Two brothers from Ohio were the first to escape the surly bonds of Earth with a powered, controllable airplane. The creator of Britain’s most successful independent airline by far, Virgin Atlantic, is seeking to soar higher than the rest, planning commercial flights into lower Earth orbit. What do Orville and Wilbur Wright and Sir Richard Branson have in common? They have dyslexia. So did Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Alva Edison, Albert Einstein, and Steve Jobs, not to mention “our own” Bruce Springsteen. What these individuals also share is an extraordinary creativity that has enabled them to meet the challenges of their disability and put their ingenuity to use in ways that have literally changed the world.
Dyslexia is neurological condition in which one has difficulty recognizing words, which may make understanding written text or learning a foreign language very difficult. In addition to reading, writing, spelling, and speaking can be challenging. Dyslexia affects 17 percent, or one in six school children.
Large-print books and audio recordings, very helpful to people with dyslexia, have been available for a while. More recently, however, such assistive technology has become increasingly sophisticated. One notable Advancing Opportunities success story is a young man named Brian Meersma. Back in middle school, Brian struggled to read. His language arts teacher thought he was simply not making the effort. “It was just so frustrating, because I was trying my best, but she didn’t realize it,” he said. Brian’s parents learned about the Assistive Technology Center at Advancing Opportunities. His specialist introduced him to several tools. Learning Ally and Bookshare are services that allow him to download books that are either pre-recorded or, through special software, convert written words to speech. Kurzweil 3000 is a downloadable app that provides text-to-speech in seven languages, “reading” any digital text aloud, from textbooks to the Internet. Kurzweil 3000 comes with virtual sticky notes, graphic organizers, writing templates, and spell-checking dictionaries. For Brian, “assistive technology has been a lifeline,” says his mom. Brian was not only accepted to an Ivy League college, he graduated with honors and is a well-known and highly respected blogger.
To recognize the talents so many people with dyslexia have and to spread awareness of tools and accommodations available to this population, the International Dyslexia Association in 2002 declared October National Dyslexia Awareness Month. In 2015, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution to this effect, in addition to expanding the definition of dyslexia and the types of services these students are entitled to not only succeed, but also soar.