Diffusion of Information and LD Students

{excerpt: Perceptions of Learning-Difference (LD) students on How their specific LD characteristics impact the post-secondary education experience: Tables removed but are embedded within the full text version}

Two questions that are often asked in school systems around the country are; “What are students learning?” and “How do we create an atmosphere that supports learning? (Brookhart, 2011, p. 4)”. These questions are asked at all levels of education, in relationship to all curriculum and teaching practices, and in the heat of political debates (Altbach, Berdahl, & Gumport, 2005). Rogers (1976) defines the diffusion process as the extension of a new ideas, thoughts, or innovations from its establishment to its adopters. Rogers (1976) differentiates the adoption process from the diffusion process in that the diffusion process occurs within society, as a group process; whereas, the adoption process pertains to an individual mental progression where a person moves from merely hearing the information to understanding it and being able to fully apply it in some way.

This is something with which Kelly struggles. Rogers (1976) is primarily speaking about new technology; however, his thoughts are applicable to education especially when he focuses in on the concept of innovation within an organization (p. 417). In this scenario, the students are in the school to learn new information and or ideas so that they can use it to gain new understanding and build better lives for themselves and their families (Honig M. I., 2006). Rogers (1976) highlights how organizations measure adoption of an innovation within an organization over a period of time like email systems and computer technology.

However, an LD student entering an undergraduate program is there to learn new tools and skills (Marzano & Kendall, 2007). These tools can be nursing technology, business technology, leadership skills, etc., but it is all new to the student and it is information that must be adopted or the student will not be able to advance in the program or have a career in that field after the program is completed (Cortilla, 2011; Rogers, 2003). Students with LD come to the learning environment with processing issues that put gaps in their ability to learn/adopt the new information (Opp, 1994). As noted earlier this gap in understanding has been equated to the appearance of Swiss cheese: the knowledge is there, residing in the spaces and pockets, but for whatever reason, the student is unable to access that information, rendering it useless to the student (Cooper, 2007; Cooper, 2005).

When the student enters the classroom, many times, they are entering “fresh”, new, ready to learn, because what was learned the day prior (a month prior, a year prior, years prior), has slipped away (Cooper, 2007). For this reason, the teacher, as the innovator or presenter of the innovation, is again needing to diffuse this new (or renewed) information to the LD student (Rogers, 2003). It’s a recursive process where the LD student learns and relearns until the innovation or new idea is fully adopted, though this is not copiously occuring for the LD student (Viel-Ruma et al., 2007). Cortiella (2011) noted that improved instruction, enhancement to disability planning, better application of programs, and greater skills assessments and training are needed to help students with disabilities understand themselves and grasp their educational process.

The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 has the potential to assist with disability planning efforts, because it allows individuals with disabilities to show their difficulties by documenting the disability and citing their problems (The United States Access Board, 2008). Regarding any future employer or post-secondary institution (PSI), it requires that “reasonable” modification be applied, without forcing changes or alterations that might be too difficult for the entity to implement (The United States Access Board, 2008). “Reasonable” is a problematic term, becausestudents with disabilities have had a great amount of difficulty in expressing, documenting, and receiving assistance for their disabilities as a direct result of their problems with communication (Cortilla, 2011). This makes it difficult for any employer or PSI to adequately identify what “reasonable accommodations” are, which is creating further gaps (in education and in employment) for the individual with LD (President’s Commission on Excellence in Education, 2002).

In their review of the history of change literature, Higgs and Wren (2009) discuss the complexities and failures of change models over time. They evaluate models that move from simple to sophisticated, and those that move from do-it-yourself models to emergent models (Higgs & Wren, 2005). Among the listed change literature historians is a theorist named John Kotter. Kotter (1996) believed that change required participation from the leader and that leaders needed a true sense of urgency in regard to the change. Others suggest that organizational capabilities and the cultures they impact are so disconnected, and that change cannot occur without structure and repetition (Beer & Nohria, 2000).

Some change literature theorists contend that institutional changes are difficult to conceptualize, because they ultimately have to apply in real world situations (UNPD, 2006). However, others state that the only way change can be effective is if one is willing to continually reshape one’s capacity to enhance one’s organization (Higgs & Wren, 2005; Jaworski & Scharmer, 2000). Altering a system and applying new standards is easy to theorize about, but research shows that changes, especially in educational systems are rarely executed as they are designed (Brugha & Varvasovszky, 2000). Thus, such changes do not spread throughout the entire organization and they are not sustainable in their ability to hold stakeholder or community interests long-term (Brugha & Varvasovszky, 2000).

