Watch CBSN Live

New Reader Is -- 70

Better late than never -- and Alferd Williams is living proof.

Williams, of St. Joseph, Mo., finally learned to read -- at the ripe young age of 68.

Now 70, Williams, his teacher, Alesia Hamilton, and some of his classmates at Edison -- Elementary School -- appeared on The Early Show Friday.

Williams says things we all take for granted -- like finding your way around town and stores -- are much tougher when you can't read. He always wanted to, but as the son of a sharecropper, was helping his parents in the fields at a time when most kids are learning the 3 "Rs."

So he took it upon himself to approach Hamilton about the first "R," and she decided to give it a try with him, and Williams learned to read when he was 68.

Williams says he always knew the importance of going to school, since he saw how his dad was mistreated because he couldn't read.

Hamilton calls Williams the perfect student. He turns into a seven-year-old, she says. The kids treat him like a friend. He doesn't try to be an authority figure, and does what the kids do. He laughs with the best of them, and his laugh is really contagious.

Williams plans to take his newly-learning skills all the way to college. He tells the kids what he's been through, and that, if he could have gone to school at their age, he could have done anything, but you can learn anything you want to learn -- if you want to learn and, if you don't learn it now, you'll miss out on so many things in life.

Williams read for the Early Show cameras.

About 30 million adults in the United States are unable to read basic text, such as directions or medical instructions, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, released in 2005 by the U.S. Department of Education. The most common causes include undiagnosed learning disabilities, inadequate schools, and parents who are poor readers, says David C. Harvey, president of ProLiteracy Worldwide, a nonprofit advocacy group. The consequences can be devastating: Low literacy has been linked to unemployment and poverty. Those who want to better their reading skills should explore community-based adult-education programs, which offer group instruction as well as volunteer tutors with flexible schedules. "People can change their lives completely by improving their literacy," Harvey says. For more information:; the National Institute for Literacy,
View CBS News In