This study explores the impact of limited literacy skills on the lives of English Gypsies and Irish Travellers. It demonstrates that low levels of literacy do not affect personal, intra or inter community communication, but impact negatively on communication with public officials and institutions. Drawing on current theories of discourse, power and control, the study shows difficulties in utilising the language and discourses of bureaucracy hinder effective communication and limit their agency and ability to influence decisions affecting their lives. The study also shows that the discourses of dominant sedentary groups construct and maintain negative attitudes towards Gypsies and Travellers which result in limiting their educational opportunities and knowledge of other discourses. Additionally many Gypsies and Travellers fear formal education will lead to loss of identity, acculturation and assimilation. The study critiques dominant theories of literacy and suggests greater attention should be given to the acquisition of language and discourse skills.