Rogers (2003) noted that for an innovation to be effective it needs to have certain attributes: (1) it must be better then the innovation it follows, (2) it must be compatible with the current values, (3) it must not be preceived as being too difficult to use, (4) it must allow for experimentation, and (5) it must be transparent and observable so that results are clearly laid out. In the redesign of a new educational system, a stakeholder analysis (Brugha & Varvasovszky, 2000) and strategic plan that incorporate feasible living strategies (this is a method for making sure that a plan that is placed on paper can be effective in a real world situation) are key to a new innovation being successful (Marx, 2006, pp. 15-16).

It is important to determine who the stakeholders are and what role they will play in decision-making, organization policy, literature development and assimilation, and continuation of innovation practices (Rogers, 2003). While there is still some debate about who the stakeholders are (i.e are students stakeholders or are they customers), the majority of researchers find that educational stakeholders include a combination of stduents, parents, staff, community organizations, local governemtns, local businesses, retired citizens, citizens who no longer have students in school, institutions of higher education, media and educational agencies (Spector, Greely , & Kingsley, 2004; BFHE, 2009).

The question then becomes, Where do these stakeholders have buy-in and how does that buy-in impact the assimilation of information (Business Higher Education Foum BHEF, 2009). It might be easier to outline these stakeholders in a figure, by those who are outside of the organization versus those that are inside the organization and how their position in the structure determines their influence on decisions and information diffusion (Brugha & Varvasovszky, 2000). Understanding this relationship allows leaders to develop a proper analysis of whose interests are being considered and who is most impacted by any choice that is made when an educational system needs to be altered (Honig & Rainey, 2011).

Putting these stakeholders in a figure its clear to see that there are stakeholders that are influencers (Policy-makers, Administrators, Social groups, Professional Organizations) and stake holders are the influencees (Students and Instructors). Damanpour & Schneider (2008) might say influencers have “primary” adopter characteristics (those having intrinsic influence, dealing with value and policy) and they might note that influencees have “secondary” adopter characteristics (those having an internal value from the adoption process or that are requires to utilize the actual innovation).

Primary adopters focus on how innovation will be used by the organization from group to group. Secondary adopters focus on how the innovation will be put into practice (Damanpour & Schneider, 2008). Hord, Rutherford, Huling-Austin, & Hall (1987) stated that the most important element in creating positive and successful change was a leader’s willingness to work, push, support and participate in the process (p. 10). A leaders role is important because it does take a quality leader to get an entire stakeholder community to implement new change (Hord et al., 1987). LD students do not have the power to speak for themselves, so they are dependent on their leaders (Cortilla, 2011).

Dalitz, Toner, & Turpin (2011) state that innovation formulas incorporate a variety of different tactics and procedures, but most formulas include life cycle changes, training changes, and skill needs that are either the major primary consideration or they are a close second in the consideration process (p. 11). It is possible that this is why school systems struggle to make some changes to the PSI environment. The change is possibly seen as too expensive or too difficult to implement. In consideration of changing the PSI environment for the LD student, The Cervero Model was chosen because of its incorporation of all elements on a somewhat equal setting, see Figure 2.4. The Cervero Model (Hubbard & Sandmann, 2007). This is relevant because PSI need to understand that, even though modifications at all levels are ultimately desired, change methods do not require PSI to alter every aspect of the educational process to be successful.

Studies have found that there is interconnectedness between change success rates, change context, leadership and methodologies to change (Higgs & Wren, 2005). If stakeholders are not committed, they will not follow the new process and it will fail (Higgs & Wren, 2005). This evidence is reported in The President’s Commission on Excellence in Education (2002) when the reporting staff discovered that LD students were not effectively learning and educational institutions were not able to produce quality, stable learning environments for students with LD. When considering how to assist students with LD, especially when policy has been mandated by legislation that governs how much change can happen at the PSI level, and when considering that many stakeholders have had no choice in the learning formats that are chosen (Dunn & Mulvenon, 2009), LD students must be included in the implementation of any changes that may need to occur in the future as a result of the lived experiences of the mandated educational changes (Hord et al., 1987).

