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PIVOT poster for HSN symposium


Dear Fellow Dyslexics and Friends,

I know it is been a while since you've heard from us. Over the past few months Headstrong Nation has reduced its public profile to move forward with the implementation of a new program. For far too long the needs of adult dyslexics have been ignored. Most of the attention in the dyslexic/LD community has been on identification, accommodations and helping our young children with dyslexia develop their strengths so that they can move forward in the world with a sense of confidence and accomplishment. We are now taking the next step in supporting our youth as they prepare to go forward into the world of employment. As I've said before, all of these children with dyslexia and ADHD will grow up to be adults with dyslexia and ADHD. Headstrong Nation has placed itself at the transition point for these young people and we have decided to support them by creating the first symposium on the transition from college to the workplace.

On December 3, Headstrong Nation and Long Island University will host, Pivot: The Transition From Campus To Employment; How To Be Effective as a Dyslexic In The Workplace. This is the first event of what we intend to make a national movement. We are introducing this one day symposium to talk about, and share insights on, how young dyslexic college students can utilizing their skills and strengths to maximizing their impact on the job market. We are resolved to help young dyslexics to level-up and be powerful contributors to our society. We are aware of the necessity for ongoing support networks and open conversations that will expose the plight of our youth as they move forward from educational institutions that are obliged to support students, to corporate venues that are looking for stakeholders to advance their mission and the needs of their company. This is a dramatic shift in our direction and we need to determine how best to approach it to facilitate a positive outcome in our interactions with, and opportunities in, this new world.

The presenters at this conference will be: Peggy Stern, Academy award-winning filmmaker and artist, Dr. Hannah McLane, neurologist, currently doing research in Philadelphia, and myself. The day will consist of talks and breakout sessions in 3 major employment areas, science, art and business. As a take away for all the people that attend this symposium we will provide a guide book written by Natasha Yeoman and me. It outlines best practices and thoughts for college students making the transition into the workplace. Whether you are graduating in the spring or sometime in the future. If you are a parent, a teacher or a friend to some one that is dyslexic you are welcome. It is important that this message gets out and we invite you to be a part of the sharing.


Headstrong Nation has long believed in the self-determination of adult dyslexics. Through this symposium, we intend to serve this population with thoughts on preparedness and skill readiness to move into the world where our investment in education turns to manifestation. Where learning is no longer about getting a grade, but finding ways to support ourselves while offering our knowledge and skill to our employers and/or clients. This symposium is a free event and we are reaching out to dyslexics throughout the Tri-State area, to come and be proactive about your own next steps by listening to those who have come before and interacting with those that may be in your field.

Please share this information with family and friends. You can register for this event online, Eventbrite.com under pivot: a dyslexic symposium navigating the transition from college to work. Or paste the link below into your browser:

http://headstrongnation.us9.list-manage.com/track/click?u=5cdde9db11855bc72d588a6bb&id=562842eb0c&e=cc25c2bf8e

Thank you,

I hope to see you there.

Larry Banks
Board Chair Headstrong Nation

College Graduate image for Pivot:Transition from Campus to Employment

Pivot: A Dyslexic Symposium, Navigating The Transition From College To Work

Pivot is an upcoming symposium on navigating the transition from college to the work place for persons with dyslexia. Dyslexia is not something that goes away post academia. It is a lifelong profile that one must continually navigate. The transition from post secondary education to the workforce can be daunting and extremely challenging without proper guidance and support. It is important that our students, despite their struggles, know that they are not destined to a life of underemployment and obscurity. This population offers some of the best and the brightest in the world with the ability to develop into greatness. 

Featured speakers include Larry Banks, Headstrong Nation Board Chairman,  Peggy Stern, Filmmaker and Dyslexiaville CEO -  http://www.dyslexiaville.com/ and others!

Please stay tuned for more information and updates!

The symposium is open to current college students. If you know any dyslexic/LD college students in the NYC/Brooklyn and surrounding areas who may be interested in attending, please pass this information on to them and also through your social media channels so more individuals can take advantage of this unique opportunity!  You may register below for your free ticket through the Eventbrite link below!  Thank you very much!  Looking forward to seeing you at Pivot! 

 

DATE AND TIME:

Sat, December 3, 2016

9:30 AM – 4:30 PM EST


LOCATION: 

Long Island University - Brooklyn Campus Library

1 University Plaza

The Learning Library room 116

Brooklyn, NY 11201


Registration is FREE and you may obtain tickets through EVENTBRITE LINK HERE: REGISTER


Image of college student wearing mortar board for Pivot: Transition from Campus to Employment



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Thank you very much!  - The Headstrong Nation Team



 

Photo of Brian Meersma, Cornell Student and AT expert

 

My Three Favorite AT Apps


There are three AT apps that come to mind for me, as a college student with dyslexia, that are really helpful.  The first is Bookshare, which I use to read many of my books.  I can download a book very quickly and listen with a text to speech voice. There are over 400,000 titles in the Bookshare library.  It’s a great thing for me, as it opens up a lot of doors and allows me to explore my interests.

 

Learning Ally is also great, and is similar to Bookshare, except that books are narrated by human voices which some people prefer.   Having the ability to use the Learning Ally app and download books in it is really helpful for studying or reading for pleasure.  

 

The third app I really love is Voice Dream Reader.  It’s really amazing!  Just being able to throw any type of file into the app, whether Bookshare file, PDF, webpage, whatever, and to be able to tap “play” and have it read to me has been really great.  Voice Dream Reader is especially useful in college where many of the materials are online. Just having the VDR app to put these materials into and then have them read to me is huge.  The new VDR 4.0 update is also really great.  Having the ability to use the available split screen, which enables me to multi-task is really helpful. I can have VDR on one side of my screen and read my textbook, while also having something else on the other side, like a flash card application which I can use if I’d like to make flashcards from the reading.

 

Other Apps I Like

 

A few other apps I like are KNFB Reader and Prizmo. Both are apps where you can take a picture of a newspaper or page of a book and the apps read it back to you.  These are very helpful when I’m at a talk and the material is not available to me online.   To be able to just take a picture of something and literally, within a few seconds, have that text be digitized and able to be read with text to speech Is really great.  KNFB Reader and Prizmo are on my list of my most used assistive technology apps on my iPad or on my iPhone, and Bookshare and Learning Ally can be used across most devices.  I have access to whatever I need wherever I need it.

 

The Student Disability Services (SDS) and Academic Life

 

My university’s Student Disability Services office (Cornell University - SDS) has been very supportive with respect to my accommodations, understanding my needs, and helping me to communicate these needs to my professors.  The office staff seems to really stay on top of things which is very helpful  because things can get really busy.  In general, the SDS staff makes sure I have what I need in terms of accommodations.  Most of my instructors are supportive and have a good respect for the SDS, so when I give them my accommodations letter, they have an understanding of what I need and why I need it, including extended time, etc.

 

These days, I find it is much easier to blend into the college classroom while using assistive tech on my iPhone or iPad.  It’s so common, and almost all students use some kind of technology, so I can use my devices and not draw attention to myself.

 

I find the letter of accommodations from the Student Disability Services office helps me to create relationships with my professors.  My accommodations letter, which I must present to each professor at the beginning of the semester offers me a nice excuse to make an appointment with each professor during office hours to get to know him/her a little bit better. 

