stats from ‘IlliteraCity’:

  • There are twice as many female residents, because two thirds of the world’s 750m adults who lack basic literacy skills are women
  • Unemployment is rife, because data show that the unemployment rate can quadruple in areas of low literacy
  • Residents suffer from poor health, because with limited literacy skills, they have greater difficulty accessing information on how to manage or prevent illness and disease. For example, women with post-primary education are five times more likely to be educated on the topic of HIV and AIDS
  • Half of the residents are homeless, as data shows that 51% of people who are homeless lack the basic literacy skills needed for everyday life
  • People are more likely to become trapped in a cycle of crime, as those who were previously incarcerated are four times more likely to end up back in prison when they do not have adequate access to literacy programs.

Illiteracy is one of the societal barriers that can leave individuals trapped in a cycle of crime, as they are unable to attain vocational work or lasting careers

Visitors to ‘IlliteraCity’ can help build more literate futures by joining the Project Literacy community. In doing this, they will see the city transform into ‘LiteraCity’ – an embodiment of the positive impact increased literacy can have.

People will be able hear stories from residents of the newly literate community, who have overcome their literacy challenges and also find out more about how Project Literacy partners are helping tackle the problem in communities around the world.

Idris Elba, Actor, Activist and Project Literacy Ambassador said: “When I first started working with Project Literacy, I was shocked at how interlinked literacy levels were with some of the world’s greatest social and economic issues – and now ‘IlliteraCity’ brings these issues even more starkly to light. One of the challenges of illiteracy is that it is a hidden problem; I hope through IlliteraCity we can bring greater attention to one of the greatest humanitarian issues of our time.”

Jennifer Young, Project Literacy Spokesperson, and Director, Innovation & Partnerships at Pearson said: “Many people are not aware of the global scale and severity of this issue or that even in high-income countries like the United States, where access to education is greater, you can still have 32 million adults who cannot read or write above a third grade level. Through ‘IlliteraCity’, we hope to bring to life the devastating impact that illiteracy can have on a much broader range of issues, from gender inequality and disenfranchisement to homelessness and unemployment. With greater focus on literacy, we can go a long way to resolving some of these issues and helping those most in need. This issue goes far beyond just the ability of individuals to read and write; it’s the key to helping all people fulfill their potential.”

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