The President’s Council on Excellence in Education (2002) states that the innovation that will help LD students to become solid academic learners will be found by and through engaging with and researching LD students outside of the parameters of the traditional student. If language is not stationary, and if it is not relegated to the sign or symbol as Derrida (1997) supposes, and if it is ontogenetic as Chomsky (1998) believes, and as educators have indirectly implied (Bloom, 1956; Bruner, 1966; Eisner, 2000; Enfield, 2010; Gardener, 2006; Vygotsky, 1978), then researchers must ask how students use language. They must consider how the use of language interferes with learning, and what can be done at the post-secondary institution (PSI) level to help the LD student to better cope in educational settings without removing the “reasonable accommodations” requirement (GOA, 2009).

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Marginalization and Learning Disabilities

Over the past several months I have had conversations with individuals with disabilities who have been marginalized on college campuses due to the actions and attitudes of their non-disabled peers regarding disabilities that cannot be seen with the naked eye.  Living with a disability, especially a disability that is considered “invisible”, is difficult for many people to navigate.  After all, we don’t LOOK like there is something wrong with us. This often leaves the door open to those who think that these conditions are either made up by therapists in order to give those therapists something to do, or “faked” by us to gain attention.

The hard issue is that many individual’s who do not have LD, do not appreciate how difficult it is to navigate the world when you have disabilities. I my own life, I am often told that I must not be disabled if I obtained a college degree.  This is the type of statement that would not normally be said to an individual who had a prosthetic limb.  One might presume that life with the prosthetic would be easier to navigate, but we would never presume that the limb had grown back or that the individual was better because they had a prosthetic (if you did make that leap – it would be because you had not experienced the issues that come with having to use a medical device such as a prosthetic).

I have to make a side note here.  When I use the word “disability”, I use it universally to describe a condition or set of conditions that interferes with or prevents one’s ability to participate in the world without accommodation.  This is a simple definition, because it incorporates all forms of disability, not specifically learning disabilities. Many people would say that a disability does not make one “disabled” – which is true.  Lots of people live life with disabilities and they are not limited in what they can achieve or do.  Others will try, but will be stopped by the disability itself. And others will be unable.  No one person copes with a disability in the same way and no one way is better.

But I have noticed a backlash from groups who are frustrated that so many new conditions are being identified – in their opinion.  I continually hear statements such as, “When I was a kid, there was no such thing as dyslexia/AHDH/”insert learning disability here”. It is as if the very idea is preposterous because someone had not seen it or had not recognized it in the past.

The fact is that unless you have it or your related to someone who has it, it’s hard to understand the impact.  In our society, people desire to live a life that is complaint free.  We pat those on the back who have pushed their conditions aside and beaten the odds – so to speak.  Unfortunately, in the disability community, when one does a great job of moving on with their lives, the rest are often seen as victims, bringing down the system or sucking it dry – which is not the case.

The people I spoke to over these last few weeks did not see themselves as victims, they only knew that to be successful they needed accommodation.

Accommodation is such a tricky word.  People think it means taking from what others need to give something to someone else. I venture to say that in some ways every person on the planet uses some type of accommodation.  The mother trying to feed her young combative toddler uses a restraining devise (commonly called a high chair) to help her to feed the child without incident.  A young boy painting the house for the first time uses a ladder to reach the higher parts of the house.  Neither of these individuals is disabled. They use these devices because they are acceptable forms of accommodation.  They might have found a way to cope without it, but it would have been much harder. This is no less true for individuals with disabilities.

This appears to be the sticking point. or requested accommodation for the disability, they received public backlash – backlash that lasted for weeks and ended with the person feeling broken for asking for something that was necessary, just like the ladder and the highchair (yes – these are very simplistic examples).

Before you speak about a condition or a situation you are not living with or in – THINK. The heart you break with you choice words could take a lifetime to heal.

A Letter to The President

When an attempt to advocate becomes utterly terrifying!

This week I did something I have not done before. Well, that is not exactly true, I have written to the White House before. I have never written to the White House With a gift and a letter.

I have been trying to teach my children about advocacy. What is it? Why is it important? Why do all voices need to be heard?

I have heard people exclaim: “Everyone has problems, so why complain?”

That is something to consider, I guess. Was I wallowing in self-pity or was I considering something larger than me?  So I thought about it.  And, even though I have researched this subject for years, I did a little more.

On the LD.org website, they state the following facts:

  1. Currently 2.4 million students are diagnosed with LD and receive special education services in our schools, representing 41% of all students receiving special education
  2. Close to half of secondary students with LD perform more than three grade levels below their enrolled grade in essential academic skills (45% in reading, 44% in math).