 

Some Accessibility Challenges

 

One of my professors had chosen to use an online quiz taking software which was inaccessible to me, so I couldn’t use my technology tools to read the quizzes and complete them .  It was pretty frustrating trying to figure out a solution.  It took a lot longer than I expected and I fell behind on several of the quizzes which was frustrating.  I was able to work with the SDS office to get the material converted into an accessible format. Then rather than using an on-line, interactive feedback system, which was inaccessible, the Cornell SDS office got the answer key from my professor, and would grade my quizzes. It was a bit of a longer process to get the quizzes returned to me, but in the end it worked out.  I guess it just shows that the SDS office is willing to do what it takes to get the items you need and to make these items accessible if they aren’t already.

 

Beyond College: Requesting Accommodations in the Workplace

 

One thing college students with dyslexia can do to help prepare themselves for the world of work is to become comfortable asking for accommodations and being clear about why they need them.  That way, when they enter the workplace they can then request these accommodations without hesitation to help them be their best. In terms of the interview process, I think it would be helpful for college career services centers to discuss with students the right time to disclose their disabilities in the job interview.  Knowing when to disclose can be difficult, but it can also be essential for some to have accommodations during the interview process so that they may perform their best to get the job. 

 

It’s important to get comfortable with the technology available before entering the workplace.  For young students, it's a good idea to get started as early as possible, beginning at the elementary level, if appropriate, and continuing throughout the high school and college years. This way, when it's time to enter the workforce, you won’t have to worry about learning and integrating this technology into your workflow, as you’ll already be comfortable using it.

 

HR personnel need to know about the various types of technology available, so that they can recommend something which would be most beneficial to an employee.  It’s also important for employees to know that they can ask for this type of technological support from HR.  Beginning the process of self-advocacy early in one’s academic life will help make a difference in your ability to communicate your needs as an adult in the workplace.


Future Plans and My Blog

 

I’m looking forward to interning with Microsoft this summer, so I’ll be taking a bit of a break from reviewing any new Assistive Technology apps and products on my Assistive Technology Blog, located at http://bdmtech.blogspot.com/

 

Brian, Thanks for sharing your insights with us!

 

You can visit Brian’s blog at http://bdmtech.blogspot.com/  to read some great reviews on Assistive technology apps and tips on how to use them!

 

 

 

 

 

Photo of Nancy J. Hammill Cooper Learning Center With teeshirt which says This is what dyslexia looks like


As a dyslexic adult, Nancy Hammill makes a difference in the lives of others everyday. Here’s her story.


The Cheese Stands Alone

My earliest memory of school is from kindergarten when we played the Farmer and the Dell.  I was chosen last, so I had to be the cheese. I stood alone in a circle as my peers holding hands, skipped around me singing


“The cheese stands alone.

The cheese stands alone.

Hi-ho, the derry-o.

The cheese stands alone.”


It turned out to be a metaphor for my school career and how I felt around others during those years.  I always felt awkward, frustrated, filled with self-doubt, and standing alone.


I only made marginal progress with reading and writing throughout second, third, fourth, and fifth grade.  I had trouble telling time and learning math facts. I mispronounced sounds and words, and went to speech class.  I failed spelling tests and math tests. I had poor fine motor skills and sat in the lowest reading group everyday. Although I wasn’t formally diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD until graduate school, my father (who is dyslexic) was aware that my learning difficulties were not a result of IQ or motivation.  The school’s position was that I wasn’t trying hard enough.  


Kept Back


At the end of fifth grade, my parents decided to have me repeat the grade in hopes to have me catch up with my peers. This was an extremely difficult decision for my parents, but after years of battling with the school and seeing their child struggle they felt like it was the only option. I was devastated. All summer long, I would wait until we were in the car and would let loose about how they were ruining my life.  I was a beast.  Honestly, I am surprised I made it to the fall without them wringing my neck.  

Mrs. Mary Jane Nauss, my fifth grade teacher, was dynamic, creative, and was the first teacher to ever like me.  My parents felt like she was my only hope, lucky they were right!   She formed the exclusive Phonics Club, membership one - me.  I met with her after school everyday for two years.  Mrs. Nauss with her high-heels, diet coke and quirky humor, armed with a bounty of snacks, taught me the code.  Although I wasn’t cured, not even close, Mrs. Nauss’s nurturing put me on the path of success.


Pressure to Succeed

During high school and college, I became hyper-focused on succeeding, a quest to prove I was smart.   Succeeding at school defined my self-worth and my intelligence.  It was extremely difficult. I did not receive any services, supports, or accommodations.  I had a lot of shame and self-doubt. I feared that people would see me as defective if I came out needing help.  I did it all with flashcards, hours of studying, and hounding my professors.   I put a great deal of pressure on myself.  I wasn’t emotionally healthy, suffering from perfectionism and anxiety attacks.  However, I performed well.  I even became a National Officer of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and traveled around the United States talking to college students.  It was like living a double life.


Inclusion Benefits All

In the 1990’s, I became involved in the Inclusion movement during a college internship.  Its philosophy was embedded in Civil rights – that the general education system needed to be more inclusive, to better serve all students.  It was empowering.  It flipped the script for me.  Instead of believing in a one-size fits all classroom, the inclusion movement embraced the idea that schools could accommodate and educate differences.  I marched on Washington D.C..  I decided I should become a teacher.  I accepted a job in education and went to graduate school at night.  At 24 years old, I mustered the courage to get formally tested.  I was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD.  I received my first accommodation on my teacher state exam.

Strength from Weakness

I think many of my strengths, like my weaknesses, are directly linked to my learning disabilities.   My struggles have made me empathetic, organized, and a constant problem-solver, whether I want to be or not. However, I think my greatest strength is  my tenacity and “stick to it- iveness”.  I am like a dog with a bone when I put my mind to something.  I never quit on a goal.  I totally believe that if you work long enough and hard enough there isn’t a goal you won’t eventually meet.  To believe is a power that no force on earth can stop. That being said, I still struggle with self-doubt – that I am not smart enough.  It is something that I need to frequently put into check.

Effective Life Hacks


The luxury of being an adult is that you can craft your life to your strengths and interests – and I have done just that.  Also, technology really helps my organization and writing.  However, I still frequently stump spell check.   I think my most effective life hack is good old-fashioned kindness.  I learned long ago that people are more forgiving and more likely to help people they like.  At work, I am a team player.  I give freely, try to support others, and reserve judgment.  It creates the type of relationships that allows me to ask for help.  Let’s face it, if you are dyslexic there are times you need an editor!

A Message to Adult Dyslexics

Accept yourself and the beautiful brain that has been given to you.  Take the time understand your strengths and vulnerabilities.  With your team, prepare a list of reasonable accommodations that support you, bring the list with you to college and pursue these accommodations.  It will take self-advocacy skills and confidence to effectively get the help you may need.  Don’t be ashamed!   Accept that you may have different educational needs than your friends without learning and/or attention problems, and that is okay.  Then go for your dreams…


Photo of Nancy J. Hammill, Cooper Learning Center, from Linkedin photos


My Work at Cooper Learning Center


After receiving a Master’s degree in Elementary Education from Bank Street School of Education in New York City, I began teaching in Montclair, New Jersey.   I taught grades 3 through 5, both inclusion team teaching and resource room.  When my husband and I relocated to Southern New Jersey, I accepted a job as a learning therapist for the Cooper Learning Center.  As part of Cooper University Hospital’s Department of Pediatrics, the Cooper Learning Center is distinguished as the region’s only child-learning program affiliated with a university-level medical center. I have developed extensive training in Orton Gillingham, Lindamood-Bell®, Project Read, a certified Teacher Expectation Student Achievement (TESA) trainer, and a Certified Self-Regulation Alert Program Leader.  For the last decade, I have provided literacy remediation in public and private schools.  I was honored to be the recipient of the 2016 National Learning Disabilities Educator of the Year Award, presented by the Learning Disability Association of America, as well as asked to serve on the New Jersey Board of the International Dyslexia Association.  It’s been a remarkable year.




