Speak Out

A poll from the year 2000, “Measuring Progress in Public & Parental Understanding of Learning Disabilities” states 65% of Americans think learning disabilities are a form of mental retardation. Nothing could be farther from the truth. People with learning disabilities are of average or above average intelligence. This is one of many misconceptions that plague the learning disabled community. Though the poll sited above also indicates that public knowledge of learning disabilities has increased—we obviously have a long way to go before we are better understood as a group.

How could the general public be so grossly uneducated about learning disabilities? Probably because we, as dyslexic individuals, tend to hide our learning disability. We often don’t speak about dyslexia to our friends, family, instructors or employers.

If we are ever going to change public perception about dyslexia we need to stop the isolation and start speaking out. It is important you start talking about being dyslexic, and this is why:

  • Dyslexia is widely misunderstood. Speak out about what dyslexia is, and more specifically how it affects you. Talk about the things in your life that are harder and the easier for you. Doing this will not only help others understand dyslexia more, but will also give others a chance to relate to both your challenges and triumphs.
  • As a dyslexic individual you have federal rights to accommodations at school and at work. If you don’t disclose your dyslexia, you can’t receive the accommodations you deserve.
  • Dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. You should feel comfortable talking about dyslexia and the way it affects you everyday.
  • As more people understand what dyslexia is and how it affects us, it will be easier to talk about. As members of the dyslexic community we should feel a duty to speak out, not just for ourselves today, but also for the dyslexic individuals of tomorrow.

Nobody said this would be easy—breaking new ground never is. But we are a community of motivated, strong-minded, intelligent individuals. We are Headstrong and as a community we are going to come together and start talking about dyslexia.

Getting started

  1. Accept it. Before you can expect others to accept you, you need to accept yourself. First, you need to understand what dyslexia really is—and what it isn’t. Learn the facts. Then take some time to reflect on how being dyslexic has impacted your life, both positively and negatively.
  2. Connect with your community. Try talking to others like you in the Headstrong forum. Take the opportunity to speak openly (using your name or a screen name) to a group of people who understand your possible apprehensions about telling other people.
  3. Speak out. Think of speaking out as a gradual process. Perhaps you can start with trusted friends and family members first and instructors or employers second. See our step-by-step guidelines below for speaking out to family, friends, instructors and employers.
  4. Keep fighting the fight. You can’t speak out once and have it done with; you will need to continue talking about dyslexia and the specific accommodations you will need in new academic and career situations.

Speaking out to friends and family

  1. Begin speaking out about being dyslexic as soon as you feel comfortable. It is a good idea to set aside a scheduled block of time to speak out to your friends and family. Don’t wait for a stressful time and don’t bring it up as a defense in an argument.
  2. Start your conversation by explaining that you are dyslexic and define what dyslexia is and how if affects you personally.
  3. You may want to explain that dyslexia is a learning disability and people with documented learning disabilities have the right to accommodations at school and work.
  4. If you would like, you can reference your official test results, but friends and family will probably just take your word for it.
  5. Of course, with friends and family you may not be asking for anything other than their support. However, you may want to explain what kind of accommodations you need to succeed. For example, it may be helpful to say you learn best using audio books.
  6. Take the time to tell your friends and family how you are feeling and be sure to thank them for being understanding.

Speaking out to instructors

  1. Disclose your learning disability as soon as you feel comfortable, but don’t wait until you are on the spot. For example, don’t wait until you have a bad grade in a class before you speak out. It is a good idea to begin by making an appointment with your instructor or disabilities services coordinator at your school or university.
  2. Start your conversation by explaining that you are dyslexic and define what dyslexia is and how if affects you in the classroom.
  3. Explain that dyslexia is a learning disability and people with documented learning disabilities have the right to participate in educational programs without discrimination and receive reasonable accommodations in courses and examinations. If you need to, you can site the following:
    • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 provides special education and related services for people with disabilities up to their 22nd birthday. The IDEA provides for a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and for an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for eligible students.
    • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (PL 93-112) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. It guarantees that people with disabilities have equal access to programs and services that receive federal funds. This includes public and private schools and colleges.
    • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 protects people with disabilities from discrimination in public, and privately operated settings. The law applies to all public and most private schools and colleges, testing institutions, and licensing authorities. It also applies to state and local governments.
  4. Be ready to provide official documentation of your dyslexia. This can be a letter or a report from the professional who evaluated you. Be prepared to share further information such as the methods used in the diagnostic process, including names of the tests given to you.
  5. Explain what accommodations you need to succeed. It is very important that you are as specific about what you need as possible. For example, specifically ask for extra time on exams or permission to record lectures.
  6. Be sure to thank your instructor for their time. You may want to follow up with a letter, which will provide both of you with written acknowledgment of the conversation.

Speaking out to employers

  1. Disclose your learning disability as soon as you feel comfortable, but don’t wait until you’ve been backed into a corner. For example, don’t wait until you have a poor performance review to speak out. It is a good idea to begin by scheduling a meeting with your employer.
  2. Start your conversation by explaining that you are dyslexic and define what dyslexia is and how if affects you on the job.
  3. Explain that dyslexia is a learning disability and people with documented learning disabilities have the right to accommodations at work. If you need to, you can site the following:
    • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (PL 93-112) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. It guarantees that people with disabilities have equal access to programs and services that receive federal funds. This applies to employers receiving federal funds.
    • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 protects people with disabilities from discrimination in employment, public, and privately operated settings. The law applies to state and local governments and to private employers with 15 or more employees.
  4. Be ready to provide official documentation of your dyslexia. This can be a letter or a report from the professional who evaluated you. Be prepared to share further information such as the methods used in the diagnostic process, including names of the tests given to you.
  5. Explain what accommodations you need to succeed. It is very important that you are as specific about what you need as possible. For example, specifically ask for text to speech software and noise-canceling headphones.
  6. Be sure to thank your employer for their time. You may want to follow up with a letter, which will provide both of you with written acknowledgment of the conversation.