Increasing accessibility to help students with learning disabilities
A Peacemaking Project by Annalee D.
What is the injustice we are solving?
When I was learning to read, erevy stenecne lokoeb like tihs, because I have dyslexia. By third grade, I realized what I saw on the chalkboard was not what others saw. I remember the sound of chalk squeaking across the blackboard as my teacher formed letters. I thought they were words, but I was unsure. The writing ran around the board as if trying to escape; I wanted to escape, too. My long and painful struggle to read, and those who helped along the way, taught me the transformative power of advocacy. I learned, over time, how to be my own advocate, and now my goal is to advocate for others in the struggle against injustice. Back in third grade, my parents were sympathetic but unable to help, so they hired Ms. Becky, a reading specialist. It all began with a lunch. One afternoon, a smiling woman with a Southern accent brought me into an empty classroom. She explained we would spend time together until I became confident with reading. I told her what it was like for me, how alone I felt. I told her how terrified I was of being called on—how I would slouch in my chair and wish to disappear, mumble through the marathon of a paragraph muttering words I hoped sounded like what was on the page. That was the day I learned I am dyslexic. I worked with Ms. Becky every week for three years. It was not easy; I squirmed away, hiding behind the couch to avoid the special homework she would assign. At the end of three difficult years of tutoring, I could sound out letters and form them into words. I remember thinking, “I’m reading!” I thought I would finally be like everyone else. I entered high school excited for a fresh start. Although testing had been done, and I qualified for accommodations, I refused to ask my teachers for help. I did not want to be different. I excelled in homework and projects, presenting my best work and demonstrating understanding, but during tests I froze. Frustration turned to anxiety and hopelessness. I needed a new approach. Another tutor, Amy, helped me accept the unique ways my brain works. We experimented with new study strategies. We role-played so I could practice asking my teachers for the accommodations I had tried to pretend I did not need. I learned how to advocate for myself, preparing for an independent future. As my senior year of high school approached, I felt stronger and more capable than ever at school, but my home, Charlottesville, was under siege. I had been learning about racial justice and allyship through my youth group for years, but suddenly racism that had been hiding was socially acceptable, visible, and marching in my town. Growing up in the church, faith is my foundation, and I have always known that I wanted a role in ending oppression. Now I feel galvanized to be a part of the collaboration and conversation focused on racial justice issues. In August, I was nominated to join the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation’s Youth Design Committee. Our task is to develop programs that will respond to the effects of the violence of August 12th and the hate groups who gathered here, as well as choose a non-profit recipient of a $10,000 grant. I am learning how changes in policy and relationships can help us move towards equity and justice in our community. Dyslexia is sometimes described as a battle—one of many battles worth fighting. The obstacles and setbacks I faced in learning how to read made me understand a number of important lessons. A good advocate can help people accomplish their goals, no matter how impossible the challenge may seem. People accomplish more together than they can alone. I want to be part of this life-changing work, in order to create a more just and equitable world.