Nancy J. Hammill Cooper Learning Center Read Across America Day pictured from Left Elliott Sikes, Nancy J. Hammill and Liam Gonzalez

Pictured from left, Elliott Sikes, Nancy J. Hammill, and Liam Gonzales - Read Across America Day.




I love that my position allows me to draw upon my professional expertise and my firsthand experience with dyslexia to help people of all ages overcome their learning challenges to achieve success. With time my responsibilities evolved to include adult education.  As Cooper Learning Center’s Professional Development Coordinator, I design and facilitate research-based literacy trainings and coaching opportunities for schools and educators. I also develop community programs, making a difference for families navigating their own educational journeys.  One of my proudest accomplishments with Cooper Learning Center has been designing and implementing a professional conference, Facets of Dyslexia, in my region of New Jersey on Dyslexia. The goal for establishing the conference was to provide access to quality information and promote a deeper understanding of Dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities to my community.  I feel extremely lucky to be doing the work I do… everyday I work with people making a difference in the lives of others.  It doesn’t get better than that in my opinion.

Thank you, Nancy, for sharing your story with us!  



Photo of Anya Wasko, Headstrong Nation Fellow 

I have known that I am dyslexic for as long as I remember. I was officially diagnosed when I was in the second grade. Although I could barely read until I attended high school, I have always been in a general education classroom.  I was able to do this because of the tremendous support that I received from my parents, my amazing dyslexic mother and my supportive father. I also had dedicated teachers throughout grade school who were willing to work with me.  I credit this early positive exposure to education, with my determination to get into, and succeed in, college. I had a rocky start, but I finally found the right school and got involved with EYE TO EYE, the LD/ADHD mentoring program.  I also enrolled in a dual degree program so I could begin working on my teaching credential while finishing my BA.  After I graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of San Francisco, I finished the dual degree program and received my General Education Teaching Credential. In June 2015 I graduated again from the University of San Francisco this time with my Special Education teaching credential as well as two masters in education.  Currently, I am working full time as a Special Education Teacher with students in a combined fourth and fifth grade classroom.

 Photo of 'Anya Wasko on beach

One of my passions has always been education. I never realized how unusual my school experience was. I enjoyed school. I felt supported not just by my parents and teachers, but also by all of my classmates who had known I was dyslexic since early on and had treated me the same as every other student. I had been reared with an awareness that I was smart and that I just learned differently. My school experience reinforced this belief. College was the first time I met other dyslexics except for my mother.  I was horrified to hear their stories about their school experiences and how they were made to feel inferior and different in a bad way.  This cemented my belief that there had to be a change in the education system whereby students are encouraged instead of marginalized. One of my primary goals is to change the general perception toward dyslexics as well as other students who learn differently.  I want to work toward making my experience with school the norm rather than the exception.

 

Anya Wasko photo outdoors

 

Thank you Anya, for sharing your story with us.

 

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Clay Cousins.jpg

“Clay Cousins is an organizational change leader and visionary entrepreneur.  He uses his distinctive facilitation style and collaborative model in leadership coaching to support individuals and organizations in reframing their perspectives to effect sustainable change. Clay’s abilities to connect seemingly unrelated ideas and identify innovative solutions have been shaped by his dyslexia, which was identified in early childhood. This out-of-the-box thinking and his natural ability to build and maintain relationships have emerged as his greatest strengths.”

 

 

Clay agreed to share his story with the Headstrong Nation community. Because of dyslexia, his early years in school were difficult, intensifying in college.  However, the challenges he experienced as a student helped him to discover the skills and strengths that he relies on as an entrepreneur today. Clay uses this unique experience to assist businesses and individuals in reaching their full potential.

 

I Thought I Was Doing Great

 

My parents were initially made aware that I was not reading at grade level in the second grade. I was placed in a remedial reading class.  Since I had no reference point to identify how I was supposed to be reading, I personally didn’t see a problem and thought I was doing great. However, in the fourth grade I was formally diagnosed with dyslexia.

 

I’ve always had a huge thirst for knowledge, and thought I was moving forward in school. However, I was receiving feedback from my parents and teachers that I wasn’t quite making it. Elementary school was a confusing time for me. I came to the conclusion that the formality of school didn’t inspire me and seemed to hold me back creatively.

 

One of my outlets during this period was Physical Education – but not the typical PE class. The PE teacher was really ahead of the curve and had created an indoor ropes course in our school. I had two friends at the time who also had an interest in the ropes course. (It turns out that they too had dyslexia.) The PE teacher allowed the three of us to come in and set up the ropes course during the week and even on weekends. The course and other activities in the gym allowed us to escape the day-to-day stress of the classroom. This PE teacher influenced many of my choices during my elementary school years.

 

My Special Education resource teacher was also a strong advocate for me in elementary school. However, because of their lack of understanding of dyslexia, many of my other teachers were not very helpful. I believe they were very invested in trying to help me, but often said to me, “You need to try harder and focus more.” I wanted to reply, “You don’t know how hard I AM focusing;” but, I didn’t have the language or ability to share with them what I was experiencing.

 

Hitting the wall in middle school.

 

By middle school, the only aspect of school that I enjoyed was socializing. I enjoyed the process of learning but I wasn't able to demonstrate what I knew, so I checked out more and more. However, I did have advocates. My parents attended all my annual IEP meetings and always asked questions.

During one meeting, while reviewing my IEP, my mother noticed that another child’s name was used throughout the document, although my name was on the cover. It was apparent to her that no one was reading, much less implementing the plan. She confronted the IEP team about this and threatened to sue the school because they weren’t providing me with the appropriate resources. The school agreed to reimburse my parents for all the outside tutors they had hired to help me stay at grade level. I actually only learned of this about five years ago.


It is interesting talking with my mother now. I’ve learned that back then, it was a difficult period for her because nobody had any answers as to how to help me learn and she couldn't relate to what I was going through. She tried to find tutors who could help me. I struggled with the tutoring. They used different methods than the school’s approach, but it still wasn't effective for me. I wasn’t confident that I was making any progress. The one bright spot that was emerging, with some help and observations from my father, was my self-awareness. Through this self-awareness, I was able to start advocating for myself.

 

12 - Clay Cousins 8th Gread.jpg

Working the System in High School

 

When I moved onto high school, my mom was worried about what I would do, how I would manage. I didn’t think anything of it. Since academics were hard for me and I wanted to graduate, I looked for alternatives to the traditional school day and realized the school was made up of systems.

 

I figured out how to work the system to my benefit. I knew my weaknesses were reading and writing. I was decent in math, if I had the right teacher. I creatively scheduled my courses to include study hall in the resource room. There I got much of my homework done using the school’s tools to my advantage. I used my social skills to get what I needed from the resource teachers. My needs appeared minimal compared to the more severe disabilities they had to deal with.

