In their article, Keefe and Copeland (2011) focus on how definitions of literacy affect literacy opportunities for populations with extensive needs for support. The authors argue that various interpretations of literacy impact the opportunities available to people with extensive needs for support, which can either undermine or promote literacy in these populations. Keefe and Copeland (2011) indicate that literacy is widely considered to be a human right, which is why it is essential to ensure that all people have equal access to literacy instruction.
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In the first section of the article, the researchers describe some of the conflicting beliefs about the definition of literacy. For example, the United Nations’ definition of literacy implies that only those individuals who can read and write conventionally should receive literacy instruction (Keefe & Copeland, 2011). However, it is necessary to acknowledge that some people with extensive needs for support communicate their ideas in different, non-conventional ways; positioning literacy as a human right should ensure access to literacy training for all individuals, regardless of their abilities.
With regards to the U.S., the authors examine how the report of the National Reading Panel (NRP) failed to address the problem of defining literacy and to consider students with disabilities and special needs (Keefe & Copeland, 2011). This issue affects the current legislation, as it creates the problem of providing sufficient literacy instruction for people with extensive needs for support. The authors also discuss some concerns regarding the definition of literacy in education. According to Keefe and Copeland (2011), education theory presents a variety of definitions, and few of them reflect the needs of people with extensive requirements for support.
In the second part of the article, the authors propose five defining characteristics of literacy, arguing that these should be included in the definition. Keefe and Copeland (2011) stress the idea that all people are capable of learning literacy, and that literacy is a fundamental human right. The authors also consider the social and interactional aspects of literacy, stating that it includes communication and is a collective responsibility.
Overall, the authors show how modern and historical definitions of literacy caused problems for developing literacy in students with extensive needs for support, thus building a rationale for creating a new definition. The article is significant to education and literacy instruction as it shows the need for developing a comprehensive definition of literacy to promote literacy opportunities for disadvantaged populations.
Keefe, E. B., & Copeland, S. R. (2011). What is literacy? The power of a definition. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 36(3-4), 92-99.