(http://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/what-is-ld/learning-disability-fast-facts)

My own research showed that LD students in post-secondary settings were at least 4 grade levels behind their peers. Additionally, LD.org is counting the students receiving services, not the students who have not been identified or the students whose parents have opted them out of services.

My conclusion was: This was not just about me. I had this fear of saying this message to a person of such importance, but I felt compelled to write, to make some type of difference, no matter how small.

The events that lead to me sending this gift are easy to relay.

I had been writing and writing about what it feels like to have learning disabilities. I wrote to Congressmen/women, Senators, State officials, local politicians, and anyone who I thought might listen.  My goal simple! Well, I thought it was at first.  I wanted to help them to see what I have been explaining and not just read my words on paper.  I did reach some groups and I was even privileged to have a sit down meeting about it.

What I discovered is that we are seeing trends that bother all of us. These trends include the lack of academic progress for students with LD, even with all the money that filters into programs for exceptional learners.

This other discouraging information had me thinking about wanting them (those people in a position to do something) to see what I was saying. In a matter of seconds, I found myself printing out a letter I had been working on, grabbing one of my paintings right off the wall and sprinting to my local postal center.

I knew if I thought about it too much, I was going to put the painting back in my car and take it home. Beating myself about the head for my cowardice – sure no one would have seen me be a coward, but I would have.

I was nervous about even sending it. Who in their right mind sends a painting to the White House? I don’t know the President personally. I don’t socialize in political arenas and I have never done something so “strange” in my whole life.

I was terrified that they would hate it. I told one of the kids, at least now I can say that my painting got thrown away at the White House.

I talked to my husband who told me to calm down and my lovely daughter said, “It’s ok your fine no need to know all the answers. And who knows have faith, the painting may plant a seed and you might never see the fruit, but you planted a seed and that is something to be proud of”

Though she will readily exclaims she is only repeating something she heard/read.  Her words were comforting to me. She was right, if the President never sees that painting, someone will. Someone will know that someone cared enough about this issue to send a visual to go with the words. After all, it was my wish to make even a small impact.

I will never know what becomes of that painting. I will not know if they throw it away or hide it or hate it, but I tried.

I ask you today to reach out and share your stories. In loving memory of a painting I will never see again, this post is dedicated to:

3rd Planet from the Sun

The Journey of a Woman with Learning Disabilities

The Journey of a Woman with Learning Disabilities

 Beginning from the panel on the left… we see that on the 3rd planet from the sun, a girl is formed from the love of two parents (lower panel with the two figures). As this girl formed (triangle panel with the white), she bent over backwards (the red figure bending backwards) to discover who she was in life (the face in the center panel). Unfortunately, as she began to develop and learn, she realized that her way of understanding was wrong (the upside down tree that blends water and earth together in the top left panels). The tears leaking from her face represent her struggle. But the vibrant reds, oranges and yellows represent her courage to push forward.

“Why isn’t the school helping my child to learn?”: What every parent can do to help a struggling learner.

I often hear from parents about the frustrations they have regarding the amount of learning their children get when they go to school during the day, but I hear more of these concerns from parents of students who have some type of learning issue.  I use the word issue, because not all parents that approach me have a child with a learning disability, and some parents that approach me have children with physical or developmental disabilities.

Regardless of who these parents are or what issues their children face, the question is still the same, “Why isn’t the school helping my child to learn?” The problem is that there could be a lot of reasons why a child is not learning. It is possible that it is the teacher, it could be the curriculum, it could be the student, and it could be a host of other things (combination of things).

I am not taking up for all schools and all teachers. This is not a “they are right/ you are wrong” situation. We have an educational problem in America. WE do! We can all see it; we are all effected by it.  We all want better for our children.

Since we know this is going to take time, we know our children cannot wait and we know that schools need our help, let’s figure out what we can do as parents to make this work for now.

Parents, you have the ability to help your child grow.  You are one of the best resources your child has. Here are a few things you can try:

(1)    For whatever reason, your child is struggling to learn, accept it. It is ok to feel what you feel.  But get those emotions to work for you.  Let them fuel you when you are tired at the end of the day and want to rest, or when you would rather flip on the TV instead of read a book with your child.  Find that anger and use it to your child’s benefit.