 

My greatest challenge in high school was my friends. They were a relatively intellectual group. Because I compared myself to them and wasn’t performing at their level, I bought into the idea that I wasn’t very smart, since I wasn’t performing at their academic level. They were accepted to college with scholarships in programs that I felt I could never attain. That was my mindset

.11-Clay Cousins Skiing.jpg

 

College Bound

 

My parents were adamant that I go to college because they believed I had the ability and could succeed. (They also believed that I would always regret it if I didn’t try.)

 

I was accepted to the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. They had a very good program and an understanding of dyslexia, so I received support there. Despite the resources available, college was very difficult for me. Up to this point, I had intentionally worked hard to get out of doing much of what was required of me in school (by working the system).

 

On top of this, I didn’t know what to major in; what I wanted to do for a career. I barely made it through the first semester and wondered why I stuck with it. I had a better attitude the second semester, however. Ireached out to one of my professors in recreation management to discuss this field and she helped me to set up an appointment with an advisor to explore what the program offered.  

 

On the weekends, I hung out with my high school friends who were attending Colorado State University (CSU) in Fort Collins. I shared this information with them and they encouraged me to transfer to CSU.

 

In my second year, at CSU, I decided that I wanted to do more than survive, so I put all my effort into it. I was gaining confidence, knew I was smart enough to succeed, and pushed myself to do the best that I could.

 

However, I once again experienced a lack of understanding of the accommodations needed for one with dyslexia. While the University recognized my need for more time on projects and/or tests, professors did not, resulting discouragement rather than support. I resorted to what worked for me: working the system using my inherent skills.

 

I realized that I had strengths that I could use to my advantage in the classroom. I was an auditory learner, and had good negotiation skills. I rarely missed class, as listening to lectures was something that I could do easily to learn information. I had good presentation skills that enabled me to obtain high grades in group projects. This balanced out the lower grades I may have received on multiple choice or written exams.  

 

I met with each of my professors to introduce myself and to discuss my disability and abilities. Once I shared the accommodations essential to my success in college (a list from the college’s office of disability programs) they were more than happy to help me achieve my goal: a college degree.

 

Reading was difficult for me and the resources were few and outdated. The disability office was stretched thin, with staff helping students with many types of disabilities. Although they did want to help, I found that many of their resources didn’t really work well for me. I had difficulty finding my rhythm. However, I realized over time that I am pretty high functioning, so I believe I developed strategies drawing on talents I didn’t even know I had.

 

I have to admit that I was kind of disillusioned in college. My major wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be, and I had felt like I was not going to pursue a career in it. However, I realized the value in getting a college degree, and I did learn important life skills. They have helped me hone my social and interpersonal skills, which I use in my work today.

 

8-Clay Cousins (1).jpg


Early Career – Finding my way and understanding my strengths

 

During college and after, I worked at a ski shop renting equipment. I was later offered a position as a snowboard buyer and assistant manager. My transition from college to work was a pleasant one in comparison to that of my friends who had difficulty finding work after college.

 

Then, I started looking around for different career opportunities, but I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do. The area I had majored in (Recreation, Natural Resources and Tourism) no longer interested me. I saw a myriad of other possibilities, which is both a strength and curse of mine: too many choices and not idea how to choose one.

 

I got a few leads and ventured into construction, then the oil and gas industry. Through these, I discovered my greatest asset: big-picture thinking. This enabled me to objectively see and evaluate the needs of business owners: what was working, what was not and what they might do differently to be more successful. Although, the jobs were temporary, and not very satisfying, they were the start of my self-journey.

 

In these positions, I was given very diverse responsibilities: act as liaison between departments, manage PR events and other projects, coach department heads in change management. Because of the variety of tasks and my unconventional approach to achieving the desired outcomes, it was difficult to measure my value through established metrics.

 

These various responsibilities helped me to see what I was good at, what my true strengths were, and how I might leverage these strengths in a different way. I realized that I was very intelligent (I just expressed it differently) and I understood how to connect with people. These experiences gave me an understanding of my skill sets and placed me on a new trajectory.

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I Started my Own Business - Changing the Status Quo

 

I took the plunge and started a consulting business with my wife and life partner. We focus on Coaching, Group Facilitation, and HR advisory work (my wife’s specialty). Our whole business is built on developing self-awareness and mindset. This is a natural outcome of the work that I had to do around my own self-awareness.

 

A message that I’d like to share with others with dyslexia is that just because the past may have been filled with negative experiences, it doesn’t mean the future has to be the same. The status quo can be changed and this awareness opens up a whole new world of possibilities.  

 

If I believe in the status quo: that I have to read a book in a certain amount of time, then write a report on it, I feel like a failure from the get go. But if I can listen to a book and present my knowledge of the material in another way, then I have accomplished the same goal.  If you carry this book analogy into your personal and business life you can open up all sorts of possibilities, increasing your level of success.   

 

The thought of unlimited possibilities really gets me fired up!  Looking at work through the lens of “This is how we’ve always done it” can be very limiting. I would hear this a lot in the corporate world. Many limiting beliefs and ultimately processes and can be improved. It’s important to understand why things work. If they don’t work, you have an opportunity to innovate. I look for that deeper meaning and that’s what excites me.   

 

Another thing that excites me is being able to give people the language and tools to recognize and maximize their abilities. I’ve seen people stuck in a role that was defined for them. They think they are limited by that definition. Helping people understand that there is “transferability” of their skill sets across industries is a really exciting part of my role as coach. I thrive on giving people the tools and ability to develop their inherent leadership skills to guide others. In this way you can model leadership to others on many levels and help change outcomes.  

 

I believe we are seeing an exciting entrepreneurial movement and this is inspiring!  People are rethinking their current situation, assessing their strengths, and moving forward boldly and creatively. However, one does not have to be an entrepreneur to realize one’s potential. In addition to having a positive mindset, resilence, and authenticity, possessing an understanding of one's strengths, and how to best use them, will help a person to achieve any goals he sets for himself.

9-Clay Cousins black tie fundraser .jpg

 

CLAY’S COMPANY INFO:

 

Websites

www.rdigrp.com

www.launchingideas.co

www.elevatemomentum.com

 

Facebook – Follow our company pages

Launching Ideas

Elevate Momentum

 

Twitter

@launching_ideas

@elevatemomentum

 

LinkedIn – Follow our company pages

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Elevate Momentum


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Below is a lightweight checklist of potential indicators of dyslexia. If you have checked several of the items above, you may wish to discuss these with your healthcare provider and consider requesting an evaluation by a professional trained in identifying dyslexia and other learning issues.  This instrument should not be used as a replacement for a professional evaluation.  If you identify yourself as an adult dyslexic or an adult with other learning disabilities, knowing information about your unique profile and patterns of strengths and weaknesses will help you to determine what you need as you begin to self-advocate and reach out to others for support.

If you would like to download a PDF copy of this checklist you may do so from our Tools Page under Dyslexia Indication Checklist, Potential Indicators of Dyslexia - http://headstrongnation.org/adults/tools,  and while you are there, please feel free to check out the other resources that we offer.  Thanks!

Headstrong Nation potential indicators of dyslexia form

Headstrong Nation

Potential Indicators of Dyslexia

(Please check those items which apply)


Reading

o I read text slowly. 

o I need to re-read content for understanding. 

o  I have difficulty following written instructions. 

o  I have difficulty comprehending what I’ve read.

o  I have difficulty reading and understanding technical language. 

 

o  I have difficulty retaining what I’ve read.

