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date: 23 September 2017

Abstract and Keywords

The revised NASW Standards and Indicators for Cultural Competence in Social Work Practice (2015) requires social workers to “provide and advocate for effective communication with clients of all cultural groups, including people of limited English proficiency or low literacy skills, people who are blind or have low vision, people who are deaf or hard of hearing, and people with disabilities” (p. 43). This article focuses on one component of this standard—literacy, specifically health literacy. It presents a summary overview of health literacy and its implications for social work practice. It also presents the history of the concept and provides various definitions and types of health literacy as described in the literature. The authors describe the association between health literacy levels of the population, the intricacies of health systems, and their impact on health outcomes. The negative impact for marginalized populations including persons with limited English proficiency and immigrants and refugees—a major focus of the social work profession—signals the need for action at multiple levels. The authors explore a multifaceted approach to health literacy at the clinical, organizational, and policy levels with reference to the role of the social work profession.

Keywords: health literacy, health outcomes, marginalized populations, literacy

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