(2)    Sit down with your child and talk about what it means to be a good student. I’m not saying your child is a bad student. I’m saying to help your child to realize that their job is to go to school and give it their best. I’m not asking you to talk about grades. I’m asking you to teach your child how to ask questions, to seek more information, and how to participate. If your child is participating, giving it their best, and still hitting brick walls, remind them that this is not their fault and let them know you are going to help them as best as you can.

(3)    Get a notebook and start documenting.  What happens when your child sits down to read? Observe what happens when they write – get samples and save them.  Take time to look at what they are producing. What happens when your child does math or social studies? Gather as much information as you can, so you can become an expert on what your child does when your child is learning.  The fact is this, your child’s teacher may have 20 or 30 or even 40 children in the classroom – they may see a picture forming – but they are seeing only part of it – fill in the blanks for them so that they have a solid idea of who your child is or is not doing. Doing this might help you to figure out that one thing that will connect your child to what they learn in school.

(4)    Find out what your child is supposed to know for class and reinforce it.

  1. Help them to write about it, read about it, and find fun facts about it.  You can make up trivia and play games with it, with your children.
  2. Get exemplars (examples) of what the teacher needs to see your child do in order for your child to show they have the skill. Use those to guide your child to where they need to be.
  3. Have them make books with their own understanding of he information.
  4. Set reasonable expectations about what you can do and then do it.

My goal this weekend will be to have my sons create their own trivial pursuit game based on what they are learning in 7th and 9th grade. I promise to take a few snap shots and tell you how it’s going. 

(5)    Develop a relationship with your child’s school. Let them see your face and know your voice. You may not be able to participate in PTO, but that does not mean you can’t participate in other ways. If you only have time to drop in and provide an encouraging word to the teachers and staff – that is a much needed contribution that will go a long way to helping you have a solid relationship with the people who spend 8 hours a day with your child.  Your communication with the school will help you to find out about other resources that might help your child.

(6)    Celebrate the small things. Every time your child makes progress – GET LOUD! Show them some love.  Learning is hard work when you have to hurdle over barriers. Show your child you appreciate what they have achieved. Be careful not to bribe them – that could be disastrous.  Cheer like you are watching the big game or like you just saw a miracle right before your eyes. Just them see that it mattered to you.

(7)    Write your stories down. Our government needs to see what you see. They need to know what it is like for your children. They need you to share. They see numbers on lines and graphs and charts. Those numbers do not tell them anything about what you deal with every single day nor do they tell them what your child faces.  When you document your child learning, make copies and send it to the people who make the policy changes that impact your child and the people who support them.

(8)    Get to know your community of educators. Your school is not the only group you need to have a working relationship with. Learn about your local department of education, most have additional resources online or listed in the office. Make a phone call, ask questions, learn about events and attend them.

(9)    Network with other parents. Learn from one another.  You will be surprised the amazing things you can learn from people who are in your shoes.

I realize that this is not easy, but since we can’t change the system over night, it’s up to us to figure out how to help our children regardless.  If you have resources that you would like to share, please forward them and links to the pages if possible.

Until Next Time,

Dr. Richmond

H.Res. 456: “Calling on schools and State and local educational agencies to recognize that dyslexia has significant educational implications”

This weekend I took the time to begin discussing disability advocacy.  What does it mean? Why is it important? How do we address it?

It was my pleasure to discover that Congressman Bill Cassidy and Congresswoman Julia Brownley have written a resolution calling for the House to acknowledge that impact of dyslexia on students. Decoding Dyslexia- Co said that Congressman Cassidy said that

“the resolution is designed to urge schools and educational institutions to address the impact of (dyslexia) on students”  

In another quote posted by Decoding Dyslexia – CO, Congressman Cassidy says:

“Dyslexia affects millions of Americans, including many students. We know that many with dyslexia are among our brightest and most successful. If dyslexia is identified in elementary school and the appropriate resources are given to these children, America can produce more teachers, more scientists and more entrepreneurs. This resolution pushes schools and educational agencies to address this challenge and provide evidence-based solutions for dyslexic students.”

This bill currently only has a 2% chance of passing, but this is low because people do not know about it.  It is up to us as citizens and especially those of us who deal with the impact of dyslexia to encourage our Congressmen and Congresswomen to join the Bipartisan Congressional Dyslexia Caucasus.

Why is this important?

According to Dyslexia World:

A person suffering from dyslexia disorder experiences difficulty reading, writing, with letters, words, and numbers, as well as reversing letters and words. It is estimated that 10 to 15% of the children suffer from Dyslexia.”