 

Writing

o  I have difficulty with spelling words.

o  I reverse letters when I write.

o  I mix up the order of the letters in a word.

o  I have difficulty filling in forms and completing applications.

o  I have difficulty taking notes and often cannot read what I’ve written.

o  I have difficulty using conventions such as punctuation and grammar.

o  I have difficulty organizing and expressing my thoughts clearly in writing

 

Numbers and Mathematics

o  I have difficulty listing and/or organizing numbers.

o  I have difficulty copying numbers.

o  I have difficulty performing basic mathematical calculations.

 

Directionality

o  I have difficulty remembering left from right or up from down. 

o  I have a weak sense of direction and difficulty following directions with sequencing.

 

 

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www.headstrongnation.org

 

 

 

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Photo of crocus in garden


Are you flourishing?

What does it mean to flourish? Dictionary.com defines flourishing as growing vigorously and thriving.  The origin of the word flourish dates back to 1250-1300 from the Middle English florisshen, and Middle French floriss meaning long stem, the Latin florere, to bloom, which is a derivative of the word flos, meaning flower.

In order for a flower to bloom, it needs a favorable environment in which to grow. This is also true for any human, animal, or other living organism.

Are you flourishing in your life?  Are you experiencing good health, happiness, and success? Do you have what you need to really thrive?   

Just as plants, animals and other living things need nourishment to support their growth, humans also need nourishment and the exposure to the right types of environments to support their continued growth.

As adults with dyslexia and other types of learning issues, it helps if we are aware of the areas in our emotional lives in which we are feeling depleted, those areas which need to be recharged.  

Our past struggles in school, work and life may have sapped us of our energy, and in turn, influenced the way we currently see ourselves in the world.  The negative experiences of the past may affect our present level of self-esteem, our motivation, and our desire to keep moving forward. Negative self-talk narrows our view of what is possible for us in our lives, and it keeps us stuck.  Some individuals choose to give up before they’ve even gotten started.

Nourishment is not just about food and nutrition for our bodies.  It's not just food that we need to survive and thrive. Psychological and spiritual nourishment are equally important for our continued health, growth, personal well-being, and happiness.

 

Making the shift –  The Importance of Self-Exploration, Small Changes, and Positive Connection

How can we begin to make some changes in our environments and in ourselves to encourage our positive growth?

First, It’s important to know where you are at in your journey, before you decide where you would like to go next. Taking the time to get in touch with yourself, your emotions, and your current situation will help you to decide what you want out of your life, and also help you to evaluate what changes you may need to make along the way as you travel.

Are you experiencing unhappiness in work, school or relationships? Are you feeling out of sync? Are you unable to reach your full potential? Is something missing? Have you been isolating and keeping things inside?  If you could change one aspect of your environment which you feel is inhibiting your ability to flourish, what would this be? Would this change be situational or would this be one that needs to occur inside of you?

 

If you are dissatisfied with an area of your life, whether it be at work, at school or at home, consider making some small changes and mind shifts to disrupt your status quo.  One way you can improve your satisfaction is by being open to, and seeking out others in work or school environments who seem to be supportive, interested in, and understanding of you.

If you feel that you can trust other people, you are more likely to make a connection with them.

If you have disclosed your dyslexia or other learning disability to co-workers or to your employer, take some time to reach out to them to strengthen your connection so they can get to know you better.

If you are in college, reach out to classmates, and consider joining activities and clubs to meet others. If you feel comfortable sharing about your dyslexia, then do so. If you’ve declared your disability to the college Office of Disability service, consider asking how you might start your own campus dyslexia/LD group at your university as a way to meet others, to give and get support and make positive connections.

If you follow social media, there are a number of groups for dyslexic adults and others with LD on Facebook in which you can find understanding and support. Some are closed groups and others are public pages like the Headstrong Nation Facebook Page . These online pages and forums are generally dyslexia/ LD friendly, inclusive places where differences are embraced and whose members are supportive. Typing “Dyslexia” into a Facebook search will yield a number of results to choose from.

Are you in a job that you once enjoyed but the enthusiasm for it has waned? Are you feeling stuck and unable to switch careers? Do you want things to be better for you on a daily basis? Do you desire more variety in your work? Do you feel valued?  If you don’t speak up, no one will know what you need.

If your employer seems approachable, request a meeting to discuss whether you could branch out in your current position in a way that takes advantage of your specific skill-sets and passions. You might also ask your employer if he would be open to providing you with some additional training, specific software or productivity tools which may help you to be more efficient and less stressed in the workplace. Asking your HR manager at work about the ability to obtain productivity tools may help too.

Are you able to clearly articulate the skills and values that you bring to your job?  What are you proud of? What are your signature strengths? Those who are doing what they love and getting compensated for it are very fortunate.  Making small changes and adopting a “Take this job and love it” attitude may help you to get through some rough days in the workplace and may also help you to view your job through a new lens.  If you cannot find any positives in your work environment and you wake up each morning dreading your job, perhaps it’s time to consider why you continue to stay and what might be preventing you from moving on"

How is your life outside of work or school? What do you look forward to in your off time? Do you have any hobbies or leisure pursuits you enjoy? Do you have support from family and friends?

Do you have any goals for the future? Would you describe yourself as generally happy?

 

In the Happyologist Happiness blog by Suzanne Halonen, Halonen lists three ways that an individual can flourish, based on research from The Happiness Institute

"Top 3 ways to flourish in life:

 

  • Be yourself. Accept who you are and be proud of it. You’re at your best when you are yourself. There’s always ways for you to improve yourself and be the “best you” you can be. But it’s got to start with accepting who you are and understanding what’s important to you.

 

  • Believe in yourself. You can do it if you choose to believe in yourself. You have all the power you need to achieve whatever you want in life. It’s going to be a bumpy road but that’s a part of the fun. Go for it.

 

  • Choose to be happy. Yes, you can choose. You are in control of your own happiness so choose to act on it. Cherish each moment of joy as it comes along. And you can always look at identifying the good parts of unhappy moments. Though challenging, they all have them hidden in there somewhere."

 

Positive Psychology and Flourishing

Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson is an author, and researcher in the area of Positive Psychology, who developed a theory on positive emotions entitled the Broaden and Build Theory.  Fredrickson’s research involves the study of positive emotions and how the practical application of Positive Psychology can help individuals live full and meaningful lives.   By increasing the amount of positive moments in one’s life, the individual can begin to create an optimal emotional environment for continued growth and happiness.

Frederickson and her team at the Pep Lab study the effects of positive emotions on individuals’ thoughts, behaviors and physiological well-being. One of the goals of her ongoing research is to understand how positive emotions may accumulate or broaden in individuals and subsequently build to change their lives for the better.

Negative emotions narrow our focus and cause our minds to be fixed which prevents our ability to be open to new experiences, ideas, and people. They stunt our growth.

Positive emotions help us to be more open to new experiences, ideas and people, and to what is possible for us. They help us to flourish.

In Fredrickson’s  Coursera course Positive Psychology – The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Frederickson uses the imagery of the Water Lily to explain her theories. “Just as Water Lilies retract when sunlight fades, so do our minds when positivity fades.”

She uses another analogy on how plants flourish to describe what we humans also need in our lives to flourish.  Like sunlight, positive emotions are beneficial to us. Plants need sunlight, as it is necessary for them to live.  Plants know this and therefore turn towards the light so that they may soak up all they can. This is called the heliotropic effect.  Frederickson believes that humans have a similar heliotropic effect where positive emotions represent the “sunlight” which is crucial for the life and ultimate survival of humans.

