Learning Disabilities and Whole Life Project

The Whole Life Project | The Soul of the Project | Understanding Learning Disabilities | Advocacy | Building Relationships of Trust | Tools

A “whole-life approach” to learning disabilities recognizes that learning is social, cultural, emotional and also deeply personal. Successful strategies for people with learning difficulties attend to the “whole person” and diverse learning styles. In fact, successful learning strategies for people with learning difficulties can work for everyone.

What was the whole life project?

The “Whole Life” project was a two-year professional development and training project to support adult literacy educators to address learning disabilities (LD) in their practice settings. The project took a holistic view of learning disabilities, and aimed to support adult literacy educators in five key areas:

  • Learning about LD
  • Screening learners who may have an LD (intake strategies)
  • Creating LD-friendly settings
  • Advocating
  • Taking care of the spirit, or Supporting learners with the emotional issues that often “walk beside” LD.

Who was involved?

The “whole life” project was hosted by Literacy BC in partnership with the BC Coalition of People with Disabilities. It was funded by the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES)/HRSDC, Government of Canada. Literacy groups from all over British Columbia participated in the project through face to face training events, professional development activities in their communities, and through the project’s blog and forum.

Why was the whole life project important?

Between 10-15% of the general population has a learning disability. Learning disabilities are common, and with the appropriate support and accommodations, people with learning disabilities succeed in learning settings and live full lives. But learning disabilities may remain undiagnosed, or be inadequately accommodated in regular school settings. This has consequences for people’s social, emotional and economic well-being. According to the 2007 Putting a Canadian Face on Learning Disabilities (PACFOLD) Study:

A significant number of youth and adults with learning disabilities drop out of the education system altogether, with over one-quarter of Canadians with LD aged 22 to 29 (28.3%) reporting less than a high school certificate as their highest academic achievement, compared to 14.9% of the general population. (LDAC 2007; p.2)

Learning disabilities also have an impact on employment opportunities. In a pattern that remains constant throughout their lifetimes, just over half of adults with LD aged 30 to 44 (51%) reported being employed the week prior to the 2001 census, compared to 89.1% of the total population in the same age group. (LDAC 2007; p.5)

Canadians with learning disabilities are also two to three times more likely to report high levels of distress, depression, anxiety disorders, suicidal thoughts, and visits to a mental health professional and poorer overall mental and physical health compared to the general population (LDAC 2007; p.6).

Although adult educators have long recognized the unique learning needs of their students, there is a need for much more training and information about learning disabilities and the many ways we can support adults with difficulties learning.

Read more about the PACFOLD study.

What were the project goals?

The hope was to create a space to gather and build upon the knowledge and experience of BC and Canadian literacy educators addressing learning difficulties in their practice. Specifically, to:

  • Provide  face-to-face and online discussion opportunities to learn about issues and strategies related to learning disabilities in adult literacy settings.
  • Connect literacy educators to one another, and to resources and experts on learning disabilities.
  • Support educators to develop tools and strategies that respond to learning needs in their diverse settings.
  • Create a resource database and a web presence to support literacy educators working with adults with learning difficulties.
  • Respond to questions and issues in a timely and helpful way.


Learning Disabilities Association of Canada (LDAC). (2007). Highlights of Putting a Canadian Face on Learning Disabilities (PACFOLD). Retrieved March 28, 2012 from: www.pacfold.ca/download/WhatIs/en/Highlights.pdf