Oh yes - I'm disabled

One of the things that I recall when I discovered in my sixties that I was dyslexic, was the news that I was now classified as a disabled person. The Equality Act of 2010 says so. The first outcome was that I felt closer to my disabled students: I was disabled too – one of them. I was disabled. It wasn’t something that I was going to recover from. So, of course, I became more interested in disability as such – and avidly read any news reports about disability. Now, I always look for what the Scottish journalist Melanie Reid has to say. She became disabled as an adult, when she was injured in a horse riding accident and became a tetraplegic.

Melanie delivered a powerful column at the end of March, writing about if and how the Queen could attend the Memorial Service for the Duke of Edinburgh. “Up went the cry “use a wheelchair!” she wrote, and then started to explore the issue wondering what the Queen herself might want. After all, it was her body people were talking about. Melanie went on, ‘people were genuinely trying to be helpful, but it made me shudder’, and then she said this, ‘If I’ve learnt anything, it’s that there’s nothing quite as limited as the imagination of the able-bodied. They’re well intentioned, but they don’t get it.’

Those words leapt off the page. I read it again…and in my head changed a word ‘there’s nothing quite as limited as the imagination of the non-dyslexic. They’re well intentioned, but they don’t get it.’

Does this ring bells with other dyslexics? For example, mentioning ‘dyslexics’ when I’m asked where I want charitable donations to be targeted often triggers remarks about ‘spelling’ or ‘coloured acetates’ or ‘children with reading difficulties’. There you go – ‘They’re well intentioned, but they don’t get it.’ Not all dyslexics have spelling problems. Many dyslexics don’t need or use coloured acetates. Many young dyslexics don’t have reading difficulties, they love books and reading. Many well known and successful writers are dyslexic.

The fact is, that each dyslexic is different, one from another. Yes, many dyslexics (perhaps most) recall with terror being called upon to read aloud in class, but a few loved it. Some dyslexics, but by no means all, pride themselves on their spelling. But that does not mean they are ‘word perfect’ – they might forget or misread, mispronounce or misuse words. Many dyslexics read and write very well – just very slowly. The dyslexic’s biggest problem, surely, is connected to the working memory – whether it’s directions or scheduling…or reading or spelling or word use…we just have to work hard at ‘getting it right.’ And, we also have to work hard to help non-dyslexics ‘get it.’

Vin Arthey, guest blogger and Dyslexia Scotland Speaker Volunteer