According to Fredrickson, it takes three positive emotional experiences to cancel out a negative one. These positive experiences don’t need to be “over the top” ones, as different degrees and types of positive emotional experiences may serve to build our positivity resources.

If you are an adult with dyslexia and LD who has experienced great negativity and setbacks throughout your life, you may be operating at a deficit, with your positive resources depleted. Consider reflecting on how you perceive life in general, and how you react to the environment and others around you. Are you able to see the positive in situations, to let yourself relax and experience periods of joy in an otherwise hectic day? How connected are you to others?  In what ways can you begin to broaden and build these “micro-moments” of positivity resonance into your daily life? Barbara Fredrickson’s course can help you to discover the value of connection in relationships, of being other-focused, and how applying the principals of positive psychology on a daily basis can make a difference in your ability to flourish. 

Positive Psychology concentrates on what is possible for us. It helps us to focus on our strengths and our ability to experience happiness and growth through positive connection with others. It encourages us to engage with and stay open to those micro-moments of positivity in our daily lives, so that we may become the best versions of ourselves.

Stay open, and reach toward the sun!  Go ahead, flourish!

To read more on the value of positive emotions, read Dr. Fredrickson’s article HERE, visit the PEP lab website Here, or consider enrolling in her Coursera video course, HERE.  Enrollment for this session ends on March 19, 2016. 

 

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Marie Fostino Facebook profile photo dressed in purple with feather  band in her hair


Early Years

I found school to be very hard. I didn’t get good grades.  I would read the work that was given to me, but not really understand what I was reading. When I was in high school my grades were C’s and D’s. I would try so hard to study and memorize but it was a waste of time, I would not remember.  In fact, it took me three times taking my history class before I passed it. Of course it didn’t help that I was not interested in that class at the time.  But you can’t pass high school without history class. Doing so made me miss my graduation.  I passed high school in summer school of my last year. And being the oldest of my siblings I really embarrassed my mother. She never saw me graduate.  When I got married she told my husband-to-be that I was “special” and to have patience with me, meaning I was sort of stupid or semi-retarded or something.

Higher Education with a Desire to Help Others

I became a beautician and had a talent for fixing hair. My only problem was charging people. I didn’t have the heart to charge like everyone else so I was pretty cheap.  I lived in Norman, Oklahoma when the when the Oklahoma City bombing happened. I drove to the site to help the wounded but was turned away from the National Guard since I didn’t have any credentials proving I was in the medical field.  I cried so hard.  It was then I had the idea that I needed to go back to school. I initially fought the idea. I remember how hard school was and told myself I would never go back to school again. 


Marie Fostino Paramedic Class Group Shot of Marie and Classmates


I really think God was calling me to go back and I fought with this idea for a few weeks before I finally gave in. I chose to study to become a Paramedic.  When I was in my EMT class and took one of my tests, I questioned the teacher as to why she was asking questions about “police” on our tests. She had me read the questions to her and then corrected me that the word was “policies”, not police.  She asked me if I was dyslexic. I had no idea what she was talking about. Well it happened to be, that she was dyslexic and she saw the signs in me that she once had. She made an appointment for me to see her doctor.


When I found out I was dyslexic, they had me read with many overlays until I found one that would calm my mind. That was really all that happened.  They may have told me that I needed to see another doctor, but, if they did, I didn’t pursue it anymore.  I already knew I had trouble learning, and I had five children at home which I was responsible for, and I was working at the beauty shop, had a husband, and I didn’t have any more time in the day for anything else nor the money to put down.

 

NOTE: In a literature study of the efficacy of colored overlays in the dyslexic, authors Arcangelo Uccula, Mauro Enna, and Claudio Mulatti, found that the use of colored overlays as a remedy for difficulties in reading experienced by the dyslexic individuals as controversial - http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00833/, and that American Academy of Pediatrics has claimed that there is not empirical evidence toward the efficacy of colored overlays in reading, reading acquisition, or dyslexia, and did not recommend their use. However, this is what Marie used as a tool so we share this within the context of her story. - HSN


Marie Fostino with Diploma

 

“I lived so many years thinking I was stupid.”

I lived so many years thinking I was stupid, so I decided that I had to find a way to help me learn.  So when I went to paramedic school, I actually lived at Denny’s Restaurant.  For that year or a little longer, I went to work and school and studied. I missed my kids, because I was not home, but I already knew how hard it was for me to learn and I had to just concentrate. I would read, and write down what I read, and highlighted what I was reading and then I would make myself tests to take. You have no idea how many hours I spent trying to learn all the information. When we finished and was supposed to graduate, my teacher had me stay after by myself and he had me go through many scenarios, and what I would do for the patient, before he would pass me. When I took my National Registry Test, and I walked in with my green overlay, the inspectors all took turns looking at my green overlay to make sure I wasn’t cheating. 

I know that I need a light green overlay to help me read, settle down my mind and keep the words from moving so I can understand what I am reading. I was astonished to find out that I actually had a learning difference and I wasn’t just stupid or special like my mom would say. 


Marie Fostino standing in front of Ambulance

 
Dyslexia on the Job

I became a paramedic and the dyslexia really didn’t bother me since I was doing hands-on skills. My partner did the driving, and I was responsible for patient care. However, when I changed jobs and was required to work on a computer looking at social security cards and entering these numbers in the computer, I found I had trouble. After I mixed up a couple of numbers a few times my boss put me on a performance improvement plan and I was not allowed to work on the computer. I became scared because I had looked at these numbers at least three times and didn’t notice that I had mixed them up. I felt like I was experiencing dementia or Alzheimer’s.  My boss told me I had to get a medical evaluation/diagnosis for my dyslexia.  The hard part about this was that the doctors I was looking for, worked with children, not a 61year-old woman. 


Marie Fostino with Grand kids in ambulance


I found that I had to leave that job and stay away from working with a computer for work. To work for a company where I can mess things up because of mixing up numbers or letters, that kind of job is not for me. I found a new job. I am now working at a behavioral center with adults that have drug and alcohol problems.  I can use my paramedic skills as I triage these people, and help them get the treatment they need, whether it is letting them sit while they are coming down from the liquor or drugs, or having them go into the back for treatment with our nurses or calling 911.  I became a paramedic to help people so even though I am not on an ambulance now I feel like I am still helping people. 

  

Marie Fostino in standing by her ambulance holding the first book she wrote Marie Fostino with Family group shot Thanksgiving 2014


I also write books and have an editor that catches my mistakes.  At the age of 61, I feel like I have learned to live with my learning disability and I am not going to go for any more testing. It would be a good thing for the young to get tested and help for this disability, but it won’t do anything to help me now. Hobbies, Passions, and Strengths My kids and grandkids are my life. For the longest time my hobby was photography. I entered many contests and won or placed in few. The last few years I have been writing books. It is not the easiest but I enjoy it. When I would look at my work, I think, boy did I do a great job. But then I would give it to my editor and when I got it back to make corrections, I would be amazed at how much I mixed up.

Feel free to check out my books on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I’m on Facebook too.


Many thanks to Marie for sharing her story with us! 


Uccula A, Enna M and Mulatti C (2014) Colors, colored overlays, and reading skills. Front. Psychol. 5:833. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00833 -http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00833/full

 

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The new Voice Dream Reader 4.0 update to be released soon (March 21, 2016)! Headstrong Nation Chairman, Larry Banks, Interviews Winston Chen, the developer of Voice Dream Reader and Writer.


