Shame and stigma appear a common accompaniment to experiences of low literacy.
Almost all the guests on the show related an instance of bullying at school, or being ignored by teachers as their literacy slipped to levels below other students.
Cynthia recalls being teased by a classmate, who saw her riding a bike and was surprised she could.
“Because she thought I couldn't read or write she thought I wouldn't be able to do anything like ride a bike or swim,” says Cynthia. “She thought, because I couldn't read and write, I was dumb at everything.”
Kye also experienced this cycle of assumed ignorance, which resulted in teachers not prioritising his learning.
“A lot of the teachers, they never used to like help me out or just leave me aside, or they used to tell me to like wait or be quiet and like help the smart kids,” he says.
“I was skipping school because, what's the point of being at school when they're not going to like help me?”
Trina Johnson, also on the show, says no-one noticed she was falling behind in her reading, spelling and numeracy at school. She made a decision to not be the subject of bulling.
“I'd ask for help and I’d just get pushed aside,” she tells Insight. “So I thought well, instead of me getting picked on, I'll be either the bully or I will start the trouble in the classroom.”
She puts it down to a different style of learning, and as she progressed through school her literacy did not improve. At thirteen, she turned to drugs and alcohol, and was expelled in Year 9.
I wouldn’t wish [low literacy] on my worst enemy. It’s been a nightmare.
She took a job working in hospitality, at KFC, managing the food processing. She was mostly able to work well, without requiring literacy skills, but remembers a day when a girl working on the front counter asked her to fill in while she went on a break.
“I was like, ‘Oh I don't know how to operate the till’. She goes, ‘Oh it's pretty simple’ … And she was probably twelve, thirteen years-old, and I think I was about eighteen and I just turned and said ‘Look, I can't read it. I literally cannot read it’,” says Trina.
“And she goes, ‘What, you can't read?’”
“You live with shame,” says Mark Hopkins, another guest on the show. “I have for many years. It's something you just become accustomed to and, you know, that's your way of life. You think that, as a young person, that's how life is or it's going to be for you.”
Mark came from a well-educated family but struggled to reach the literacy levels of his siblings. He remembers trying to avoid the shame of being called on to read or write in class, by making excuses or even skipping school.
He’s since taken adult literacy lessons and improved considerably, but the fear of being outed has stayed with him.
Jack Coenan, and other guests on the show also recount experiences of being taken advantage of by friends and family.
Jack had friends take out leases, credit cards, mobile phone plans and car loans in his name and ask him to sign the forms, telling him they were to continue renting his property, or similar believable scenarios.
“I wouldn’t wish [low literacy] on my worst enemy,” says Jack. “It’s been a nightmare.”