On July 14th and 15th, NCLD, Decoding Dyslexia, and other organizations came together for a Dyslexia Hill Day held in Washington, D.C. to raise awareness with Congress about dyslexia. Packed with events and overflowing with enthusiasm, Hill Day was a great success not just for the organizations involved, but for the parent advocates, the students, and the cause we were fighting for – an excellent education for every student with a learning disability.
As a summer intern at NCLD as well as a junior in college, I oscillated between the roles of leading the student activities and being a member of the student cohort. During the two days of events, I hoped to help other students build a foundation of confidence in speaking about their learning disability. What I didn’t know was how proficient, in fact expert, these students already were at advocating for their own learning needs as well as for the dyslexia community.
In the room where the student events were held – a beautifully decorated space combining arts and crafts with powerful messages about ability and confidence – the students listened to presentations by their peers. When a question went out to the group asking students to define dyslexia, a room full of hands went up. The students spoke eloquently about dyslexia in terms of how it affects them personally and how it affects the population generally. It took me until college to realize that my experiences with a learning disability could be used to advocate for greater understanding, resources, and support for the one in five students affected by learning and attention issues. These students, many of whom are still in elementary school, had already arrived at an understanding of the power of their voices as advocacy tools.
The students’ astonishing confidence and ability to advocate for dyslexia extended beyond the safe space of the peer-to-peer room. They spoke to their members of Congress about the policy issues that matter to them, using their own experiences as testimony to the challenges that students with LD face as well as the great potential that they have to achieve when given the proper support. I was nearly brought to tears listening to the NCLD and Learning Ally scholarship winners who answered questions on a panel to a room full of congressional staffers. NCLD’s 2015 Anne Ford Scholarship Winner, Savannah, talked about the challenges and frustration she felt due to her dyscalculia (math disability). Although she still struggles with things like telling time, Savannah recently graduated from high school where she completed AP Statistics, and is on her way to college in the fall. When asked about her vision for the LD landscape ten years from now, Savannah said she hopes there is a better understanding of LD and better support and resources for students like us.
My hope is that after sharing their story and the collective story of the millions with learning disabilities, these brave and talented students feel motivated to continue their advocacy work. It is important to have strong student advocates because they are the face of the battle. They are the ones living their learning disability every day so they should be given the tools to tell their story. It is a powerful feeling knowing that these are the people who, in the decades to come, will be the vanguard of learning disability advocacy. I can only hope that I will have the pleasure of working alongside them just as I had the opportunity to do during this year’s Dyslexia Hill Day.