2018. It was a banner year for dyslexia awareness. The trend towards “neurodiversity”, “inclusion” and “accessibility” helped strengthen our community, making 2018 the year that dyslexia pride was born. Will this translate into real change in the lives of dyslexics? Let’s see what happens in 2019.
- The dyslexic community is getting loud and proud: Internationally, dyslexics are telling their own stories and creating community like never before.
- Grassroots advocacy creating change: In the US, by the end of 2018, all but 3 states had dyslexia bills/laws, driven by the grassroots efforts of parent-led Decoding Dyslexia, and the tireless work of organizations like Yale Centre for Dyslexia and Creativity. In the UK, Made by Dyslexia challenged the world to see the value of dyslexia. And here in Canada, for the first time, landmarks were lit up red for dyslexia awareness month.
- Employers warming up to the idea of inclusion: Employers are talking about the benefits of hiring and supporting workers with learning and attention issues. Governments are putting laws in place to encourage diversity in hiring, advocates are setting out the business case for inclusion. Still, many dyslexics are wondering if it’s safe to actually reveal their true selves to employers. Is it time yet?
- More educhatter about how to teach reading and support dyslexic students: While some educators are stuck on the myth that parents need to read more to their children, 2018 definitely saw more people asking, “why are so many students failing to read?” and talking about “reading science.” In Canada, we saw the release of statistics showing that more than one in ten students fall below literacy standards, and that mental health-related and learning disabilities are the most common types of disabilities reported. We also saw the medical community move faster than the education community in calling for early identification and interventions for children with learning disabilities.
I’ve put together a list of 18 (plus) people and projects that stand out for advancing dyslexia rights in Canada and around the world in 2018.
Top 18 in 2018
1. Dyslexics telling their own stories:
It was exciting to see so many diverse stories from adult dyslexics around the world, each story unique but with a common theme: Yes, we face challenges, but we want you to see our strengths not just our weaknesses. So much diversity and so much commonality. We are a community.
Here are some stand-outs from 2018:
- Nigel Beale, aka “The Dyslexic Professor” | Academic, UK | He has a become a role model for dyslexic academics by sharing his own journey on the blog Dyslexic Professor.
- Richard Branson | Entrepreneur and advocate, UK | Tirelessly devoted to dyslexia awareness, he ramped it up in 2018 as a spokesperson for Made by Dyslexia.
- Paul Dewar | Former MP/human rights advocate/teacher, Canada | Paul is a personal hero of mine; In 2018 he was diagnosed with a terminal illness, but continues to share his message of hope.
- Edwin Ugwuodo | Lawyer/advocate, Nigeria | A recent law school graduate, Edwin is raising awareness of dyslexia in Nigeria, and inspiring dyslexics everywhere with his personal story, My Battle with Dyslexia: The Travail of an ambitious Nigerian Kid.
- Jackie French | Author, Australia | This best-selling author gave a much-needed contribution to the “reading wars” in 2018, showing that dyslexic voices are truly needed in the literacy debate.
- Kate Griggs | Dyslexia advocate and founder of Made by Dyslexia (TedxTalks), UK | This dyslexia advocate aims to change how the world sees dyslexia.
- LeDerick Horne |Poet, speaker, advocate, US |See #10 on this list for more.
- Ingvar Kamprad | IKEA founder, Sweden. | Sadly, we said goodbye to this great dyslexic entrepreneur in 2018. While his loss was mourned, his talents were celebrated.
- Brent Sopel | Athlete/advocate, Canada/US | See #16 for more
2. Best social media tool for community building
Gone are the days when dyslexics and their parents need to suffer silently. Head on over to Twitter and you’ll find famous and not-so famous dyslexics, parents of dyslexics, neuroscientists, reading specialists, tutors, writers and advocates sharing stories, ideas, resources and support. I love @clothmother for her compelling mini-stories about her son’s journey with dyslexia, @thinkpix_suze for her creative and dyslexia positive teaching methods, and my dyslexia peeps @DifferentlyMike, @NeilMilliken, @TheLifeDyslexic, @AdultswDyslex, @BadPoemz, @amazingdyslexic, @mamtasinghal2 and @JanetteBeetham. (Sorry if I’ve missed anyone. This is just a quick list.)
