International Day of Persons with Disabilities: Can you see me?

invisible-disability

I have a learning disability difference. You can’t see it, but it’s real.

I felt its sting when I was a child in school, when you asked me to read out loud, when you told me I’d never learn math, when you said I’d never go to university. As an adult, I see it every time I pick up a book, read a recipe, write an essay, fill out tax forms, drive my car or go for a job interview.

It hasn’t always been easy, but I have adapted.

The hardest part is how you see me – and how you don’t.

My disability difference is dyslexia, the most common learning disability difference in the world. It affects an estimated 15-20% of the population across every race, culture, class and gender.

And yet, dyslexia is largely unknown, unsupported and ignored. Some days, I feel we are invisible. Other days, I feel we are completely misunderstood.

We can (and do) learn to read and write with effective instruction and interventions – though this is often denied to us despite being protected under Canadian law.

We have been found to be very creative and have many cognitive strengths. Further, dyslexia is not an indicator of intelligence – many dyslexics are also intellectually gifted. Yet the belief persists that we are stupid, lazy or intellectually impaired.

We play, live and work among you – often hiding our disability difference for fear of judgement and discrimination.

This makes it almost impossible to get the help we need to succeed.

Without support, we are at higher risk of dropping out of school, going to prison, and developing a mental illness. And the worst part is that it affects children disproportionately.

It’s time to recognize and remove these barriers – not just for people with dyslexia but for all people who live with physical, emotional or cognitive differences.

Today, on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the UN reports that:

“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 or discrimination.”

What barriers do people with dyslexia face?

1. Lack of educational support or awareness – 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?

Let me state this clearly – 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 15-20% of 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

More information

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…”.

 

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