February 24th, 2020

I’m Not Sorry: How I Embrace and Own Being a Black Woman With Learning Disabilities

If someone would have told me that I’d be writing this blog post, I can guarantee you I would have laughed and walked away. If someone told me that I’d be in graduate school full-time, eight hours away from home, I would have smiled because I didn’t want to be rude. But in my head, I would have been thinking “this person is out of their mind.” 

When you’re a person like me (a black woman with a learning disability), people automatically put you in the type of box where they don’t expect you to achieve or do much of anything. I can’t even get mad at them, though. Because for the longest time, I put myself in that same box. I thought they were right to think that I couldn’t do the same work as everyone else. 

Now, before I go further, I want to give a brief definition and breakdown of the learning disability that I have: a Specific Learning Disability (SLD). SLD interferes with a student’s ability to think, read, write, spell, or do math. For me, SLD is manifested when I do math (dyscalculia) and spell (dyslexia). 

Growing up, I used to be ashamed of having a learning disability. I was afraid to speak up about anything you could possibly think of. I thought that having a learning disability was the worst thing that could possibly happen to me. I would often ask God, “Why is it so hard for me to learn and why do I have to be this way?” Of course, the answer was not given to me right away—we all know that’s not how it works LOL! But today I can say that I’m proud of having this learning disability. 

For so long, I would constantly apologize for taking longer to grasp whatever was being taught. When I was in high school, I enrolled in Introduction to Biology. In this class, our teacher would lecture via PowerPoint so we would stay on track. At the time, I was writing and reading extremely slowly (I did not have access to the accommodation tools that I have now). This teacher would say to me, “We don’t have time to wait for you to finish your notes. Either you have it or you don’t.” You can imagine how disheartening it was for me to hear that. As soon as she said that, I quickly apologized and just didn’t bother taking notes for the remainder of the lecture.

Through the years, I have done and continue to do everything in my power to prove everyone wrong. That includes proving myself wrong, because I used to believe what others said.  People said I couldn’t be or do anything because I have a learning disability, and also because—for whatever reason that is beyond me) people think that women (specifically black women) aren’t capable of doing anything. As a black woman with a learning disability, I have the determination and hunger to not only prove people wrong but to also inspire people who are just like me. Within the last year, I have told myself that my learning disability is a superpower. And as Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” 

On top of me being a black woman with a learning disability and inspiring people who are just like me, I want to make changes to the education system. Once I complete graduate school, I plan on becoming an education program and policy analyst. There are multiple reasons for me wanting to change the education system for the better. One of the reasons is that I believe the education system needs to work with and not against students who have learning disabilities. Too often I have seen that we as students with learning disabilities are pushed to the side and forced to apologize for who we are and what we need in school. This is something that we should all be upset about and want to change.

When I was given the opportunity to do this, my first thought was, “OK, now what is it that needs to be said, and dear God, I hope that I get this right.” One of my favorite quotes is “Do everything they say you can’t.” For me, this means that just because someone has no faith that you’ll be able to achieve something, that doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t do it. If anything, them saying that should give you more fuel and fire to keep going until it’s done.

My hope is that people from everywhere will read this and get inspired to achieve and accomplish whatever it is that they want to do. I want people to understand that they should never apologize for being different. Being different is one of the biggest blessings that we have. I mean, how dull would it be if we were all the same? Understand that although it may be difficult, if you can just embrace the struggle that you’re going through, I know that you’ll be unstoppable.

This blog was written by Atira Roberson, one of NCLD’s Young Adult Leadership Council members.

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