3. Challenging the status quo
- Made by Dyslexia (UK)
By and for dyslexics, Made by Dyslexia created a lot of positive buzz this year. Their first global summit brought the dyslexia community together in London and virtually; they produced a series of creative and ground-breaking tools, including the Value of Dyslexia report (which I reviewed), Spelling It Out guide, Made by Dyslexia pledge and a series of videos by well-known dyslexics.
4. Dyslexia and human rights (Canada)
- Ontario Human Rights Commission
Here in Canada, dyslexia is finding a friend in the human rights community. The Ontario Human Rights Commission championed the rights of students with disabilities, including students with learning disabilities (and in 2018, they clearly stated that dyslexic children have the same right to education as all other students). They released a policy on accessible education for students with disabilities that recognized the needs of dyslexic students,
5. Dyslexia and accessibility
- Government of Canada’s first accessibility law
The Accessible Canada Act (Bill C-81) is a ground-breaking law (proposed, but soon to be passed) that will help remove barriers for Canadian citizens accessing programs, services and information from the federal government, as well as for government employees. Disability groups are concerned that the law won’t be more than window dressing, so stay tuned.
Ontario has a similar law in place, and you can follow the AODA Alliance (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance) to get updates on that.
6. Best Dyslexia Awareness Month campaign (in Canada)
- Dyslexia Canada – Mark it Read for dyslexia awareness
In October, Dyslexia Canada partnered with IG to light up landmarks in red across Canada. This was a first–and it was exciting to see the CN Tower, Niagara falls and other symbolic sites lit up to recognize dyslexia across the land.
7. Parents helping parents (Canada):
- Decoding Dyslexia-Ontario
This grass roots group is all about parents helping other parents navigate the education system in Ontario (and it’s a group I volunteer with). This year saw the launch of our new website, which is a one-of-a-kind resource for Canadian families. Check it out!
8. Best expert advice
- Nancy Young
It’s a 3-way tie!
The fantastic volunteers at the Ontario Branch of the International Dyslexia Association updated their website in 2018 and are my go-to for evidence-based information about dyslexia in Canada. They bring in Canadian and international experts to their annual conference, and offer information, resources and workshops to educators and parents in Canada.
Nancy Young is a Canadian reading, writing and spelling specialist who is busily traveling the country to educate parents and teachers in the best (and most fun!) methods to teach reading. This year, her ladder of reading went viral. Every school needs a Nancy Young!
Understood is my go-to for expert advice from around the world. In 2018, they produced a seemingly endless stream of helpful videos, articles, tips and tools. They do all this, and they do it in very positive, empowering way.
9. Medical community calling for early identification and evidence-based interventions of dyslexia in Canada
- PONDA’s Advocacy Toolkit for Literacy Based Learning Disabilities
- Ontario Psychological Association’s 2018 guidelines for assessments
PONDA is the Physicians of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Advocacy group). In 2018, they released an updated version of their advocacy toolkit for literacy based learning disabilities (namely, dyslexia). The goal is to promote “evidence based interventions for children with literacy based learning disabilities in all schools in the province of Ontario.” This is a laudable goal, and one that Ontario parents have been calling for (So…I hate to quibble, but I’d love to see the next version of the guide specifically name structured literacy methods like Orton-Gillingham.)
In October 2018, the Ontario Psychological Association’s updated its Guidelines for Diagnosis and Assessment of Children, Adolescents, and Adults with Learning Disabilities (page 22) recommending that children be screened for learning disabilities as early as kindergarten or grade 1 in order to provide effective intervention.
10. Best advocates for diversity and disability
- LeDerick Horne (US)
- Ameer Baraka (US)
Both of these dyslexia advocates are strong voices for intersectionality within the learning disability rights movement. Intersectionality recognizes that we experience disability differently depending on our gender, age, socio-economic status, sexuality, race and culture.
- Advocate, speaker and poet LeDerick Horne was a force to be reckoned with this year. He produced a series of videos celebrating Black history and people with disabilities, and in this latest video for Understood, he shares his experience as an African American with learning and attention issues. He’s one of those rare individuals who gently challenges me (in a good way) to see and do things in a different way.