But from personal experience, I understand that dyslexia is a life-long condition. It has taken me years to learn to learn and to teach my children to learn.  My hope, my call to my elected officials and to the rest of the United States is that you do not allow another student to struggle as hard as I did – as my children have/are.

If I could sit down with these men and women today – I would walk them through what it felt like to copy a text book cover to cover, to read – reread and reread information hoping to make it stick, to feel what it is like to confuse what is written and what is said – to have the thoughts get stuck, to feel stupid when you know your not and to wonder where on earth the information went that you spent so much time trying to remember.

If I could share a lunch with them, I would ask, if they understood that I have no desire to take something from another student in my quest to give students the same opportunity to learn.

I ask you now to reach out and write letters and ask your Congressmen and Congresswomen to stand up for these children and adults.

I will be posting this letter on all of my social media outlets and I ask you to consider posting it too.  Better yet, write your own and share it.  My voice is not the only voice that needs to be heard.

Special Thanks to:

Decoding Dyslexia – CO (https://www.facebook.com/DecodingDyslexiaCo)

Congressman Bill Cassidy (https://www.facebook.com/billcassidy)

Congresswoman Julia Brownley (https://www.facebook.com/RepJuliaBrownley)

May we continue the effort to build awareness!

Until Next Time,

Dr. Richmond

A Pause to Discuss Disability Advocacy

You would think that as a woman and as an “African-American” (we are all Americans so I hate the additional identifiers – I simply find it is necessary to discuss this point), I would understand more about the idea of Civil Rights. After all, these two groups alone have faced the sting of discrimination and injustice since the birth of America. But I, like many Americans grew complacent about Civil Rights. We had some laws passed, a few people got some jobs, there were options out there that we did not have before.  And to be quite honest, I sometimes found myself very frustrated by those people who seemed “bitter/angry” all the time. You know that person who could not have a single lunch without bringing up this cause or that cause. It was overwhelming for me.

I could never quite understand why that was. Why would someone speaking out etch through me like glass?  This week (I’m now 42 years old), and only this week did it dawn on me!  My entire life I was told to stop complaining. To learn to accept “something”, to be happy with what I had. We were poor, after all. We had to learn to be grateful. We had shoes and some kids did not. We had food some kids did not. We had a home and other children lived on the streets or in shelters. I might have still felt hungry, but I had something – so stop complaining.

Were those things valid concerns, yes, but since my grandmother had no power to make any changes to our lives, she had to teach us to deal with it, to find happiness and to not focus solely on what was not there. There is value in that philosophy and I don’t want anyone reading this post to think that I find shame in that. The shame is not being poor and not having something. The shame is being made to believe that you do not deserve better. It was not my grandmother who taught me that – it was society, teachers, people who said things like “You can’t learn”, “You are stupid”, “You should not try for better because you are not going to get it.” That shaped me in such a deep way that  I presumed that saying it, claiming it and asking for help was complaining.

I remember always making excuses for others, when I would say something, write something, or have difficulty getting the words out. Often those excuses where demeaning to me. I could not articulate what I felt and so I found that the easiest way to cope was to do my best to blend in and pretend like nothing was wrong.

I chuckled when people I loved called me “weird” even though it hurt me inside to hear it. I tried to let it go when I heard words like, “off in her own world” or when people would whistle and spin their fingers in a circle around their temples. Everyone has to learn to laugh at themselves (I would justify) – I should have a bit a of humor about myself, so that I can learn how to blend in with the world around me.

But there were some underlying differences that no one was really looking at. I WAS NOT just like every body else. Everyone else was walking into a public school and making the choice to learn or not learn. I was walking in knowing that nothing I did that day was going to stick. Everyone else had the option to go to the library and grab information and use it to better themselves. I walked into that same library knowing that I was going to loose much of what I read.  When our student body graduated from high school most of the students (even if they were scared) had memory of the information they had learned in school – had recall of the faces of people they had met. I left school with no recall of anything that took place in the classroom and limited to no memory of the faces of the students or teachers I had met there. There was a difference – there was a problem – there was something missing.

No one was going to be able to speak that space but me. Everyone else around me thought (because I had pretended) that we had the same access to the same things because it was a free American right. They had no idea that due to my learning issues I was not able to access that free “Right”.

