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Leveling the Education Environment for Dyslexic Learners

Learning technologies designed to meet equity challenges

By Dave Saltmarsh

When I first began using Apple technology with students, I immediately saw the power and opportunity of text-to-speech applications. While it may not have been my first experience with assistive technology in education, it certainly had a large impact on my personal and professional life – and this opened my eyes to additional means of helping myself and others diagnosed with dyslexia.

Prior to being diagnosed as dyslexic, I, like so many, was too often typecast as lazy or lacking certain academic potentials. But this couldn’t have been further from the truth. I was simply practicing my natural ability to think, imagine and express myself differently than the expected norm.

Visual learning advantage

As an article from Cone and Foster eloquently put, “As a visual learner, I will always gravitate first to any type of graphical or visual representation of a concept.” I couldn’t agree more. This way of teaching and learning provides a deeper connection with a given topic and increases understanding.

Animations can connect views and allow for visual transitions to aid dyslexic students. This includes scatter plots with sliders, gradually building bar graphs and multi-stage growth diagrams.

Personally, I would like to see an exploration of extending visuals beyond flat, one-dimensional images to take this concept even further.

Closing the learning divide

dad and daughterLearning programs must be designed to meet the equity challenges of those who require assistive technologies and those who don’t. We want to close this gap, not widen it. As a dyslexic who performs best when involved in learning conditions, I struggle with the reading requirements of many of my courses. The act of reading is not only challenging from a process standpoint, but also time-consuming and mentally exhausting.

As suggested by Tonsing-Meyer (2013), when alternative mediums are provided, I can disengage certain coping techniques and may be able to use less brain function to process information. Apart from reducing the time required to read and fully understand materials, images, videos or audio recordings allow dyslexics to replay these materials on their own to learn the way they are most comfortable.

For many, stressing about reading or learning in general can block the information that is actually retained. Making it easy for all learners helps diminish this anguish.

Also, the ability to perceive tone and context can be difficult to gauge in written work for dyslexics. The benefits of interpreting these correctly the first time around through watching or listening cannot be overstated.

Changing perception

child with Easter eggsThe shame is, apart from the hurdles of trying to read, cope and succeed in a linear world, dyslexics are faced with challenges of disclosing their diagnosis in fear of losing their employment or not getting employment in the first place.

In my younger days, I was a fully qualified air traffic controller, who worked across seven positions and eventually became a first sergeant in the military. Had I been officially diagnosed at my time of enrollment and forced to disclose, I may not have been able to advance my career or even remain in the military.

I am not alone in my fear of being discriminated against, and this is not a story we want young learners to have to live through.

I encourage any interested in this cause to consult dyslexicadvantage.org to help promote the positive identity, community and achievement of dyslexic people.

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