- Actor and advocate Ameer Baraka is using his voice to send an important message: “you can’t have prison reform without educational reform” and that we must end the “streets to prison pipeline.” His work is a constant reminder that our dyslexic brothers and sisters in prison are some of the most vulnerable members of our community, and must be included in our advocacy work.
11. Best non-fiction
- The illustrated guide to dyslexia and its amazing people
- Dyslexia is my superpower (most of the time)
This a tie. Both fantastic resources for students, teachers and parents. Both by the same publisher (Jessica Kingsley).
The illustrated guide to dyslexia and its amazing people by Kate Power and Kathy Iwanczak Forsyth was a Guardian Bookshop and Amazon bestseller and for good reason (read my review)!
Dyslexia is my superpower (most of the time) by Margaret Rooke lets the true dyslexia experts–children with dyslexia–do the talking.
Bonus: Richard Branson (perhaps the world’s most famous dyslexic) released the paperback of his autobiography Finding My Virginity in 2018. I haven’t had the chance to read it, but have enjoyed his commentary about writing the book (“This man has dyslexia and has actually written a book”).
12. Best fiction
- Once Upon A Time A Sparrow by Mary Avery Kabrich (US)
Mary Avery Kabrich is a school psychologist and writer. I reviewed her novel, Once Upon A Time A Sparrow, in 2018. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to see inside the head of a young dyslexic girl learning to read (and how that trauma affected her as an adult). Mary’s memory for detail helped me better understand my own journey, as I think I blocked much of it out. ;-(
13. Best art project
- The Dyslexia Portrait by Kate Harr (UK)
Kate Harr is a photographer, also dyslexic, who created The Dyslexia Portrait to share people’s personal experiences with dyslexia in a visual way. In 2019, she is continuing her studies and goes into schools and organisations to “deliver workshops to students that allow them to build confidence in their own skills, and express their difficulties – and creativity – through art and photography.” Hire Kate today!
14. Best journalism (international)
- Hard Words (Why aren’t kids being taught to read) by Emily Hanford (APM Reports)
The facts presented in this well-researched article won’t surprise dyslexics, but it seems to be surprising some educators. Hanford has taken some heat from the usual suspects (the reading wars are alive and well), but her article is making a lot of people sit up and take notice of the “millions of kids who are being set up to fail.” Hope you read it.
15. Best journalism (Canada)
- Ryan Jesperson, CHED (Edmonton) interview with Dyslexia Canada
- Jennifer Palma, Global News (Vancouver), three-part series on dyslexia in British Columbia
So…dyslexia is pretty much invisible in the national Canadian media. But I was impressed by some excellent local and regional new coverage.
Radio interview with Dyslexia Canada Executive Director Christine Staley by Ryan Jesperson at 630 CHED in Edmonton: I love how sincerely curious he was, and he asked some great questions. Christine’s answers are spot-on. Take a listen: 15-20% of children in the classroom have dyslexia.
Three-part series by Jennifer Palma of Global news: Remapping Dyslexia; Advocates say more funding needed; Lack of funding in B.C. makes helping students with dyslexia a challenge. (Kudos to Cathy McMillan, @DyslexiaBC).
16. Best journalism about dyslexia by a dyslexic
- Lisa Wood Shapiro
- Brent Sopel
Retired hockey player Brent Sopel‘s story “Lost in my mind” was featured on Canada’s sport network TSN. It’s a gripping story, well told. This is also a “coming out” story, and given how revered hockey players are to kids it will go a long way to helping others.
17. Best tech business
Microsoft is working as a partner with the dyslexia community to expand access to technology designed to empower. In 2018, they signed a pledge with Made By Dyslexia to give “the 700 million people around the world with dyslexia technology, free intervention and training materials.” Check out their tools for inclusive classrooms. Of course, all of this is good for business too.
18. Best newsletter
- Dyslexic Advantage
If we got all of these people into one room–can’t you just imagine energy? We could change the world!
In 2019, I hope we see:
- greater inclusion of dyslexic voices in the creation of programs, policies and services (education, health care, legislation, etc.), as well as within dyslexia organizations
- real change in schools and workplaces
- greater awareness of dyslexic strengths, and more support for dyslexic weaknesses
Happy New Year!