I also remember the attitude people got when at the mere mentioned the term “accommodation”. It would cause an immediate anger. So many people felt like something was being taken away from them because another person dared to say something as simple as, “I need assistance with this/that.”  The problem is that it is very difficult to understand when you have never lived it. To live a life free of the need of accommodation is something I will never experience. That does not mean that all people who do are bad or unfeeling, it only means they are different. I just don’t know anyone totally free of some type of accommodations. Every short person needs a stool. Most tall people need special clothing. Children need special caps placed on medication. I see accommodation everywhere I turn – why do we make it into a four letter word?

The need for accommodation is further complicated by something else. The misunderstanding that disabilities are something new that people are coming up with so they don’t have to work or so that they can get something from the government for free or so that they can get special treatment.

I try to address those things systematically. Disabilities have always been apart of the living experience. Unfortunately, for those with physical disabilities the consequence of having the disability was often a death sentence, this was no different then what happened to the elderly who by nature of becoming older became disabled. For those with intellectual or cognitive disabilities this meant being shut in institutions or “sheltered” by families who were embarrassed. Or it meant that you would have needed to be exceptional or ridiculed your entire life by society – a hero or a misfit.  But no matter what, this left a great deal of “healthy” non-disabled individuals to build an entire society without your input and for your “benefit”, unaware of your needs because you were too “crippled” or too “ignorant” to contribute.

I was on a discussion board this week.  We were discussing what people in the “disability community” needed to do in order to start truly advocating for themselves. In the discussion some brought up that people who have disability need to do many things, like speak up for themselves, participate in boards, write letters, inform/educate our greater community, talk to legislators, etc. I then remember this gentleman saying that we did not need to be on boards, not even the boards of programs that were designed to help our community.  He could not understand why this would be of any value to help with any form of change.

This person was not being mean, but this person did not understand  a very basic concept. That concept is that sometimes the thing done to help can cause the most hurt. For that reason I shared a story that was far more intimate. It was my hope that this story would help shed a little light on why people with disabilities are hurt when we are not apart of our own solutions. The example is not disability related, but it is just as valid, which is why I share it now.

A few years back I had an emergency hysterectomy. I checked in on the ground floor and woke up in maternity. I can’t tell you how hard it was to wake up to hear children crying knowing about my own loss. When I asked why they keep women in my situation on this floor, I was told it was easier on the doctors. It had been determined by a vote of a hospital board. If just one of those board members had understood the patient’s side they might have realized the trauma of this choice. Sadly the board that made the choice that impacted me had no idea of the ramifications this choice would have on me psychologically speaking. They only knew that they had done what they could to help me. I will never be angry that they helped me. That does not change what happened to me after. Had one person been there to explain that placing women on this floor was a horrible idea – maybe that would have had an impact – I will never know – but it will never change if women remain silent about that kind of issue.

Many people do not realize how the things they think of as normal are damaging to someone with a disability.  Take for instance, the buses in my state are now equipped with a wheelchair lift so people in wheelchairs can get on the bus. I was at a meeting with a group of people who are in wheelchairs. On this day it was snowing. I was upset because I had difficulty with my directions, but the snow on the street had been shoveled. I had to drive up one street and down another and when I finally parked I had a puddle in front of me and I could easily jump over it to get to a dryer piece of land. One of the lady’s in a chair then explained that due to the snow the bus driver put her out closer to the highway, so she had to navigate in her chair in the street because the snow had been shoveled so high to one side that her access to the sidewalk had been cut off.  This forced her to go way out of her way to get to the building we were meeting at.

Had I not heard her side, I would not have been able to understand how difficult it was for her. We should have both had access to the street and the sidewalk – we both pay the taxes that make the side walk available for all people, but the city was considering the non-disabled walkers and drivers on that day – they had forgotten about everyone else. I am not just talking about people in chairs, I am also thinking about children, the elderly, and those who have some kind of ailment. All of these people who had to get off a bus and find a new path through the streets, and had to be placed in a dangerous situation. That is unacceptable.

The same way we pay taxes for public transportation and clean sidewalks near bus stops and city buildings, is the same way we all pay taxes to be educated, but most people with learning and other disabilities pay far more because the educational system is created based on building success in students who do not have learning/cognitive disabilities. These additional costs come in the form of extra tutoring, additional supplies, special equipment, etc. Things I have often heard people without out disabilities refer to as “options”.  Not a bad word, but it can be so degrading when used by some. If I cannot be educated without it – it is not an option. If I took all the pencils and paper out of the school and refused to allow students to have the lights on – I would be denying them access – that is no different then the accommodations needed for someone with a disability. I cannot learn if I cannot see, I cannot learn if I cannot get my wheelchair into the room, I cannot learn if I cannot hear, and I cannot learn if the curriculum has shut me out.

