dyslexia empowerment plan

In a recent Wall Street Journal "Ask Ariely" column, a woman named Paula wrote in and asked: do audiobooks count as “real” books? Why am I embarrassed to say that I listened to the book, and what can I do about it?

Dan Ariely’s response was on the right track—you can read it here— but we’d like to go a step further.

There are, in fact, three types of reading: eye-reading, ear-reading, and finger-reading.

Blind people read with their fingers, much of the mainstream reads with their eyes. We dyslexics often read with our ears. Privileging eye-reading above these other modes excludes not a small number of people from accessing information from texts and from enjoying the fruits of a good author.

How big is our community? Conservative studies estimate that dyslexics comprise over 10% of people in the US. It also turns out we are 35% of entrepreneurs and 41% of prisoners (many of who are entrepreneurs in the wrong business!).

One commenter on the blog got this, pardon the dyslexic pun, backwards:

“Let me be brief: books are created to be read the same way plays (and movies) are created to be watched, and music is created to be listen to. There is not a way around it and trying to take a shortcut... deprives her of real pleasures of reading.” —Elizabeth P.

This view is likely held by many mainstream readers but it is narrow and, truly, antiquated. Before the availability of the printed word, people trained themselves to remember great amounts of information by listening and storytelling. Recounting Socrates' dialogue with Phaedrus about the rise of the written word, Plato wrote:

"[F]or this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth."

By the above commenter's standards, Socrates was illiterate.

The inclusion and acceptance of ear-reading, eye-reading, and finger-reading as valid pathways to learning, foreign as they may sound, are key to leveling the playing field for our many unique minds.

If you are a dyslexic who has identified ear reading as your optimal path, this may be old news. You may be like Headstrong Nation’s founder, Ben Foss, who completed both a law and a business degree at Stanford and recently wrote a book about how to become an empowered dyslexic. He accomplished all of this by reading with his ears, and using books on tape and talking computers.

Ben explains his philosophy on reading in his Random House book, The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blue Print to Renew Your Child's Confidence and Love of Learning:

A child with dyslexia will never eye-read as well as his peers, and that, I hope to reassure you, is fine. Yet all children need to be exposed to vocabulary and ideas to be successful in school. If your child was blind, providing text as audiobooks or Braille would allow her to read with her ears or with her fingers. No one would ever claim that a blind person was lazy or stupid for not reading text with her eyes. When I listen to audio, that’s ear reading. When I speed it up to four hundred words a minute, four times the pace of standard speech... I am leveling the playing field for me.* It’s not what the mainstream conceives of as reading. But it’s ear reading. It’s learning. It’s literacy.

*This needs to be heard to be understood. Check out a demo of super-fast speech below or visit our Tools page for more videos about text to speech and speech to text:

It will take time before people internalize this three-pronged definition of reading. Luckily there were other commenters on the WSJ, who are helping to pave the way:

“I read books - preferably Kindle books, but on paper when necessary. I listen to audio lectures. I watch (and listen) to video lectures and on-line training courses. The point is the information; not the medium. If Marshall McLuhan meant the obvious by “The Medium Is the Message" then I think he got it wrong. The pipe is not the water; the wire is not the electricity. This whole subject strikes me as a bit pretentious, like focusing on the make of car you drove to get to a destination instead of the worthiness of the destination.” —Terrence W.

Thanks for listening, Terrence.

Photo credit: Luci Gutiérrez

Headstrong FAQs


I am looking for information about dyslexia.

The Headstrong Nation website has a lot of information about how to be an empowered dyslexic and how to advocate for yourself. However, if you are looking for in-depth information, research, and policy about dyslexia, please visit our good friends at NCLD / Understood

I would like to start a local support group.

Wonderful news. The more we can grow the community, the better. We are not at this time creating local Headstrong Nation chapters, but we believe in the power of individuals to make change in their community. Here are a couple of ideas for how to reach out and empower your local community.

  • If you are a parent of a dyslexic child, check out Decoding Dyslexia for a list of state chapters and for guidance on how to start a chapter in a new state. Decoding Dyslexia is a grassroots movement driven by families concerned with the limited access to educational interventions for dyslexia. They have great resources for how to connect and build community wherever you are, and have already set up local chapters in 35 states ( now 48 states and 3 Canadian provinces) (and growing).
  • Visit the Local Resources section of our website to find out about information that may be relevant to your group’s interests.
  • Look into whether there might be a Eye to Eye chapter near you. Eye to Eye provides mentoring for elementary school students by college students and see if you can get involved.

I want to know more about accommodations and working with my school.

Check out the For Parents section of our website and go through all the information presented in sub-sections (Learn the Facts, Classroom accommodations, Tools).

I want to help other dyslexics through mentorship, advocacy, educational programs, etc.

Wonderful. There are a number of organizations that are looking for people like yourself. Visit our Partners page for a list of organizations that work with dyslexic communities across the country.


I want to donate to Headstrong Nation.

Great to hear! Every donation we receive will allow us to scale our support of the dyslexic community. Visit Just Give or Razoo to make a tax-deductible donation.

I am interested in sharing resources or partnering with Headstrong Nation in some way.

Please message us privately through our Facebook page and we will do our best to respond.


I am reading The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan. Where do I find the Strengths & Attitudes Assessments?

Both of the Assessments are printed in the book. If you are ear-reading and bought the CD version of the book, the assessments and other supplemental materials are on the disc itself. You can also access them on our site. If you are a parent of a dyslexic, go here. If you are an adult dyslexic, go here.

Remember to register before you you take the assessment so you can save your or your child’s Star for future reference. If you are looking for other resources that are mentioned in the book, please visit the For Adults section or the For Parents section of the site and look at the Workplace or Classroom Accommodation sections, and the Tools sections.

I am interested in having Ben Foss speak at my school, company or at a community event.

Please contact the Random House Speakers Bureau (RHSB) or email Linda Barnes (lbarnes@randomhouse.com) at RHSB directly. She will be able to work with you on a budget and timeframe.

I have a press or media related inquiry for Ben Foss.

Please reach out to Steve Boriack (sboriack@randomhouse.com), who is on the Random House PR team.

How do I follow Ben Foss?

You can follow Ben on his Facebook page and through Twitter. Ben also manages his own site, where he will post information about the book, his readings and other events. Visit www.benfoss.com.

I want to buy the Intel Reader.

The Intel Reader is coming to the end of its 4 year life and is being discontinued. There are a few sites still selling it and, consequently, prices are pretty high. The best option at this point may be to find an alternative. Check out the Classroom Accommodations section of the site and look at "Taking Notes The Easy Way" for our recommendations.

[Image licensed under creative commons]

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