Born in 1959 with dyslexia, my “learning disability” created an arduous journey for me, my parents, and educators, finding out what dyslexia can do, how it can create, and after a long road, how it can be considered a “gift.” For those persons who have been diagnosed with dyslexia today, life can be less arduous and become exciting once the person is provided with the available tools. Today is a technical dream come true world for those who struggle with the printed word.
For most who knew me growing up, they would probably call me the class clown in elementary school, the crazy guy in high school and the fun guy in college. Inside, though, was a brewing storm of lack of self-worth, feeling empty with lack of knowledge from books and the “self-titled” dark horse of the family. All of these clouds of deceit kept either me or others away from the truth. We are all made perfect when we receive the gifts of our Maker. I grew up in a compassionate, Christ oriented and successful family, of which I struggled to feel academically a part of due to my inability to process the printed word.
In 1967, the validation of my inability to learn with the then current way of teaching was documented and defined as Dyslexia at the University of Miami, much to the relief of my parents. My parents were struggling with the difficulty I had learning. My normal way of school life abruptly ended when I was placed in a school for students with special needs. It did not last long, but the remembrance that the drug line, my drug was Ritalin, was longer than the lunch line, was a constant reminder I was not considered normal when compared to the educational world I had just come from. After about 6 months, I was pulled from the "pharmaceutical (One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest) school" back into the mainstream and was then tutored in reading until the early days of middle school. Back then, and even today, a good question to ask is how long do you teach a child to read? To an educator, the answer is you never stop teaching a person to read; to the dyslexic the answer is, “please embrace the way I consume the printed word.” To teach me how to read is to tell me that I cannot read and I am not going to succeed like my peers. It ushers me to the back of the bus and lays upon me, the guilt which comes from feeling different and inadequate when it comes to processing the printed word.
Four foot heirs to a ten-foot throne
With its rusted out dishwashers
And its ivy grown Home.
It may become theirs with a form of neglect, or it may bloom to be theirs with religious care.
They are our flowers
which some will turn to weeds.
Weeds which are our own from unmet needs.
So to the chieftains, Mayors,
and unlikely parents,
to caring hands, kisses and well packed lunch boxes.
What is it that we want to pass on,
is it hoops and snares to our four foot heirs?
Or is it our dreams which become their dreams to a wonderful kingdom.
Which will be their new thrones?
Poem by Davis Graham, after visiting a ground breaking event for a Learning Disabled facility for LD students.
The damage that ensues from feeling inadequate is immense! Most self-worth slowly leaks away one spoken word at a time. One such occurrence was at a conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado, when the keynote speaker came up to speak and held up a book. The keynote addressed the 400 plus crowd by saying everyone should read this book titled “Good to Great" by Jim Collins. As soon as I heard “everyone should read this book," I sank into depression because I knew I would never be able to passionately read the book. Immediately I wanted to numb the shadow of failure which followed me around because of my past failures with the ever waiting fillers of darkness this world is so quick to provide. Those failures were from High school with a SAT scores of 650 timed and 800 untimed. In my senior year my high school counselor told me I would never make it through college; his words initially came true with not just one but 2 academic suspensions from 2 separate colleges within a 2 and a half year time span. Thank goodness it was not 2014 where I would have an FCAT/PARCC score follow me around constantly telling me I am a failure as early as elementary school, not to mention how test scores allow peers to validate their teasing the person who is different and has a failing FCAT/PARCC score and left behind. Even today there are no accommodations for the print disabled student for the reading sections for the FCAT testing. As for me, I persevered and graduated from the University of South Florida in 1985 with BA in Psychology.
Today, these failures are successes and the finish line is now a starting line; I survived, there are many that do not. The statistics are atrocious. Our education system is passing up some of the most creative students by pushing the testing aside to diagnose them with the gift of dyslexia. To be diagnosed is one thing, but to provide the tools to succeed is an invitation into the world of the printed word, which can become a virtual experience with everyday life which is exciting and looked at with renewed expectation.
In 2013 I was offered to go back to graduate school, although I would not go back without receiving accommodations in the form of receiving my books in a digital format, in addition to having longer time to take tests and turn in papers. In order to receive these accommodations, I needed to be reevaluated through a battery of tests to validate my print disability. So today, after being re-credentialed in 2013 with the gift of dyslexia, I am a graduate student at Brandeis University. I am going into my fifth semester towards earning a Masters of Science in Health and Medical Informatics. In 2013, I was honored to be asked to represent Brandeis University as their attending Scholar at the 2013 Health Connect Conference Sponsored by Partners.org. My most recent accomplishment outside of achieving academic excellence in my last 4 semesters is recently winning an essay contest sponsored by Eric Siegel who is an author and graduate of Brandeis University and founder of Predictive Analytics World.
How do I now thrive in the "academic" world? I use assistive technology. To get a taste of assistive technology, all you have to do is look at any Apple iDevice. For iOS 7: Go to settings, general, accessibility, speak selection, turn it on and turn on the highlighted words and adjust the speed or for iOS 8: Go to settings, general, accessibility, Speech, then turn "on" Speak Selection, Speak Screen, adjust speed, and turn "on" Highlight content . Then go to any text, such as a news article, highlight the words, and instead of copying, press "speak." Or with iOS 8 swipe two fingers down from the "very" top of the screen and it will begin to read the text. This is a simple illustration of the power Steve Jobs has given those who have the gift, as he did, of dyslexia. Voice Dream Reader is another text to speech Apple application for $9.99, although schools can get a very hefty discount for their students, all students. Then for those who have the documented print disability, Bookshare is the digital library come true for all those who have the qualifying disabilities.
I am still my own advocate until the rest of the world catches up by overhauling the archaic delivery system of education to one which is electronically and technologically advanced to empower those persons with the tools which enable them to consume the printed word. So today for my graduate classes, I write the textbook publisher asking for the person in charge of providing permission to send an alternative format of the textbook to me, the person with the print disability. They send me the form for my school to fill out; the school fills out the information needed, signs it, sends it back to the publisher and receives the book in an alternative format. I prefer the PDF format and I am off to reading. I consume/read most of my books on my iPhone. When I want to make a note, I dictate in “notes” speech to text and if I do not know a definition of a word I ask Siri or Google for the definition to be read to me. At work I use Dragon Dictation to dictate written communications. I read with text-to-speech software such as Balabolka and at conferences I take my notes with Xmind note taking software. The last 2 software programs mentioned are free, as is Dragon dictation on the iPhone.
For all those parents and children/students who have the gift of dyslexia, it only feels like a gift when you receive the proper tools, and once you receive those tools your determination and perseverance which has delivered you to this point in life explodes into one of expectation and a thirst for knowledge to be applied to the intelligence you have always had.
Today, I tutor students with assistive technology and speak words of encouragement to those who seek me out. I am blessed and remain gifted with the gift of dyslexia.