“Persons with disabilities, “the world’s largest minority”, have generally poorer health, lower education achievements, fewer economic opportunities and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities. This is largely due to the lack of services available to them (like information and communications technology (ICT), justice or transportation) and the many obstacles they face in their everyday lives. These obstacles can take a variety of forms, including those relating to the physical environment, or those resulting from legislation or policy, or from societal attitudes
Much of this applies to people with dyslexia — our community faces higher dropout rates, mental health issues, abuse and homelessness, un/underemployment- and the list goes on.
Dyslexia is the most common of all learning disabilities, affecting an estimated 10% of the population worldwide. It is considered an “invisible” disability, because you can’t see it (though if you know the signs, you can’t miss it!).
Many people with dyslexia don’t like the word “disability” and prefer it to be described as “learning difference.” However, you need a psychologist to diagnosis a learning disability in order to qualify for accommodations or support at school or work; and psychologists typically talk in terms of “disabilities.”
What barriers do people with dyslexia face?
A barrier is something that holds a person back — and often times, these barriers are not the disability itself but something that is “man-made.” That could be a building that isn’t accessible to someone in a wheelchair or a website that isn’t accessible to a person with visual or hearing impairments. Once those barriers are removed, they can lead a “normal” life (however you define that) and contribute more fully to society.
For dyslexic people, barriers look like this:
1. Lack of support and awareness at school – Many schools don’t understand or recognize dyslexia; they don’t identify or provide accommodations, interventions and support to children with dyslexia (and worse – penalize and punish our children).
2. Financial costs – Without school services, parents must pay for a psychological assessments to get a diagnosis; then they must hire private tutors to teaching reading and math; and then there may be the need to hire occupational therapists, psychologists, etc. This continues into adulthood.
3. Lack of support and awareness at work – Many employers don’t understand or recognize dyslexia; they don’t provide accommodations for employees with dyslexia; although it’s considered discrimination in Canada, they may even refuse to hire a person with dyslexia.
4. Lack of support and awareness in healthcare, public services and business – It’s hard to find dyslexia-friendly information or services, such as receiving written information in alternate formats, accessible websites, accommodations for language training at work, or mental health care that recognizes the dyslexia-anxiety connection.
5. Lack of awareness and prejudice in society – Deeply entrenched societal attitudes based on ignorance and fear stigmatize and create shame for children and adults with dyslexia. The word “stupid” is a scar carried for life by even the most successful dyslexic.
What is the impact of these barriers?
Dyslexia in and of itself need not be a barrier to success.
However, structural barriers and discrimination do prevent us from achieving our full potential as human beings. According to Dyslexia International:
“Without identification and effective intervention, the impact of dyslexia can be significant and long-lasting not only for the individual, but for society at large.
The long-term effects of dyslexia on young adults include school failure, depression, increased risk of suicide, delinquency and reoffending.
Without adequate literacy skills to read signs, fill in forms or write emails, social integration is beyond the reach of young people with dyslexia who have no choice but to remain dependent on society.
Surveys show that among the high percentage of illiterate people in prison, a disproportionate number will have dyslexia.”
Literacy is a basic human right. It’s not OK to teach some children to read. We need to teach all children to read, write and work with numbers – and that means recognizing that children (and adults) learn and think differently.
Doing so would change the world.
“On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, let us remove physical and cultural barriers, build resilient societies and create opportunities that truly leave no one behind.” ~United Nation’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities
- International Day of Persons with Disabilities – 3 December
- Dyslexia around the world – International Dyslexia Association
- The problem – Dyslexia International
- Millions have dyslexia, few understand it (NPR, Nov. 2016)
- The opportunity to succeed: Achieving barrier-free education for students with disabilities (Ontario Human Rights Commission)
- Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
- Ontario Ministry of Education – Special Education
- Supreme Court of Canada, in Moore v. British Columbia (Education), 2012 SCC 61 (CanLII)
- Summary Moore v. British Columbia (2016-05-02 modified)
On November 9, 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that:“…adequate special education, therefore, is not a dispensable luxury. For those with severe learning disabilities, it is the ramp that provides access to the statutory commitment to education made to all children…”.