Photo of Larry Banks, Headstrong Nation Board Chairman           Photo of Winston Chen, Developer of Voice Dream Reader/Writer 

For Winston Chen, what was initially a hobby has turned into a full-time job and passion.  

Larry:  OK! This is fantastic!  So I guess I’m going to jump right in here. You live in Boston, right?

Winston: Right.

Larry:  Let's go back to the beginning.  How did Voice Dream get started for you?  What inspired you to create this piece of Assistive Technology?

Winston:  I would say it started accidentally, very accidentally.  It goes back to 2011, five years ago now.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my career.  My family and I took a year off and we went to live on a small island just north of the arctic circle in Norway, population 180.  I Learned how to fish, to dry fish, to salt fish, and how to haul them into the boat.  

 

Image of house in Norway with the midnight sun - Winston Chen

 

But I am a software person, so when it got dark, (The sun went down at 2:30 PM) I wanted to occupy myself with something in the evenings.  I spent my timecoding then, and  had a simple idea that I had a lot more stuff to read than I have time to read it.  I decided to build a text to speech app so I would have the ability to catch up on articles and whitepapers while I was driving or at the gym. It was mostly a hobby and didn’t think it would turn into anything.

 

New Voice Dream Reader Logo Open book

 

Full Time Job

Winston: A few months later, Voice Dream Reader was a simple app available in the App Store.  It was very rough, basic, with one voice and no word level highlighting. It could only read web articles, and it read PDF very poorly.  At this point I thought I was finished and it was time to go back to fishing and dreaming of the next startup.

However, the e-mails started coming in. I don’t know how people found the app.  I gradually realized that Voice Dream Reader was an important piece of assistive tech.  Teachers of students with dyslexia and the visually impaired reached out and asked for more features.  What was once a little hobby gradually turned into a full blown obsession.  There were days where I could not leave the app as I was so busy.  

Our year of living in Norway came to an end and my family and I headed back home to Boston.   I began working on big data projects and the next startup. In my spare time, I continued working on the app.  I found that I could not get away from it.  It was becoming larger and larger.

The app started generating enough revenue to keep the lights on in the house and about four to five years later, I have found that working on Voice Dream Reader has become my full time job.  What other job working in technology could give me this much personal satisfaction?  My decision was to make Voice Dream my life, my career.  

Voice Dream Writer

voice dream writer logo of pencil      voice dream writer screen shot

 

Larry:  When did Voice Dream Writer come into the picture?

Winston: Voice Dream Writer was developed just over a year ago, in the Fall of 2014. I had the idea of creating a writing app based on feedback from customers who were doing their own writing somewhere else and then transferring the text in the little editing box within voice dream reader.  They were attemptng to proofread their work by listening to it to detect mistakes.  These users were actually using the product for a purpose it was not intended for.  I realized there was a great need for this writing tool.  I talked to some of my friends who were also users who would tell me, “I write, but it’s hard for me to proofread what I just wrote.”.  That was where the idea of the writer was born.  One of the luxuries of having my own business is that if an idea comes to me and I like it, I can pursue it.  It took some time to create it and get it released, but it is available, and people seem to be liking and using it.

Larry:  It is really powerful. Ben Foss turned me on to Voice Dream Reader.  I had been using multiple apps across different platforms to address my reading requirements. Many of them were clunky and I was not happy with the voices on them.  Ben encouraged me to use Voice Dream as he told me it can work in many realms, across many platforms, so it serves as an “All in one”.  I downloaded it to my iPhone and after using it said, “This is incredible!”

 

voice dream reader on iPhone photo                        ipad screen shot with voice dream reader listing books loaded on device

 

A Universal Reader 

Winston:  The goal is to have a universal reader. We just don’t read Bookshare books or PDF’s or web articles.   I thought to myself, "Wouldn’t it be nice for your reading to get done in a single environment that you have full control over?"  This was one of the ideas behind the development of the product.

I met Ben Foss at Landmark College when he was speaking about his book.  After the event, we chatted and I introduced him to Voice Dream Reader as he wasn’t using it back then. This was about a year and a half ago.  I didn’t hear from him for a while.  Later, on Twitter, I saw a tweet from him which read, “Love Voice Dream, Live it, Love it!” So it turned out that after we met he decided to give it a try and really liked it!

Larry: Yes!  I think it has had a large impact on the dyslexic community which is related to what this conversation is about. I am the Chairman of Headstrong Nation, and as an organization run by dyslexics and for dyslexics, we are interested in technology that will help the adult dyslexic to become successful. As I had mentioned before, Voice Dream Reader is a piece of assistive technology which is in a lot of ways, an “All in one.”  It helps us. Most of the time we are running between so many different apps.  For a long time, there weren’t that many that were available to us.  Those that we did use were not very portable, and the voices were often terrible!

Winston:   If you are using text to speech for GPS it really doesn’t matter how good the voice is as long as you can understand it.  But, if you are spending hours every day reading, listening to a TTS voice, you really want to have a personal affinity toward it, which is why having a lot of choices in voices is really important and that was something that I put a lot of effort into very early on in the product. 

Larry:  Managing workflow for some of can be an issue.  I’m dyslexic but in academia.  I need to be able to work as efficiently as possible on tasks such as reviewing student papers, and reading a high volume of emails. I receive about 50 emails per day.  The short ones are easy to get through but the longer ones which come from my Dean, and others, can get quite involved with ideas and theories that I really need to be able to “lock on” to.  Therefore, I really need to fully listen to them and to hear them in a clear, cogent fashion.  I like to do as much of my work as I can while I’m moving.  I’m rather slow with the writing but I find my time when I can.  The ability to read papers and check on my email by listening with my ears while on the move is really helpful to me, and having a decent voice on my reader makes a big difference in me being able to effectively manage these tasks. 

Winston:   Yes! These voices, I found that they almost become your friends. You get used to them. I also work with the visually impaired community, and as you can imagine for a lot of vision impaired individuals the TTS voices become their buddies.  They get used to them and don’t want to change them.  Many people got used to the older, very robotic voices but they like them because they have grown accustomed to using them.  

Larry:  Listening becomes part of a pattern.  Once you understand the voice then it becomes clearer for you and easier for you to listen to it at a variety of different speeds.  This is another thing which is really nice about your Voice Dream Reader. You have a greater variability in voice speeds compared to other systems which is very important if you must listen at a high speed to get through a lot of material.

Winston:  People may need different speeds for different items that they may be reading, for example, a slower rate of speech for a research paper, and a quicker rate for reading a novel like Harry Potter.  In the end, it is all about people reading more efficiently and the small features within Voice Dream reader help individuals achieve this. Voice Dream is available in iOS and Android.  The Android version is not as “feature rich” as the iOS version that I’ve written, but the Android developer is working on this.  The app is available in 24 different languages.  Virtually every major language around the world is supported by the Voice Dream Reader.  

Larry:  That is fantastic! So it is truly an international product!

Winston:  Yes!

Larry:  So where are you going with this?  I think it is a great app for my mobile device.  I’m looking at the writer. I would sure love to get this writer on my lap top!  

