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Can you go 5 minutes without reading? Literacy organizations issue challenge

Two women sit at a table with books in front of them
Literacy Buffalo Niagara
A volunteer tutors a community member in their reading skills at Literacy Buffalo Niagara.

If you're reading this, you've already lost the challenge.

To mark International Literacy Day, Sept. 8, New York literacy organizations are challenging people to go five minutes without reading. The challenge aims to highlight how difficult it can be to get through the day with low literacy.

"The way that we are highlighting illiteracy in our community is by asking folks to try to stop reading for five minutes. And maybe it'll be easier for some than others, but we take it for granted how often we read," said Literacy Buffalo Niagara Executive Director Tara Schafer.

According to Literacy New York, about 25% of adults are considered “low literate” in New York. In Erie and Niagara counties alone, according to Schafer, 143,000 individuals have low literacy.

She suggested the causes of low literacy are often larger than an individual or out of their control. The reasons may include educational inequity, coming to the U.S. from another country or having a learning disability.

"It's often an issue that people do not want to discuss. And it makes sense. It sometimes can be embarrassing, it can be shameful. And we're really trying to turn this into an opportunity for individuals that need our help to recognize that and come visit us," Schafer said.

Literacy Buffalo Niagara helps people gain literacy skills through volunteer-led programs. As part of the challenge, they're asking anyone who can't make it to five minutes without reading to instead consider a donation to a literacy organization.

Emyle Watkins is an investigative journalist covering disability for WBFO.