 

           Voice Dream home page - photo of ear buds - text read with your ears - download on app store

 

Huge Update  - Voice Dream Reader 4.0 

Winston:  As always, as you can imagine, I find I have too much to do, and not enough time. Right now I’m working on huge update to the Voice Dream Reader app version 4.0., which has been an all-consuming project for me over the past year.  It’s huge in the sense that I’m trying to provide many features people have asked for and I want to roll it into a single update.  Beta testing has started and the projected release date of the update is March 21, 2016.

One new feature is the ability to look at e-books, HTML files, and WORD docs in their original layouts.  In the current app, for everything except for PDF, the app extracts the text from document and then basically throws the document away so you can listen to the text.  But, for a lot of students, that was not good enough because the original material might contain images.  So right now with this new PDF support, you can flip back and forth between a pure text view and the original PDF view if you want to look at the pictures, and this now carries forward with every document type, which is a big deal particularly in education. A lot of Bookshare books have images now, even children’s books contain images, and those obviously would not work well if you were not able to store and show the images.  So that is one major area. The second feature is synchronization across multiple devices so you have loaded one file on your iPad it gets synchronized to your iPad and to your multiple devices.  They all stay in sync. 

There is another feature I am really excited about and I have been working on it for a while with dyslexia researcher, Matthew Schneps of MIT, formerly of Harvard. What Matthew discovered is that when you listen to text to speech with highlighting (imagining the highlighting cursor as a Pac Man that eats away the words) each word basically disappears from the screen as it is spoken. In fact, even before it is spoken the word is gone.  When this happens, you are forced to read visually ahead of the sound, and then the sound then catches up with you a fraction of a second later. 

What he found was that this drives your attention forward and it gives your brain two passes at reading, where the first pass is your visual reading, and the second pass is your audio reading.  As you gradually turn up the speed, almost everyone, those with dyslexia or not, can double their reading speed with virtually no loss of comprehension.  Matthew has dyslexia himself and he is now reading at roughly double the speed of the average neuro-typical reader. I am really excited about this new feature and I cannot wait for people to get their hands on it and try it out!

Larry:  Well, I am very excited too! I am familiar with Matt’s work.  I was very excited to find a dyslexic researcher working on this kind of research.  I saw a blog on your website about how he worked on the spacing and alignment characteristics of text, and how he found that this was an easier way for dyslexics to handle the information. 

Winston:  In Voice Dream Reader, I give people the option to change all manner of spacing and margins. This really makes a huge difference.     

Larry: For many of us, reading up and down is easier for us than from side to side.

Winston: Right.  Finding the beginning of the next line is hard for the eyes when travelling across the page.  In Voice Dream there is a mode where you do not need to do that.  The spoken word is always in the middle, and the page is auto-scrolled every time a line advances. You do not have to find where the beginning of the next line is.  It is always on the same line.

Some of the other features…  We have a brand new UI (User Interface) and if you have a document/PDF file that has a cover image, you can look at it in a grid just like you would in kindle or iBooks.  The app also has a finger-reading mode which I am very excited about, because for a lot of young readers, the feedback is that the text to speech is still too fast even at its slowest speed.  The younger readers like to set their own pace by sliding their finger under the word and to advance at the speed that their finger is moving similiar to how parents and teachers show children how to follow text while reading.   

Larry: Yes! They are tracking it themselves with their own finger.  That is fantastic!

Winston: Yes, there is a lot of cool stuff!  

For the future…  I have been thinking about a product for those who cannot afford remedial programs.  People with financial means can hire private tutors for remedial programs.  But there are also a lot of people who cannot afford these programs.  So I am thinking whether it would be possible to create an app, which is not a reader or productivity tool but a product which is more of a teaching tool.  It would be one where we capture the best of our knowledge on dyslexia and reading so it can teach reading in a way that is effective, but obviously very low cost.

Larry:  I am sure you have spoken to Matt about that.

 

Banner -Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE - presented by Dollar General Literacy Foundation

Adult Literacy XPRIZE

Winston:  Yes.  I am working on this with Matt and a couple of other developers.  We are attempting to do this within the context of the “XPRIZE”. There is an adult literacy XPRIZE that’s going on right now. We are a team and have signed up.  The challenge is about how to teach illiterate adults to read.  Our hypothesis is that many illiterate adults, in fact, have dyslexia.  If we can be effective with this population, the same set of tools and techniques may work with children too. 

Larry:  Could you tell me a little more about this XPRIZE?

Most of the XPRIZE's we know about involve sending a man into space and future techno-stuff. This is an XPRIZE for adult literacy.  The competition is open to any team who wants to build an app that they can put into the hands of adults who are illiterate.  The prize will measure the participants’ literacy score at the Beginning of trial and then after one year they will measure it again.  Whichever team can affect the largest increase in these test scores wins the prize.  It began in January and the development period ends at the end of the year.  This is a project which I want to devote some time to.  

Larry: Has your involvement in Voice Dream Reader increased your interest in general in Assistive Technologies? You’ve grown to becomea bit of an assistive technology guru. 

Winston: I wouldn’t say I was a guru! I help out in an Assistive Technology class at MIT.  I do attend conferences to learn about the latest thinking.  It is definitely an interesting, fascinating, and rewarding field.  Rather than building a game that keeps people busy while they’re riding on the subway, I am developing products that make a big difference in the daily lives of people. It is definitely a field I would like to stay in.

Larry:   It is definitely a rewarding field!  You have found an area that is in the midst of great change right now.  Technology is actually at a place where it can begin to really make some differences for groups of people, particularly dyslexics, and you have caught that wave just as it is really developing.  I think these tools are going to be the wave of the future for young dyslexics moving forward.  Voice Dream Reader is very affordable compared to other larger format tools, and reading applications on mobile devices make a big difference.   

Winston:  As a society we will probably have less and less space for paper. There will always be a place for Voice Dream Reader as a highly tailored reading experience. The future development  will enable others to read more and more types of reading materials, and to allow people to read in many different ways, like the speed reading technique that will be available in the new version.

I also forgot to mention that in the new version it will make reading webpages a lot easier because in Safari, there is now going to be an extension – “Save in Voice Dream”. You can save it as a PDF file which keeps all the photographs, or you can just save the article as pure text, and then choose save and open Voice Dream right there so you can read it right away.  That should be helpful.

Larry:  Yes that would be.  So that is going to be based in the mobile devices right?

Winston: That is correct, on iPad and iPhone.  It will come as a free update for people who already have the app except for one feature, a synchronization which will be an in app purchase.  Besides that, the other features are free.

Larry: That is fantastic!  Is there anything else you would like to share with us about the future?

Winston:  I am actually excited about wearables.  I think this is going to be the next generation of assistive technology.  Not sure what products are ultimately going to be successful on these new platforms, but one thing I can promise is that Voice Dream will be there, once we understand it, and we will build products for these new platforms.

Larry:   That is fantastic!  Thank you so much Winston, for sharing your thoughts and ideas with us and for the great products that you have developed. I hope to speak to you in the future about the new things that you will be exploring. Headstrong Nation is a group of adult dyslexics and we are very keen on learning about the different types of technology which may support us as we go forward in different areas. Voice Dream is one of the strong ones which can make a huge difference in helping us to keep up with and be productive in the technological society that we live in.

Winston:  Thank you, Larry. All the best to you and Headstrong Nation!

The Voice Dream Reader Update 4.0 will be released very soon (March 21, 2016)! Visit the Voice Dream Website at http://www.voicedream.com/ You may purchase the app in the App Store for iOS devices and in the Google Play Store for Android devices


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