A Civil Right is a right we as a people have determined that all of us can have. It is a set of agreements that we hold to that state that we all deserve to have the same things, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What we forget is that there are some who are unable to participate. We don’t understand that, based on how we have designed our America, we have shut them out.

There are a plethora of issues that the disability community will have to face. We will have to tackle accessibility on all levels, education, homelessness, age issues, housing, insurance, poverty (we are the poorest minority group in America: http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/p60-239.pdf) and the stigma that society holds of us as a disabled community.

The fight for disability rights is not a fight to take something from other Americans, but a demand to have exactly what you already have. We don’t hate people without disabilities, we don’t want to see them suffer and we don’t blame them for the limitations that we deal with every day. We want the same things you want. We want to learn, to have jobs, to ride buses, to enjoy the parks. We want to get work, support our families, help our government, and live the best life we can.  We press because we have been excluded, we press because things are not equal.

One day this will not be necessary – until then we will continue to fight. This is no different then the challenge I take on as an African-American or as a Woman – we have come so far, but we are still so far away.

Until Next Time,

Dr. Richmond

Visual Perception

In today’s post I decided to cover visual perception. For the past month or two I have been working with my sons on a project. The Dark Woods book project. We love the books we have written, but we would like to see them as a graphic novel. The idea came from the fact that my son thought it would be easier for other children to read his books if they were graphic novels. This was also important to him because the first book he read independently was a graphic novel.

Unfortunately, I am an abstract artist not a graphic artist/novelist. The writing of the books was difficult to say the least, now this. But, out of love for my son, and some strange desire to give something of myself back to him, I made the choice to try. It has not been easy. Transitioning from one art form to another is foreign; at least it is to me.

However, there is something that typically happens when you venture out of your comfort zone and learn something new. What happens is that you end up discovering something of value. For me, this something of value was that it helped me to take a really good look at my own visual perception and its given me some insights into my learning disabilities.

I have tried to explain before that I see things differently then others. But since a picture is worth a thousand words, lets look at a photo. This is my daughter (Say hello!):

Original Photo

Original Photo

My apologies the photo is grainy.

I did a free hand drawing of the photo without using lines or boxes (this is a tool used by artist to help with drawing faces). I wanted the photo to be the same size as the other one. But I had trouble  – see the photo:

My drawing without the use of the tools.

My drawing without the use of the tools.

Looking at the photo you can see the distortion immediately. To really evaluate it, I will apply lines and highlight a few of those lines.

Adding the lines with a ruler.

Adding the lines with a ruler.

Looking at the photo and the drawing close up.

Looking at the photo and the drawing close up.

Starting with line 1 you can see problems. However, look at likes 4 through 8. The eyes are too large, the nose is too long, and the mouth doesn’t seem to be where it should be. If you look closely you will also see that the shading is awkward (if you can use that word to describe art).  The shading of the lower eye in my drawing makes it look like I was giving my drawing a black eye. That is because I have difficulty understanding the color tones in the black and white photo that I used to create this drawing.

If I placed more lines on the paper, even more details and anomalies would show up. One might ask, how does this relate to reading and writing?

When I fail to see what is before me, I not only have difficulty modeling that thing, I also have difficulty describing what I do see. Anyone who has had difficulty with drawing would say that my art looks horrible not because I do not see well, but because I am not a good artist. And they would be correct; I am not a good portrait artist. Just like in school there are students who are not good in school because they are either not good students or they are not good in a particular subject.

What I am talking about are the students who actually see things in a distorted way. These types of distortions compound my difficulty with reading and writing. Are there other ways that things are distorted? Yes, there are. This was one way to actually show it. To highlight what things can look like when they are on paper.

Look again at the 3rd photo. If I was writing letters on a page, a teacher might notice something like very large letters that do not stay on the line (like the way my eyes and nose are falling into the next space). The teacher might notice that I may be missing details like a word or a letter (like how I miss the details in the shading). They might notice that I turn things backwards. This one is harder to spot in the drawing, but check out the bottom half of each earring, neither of them is facing the right direction. The earing on the left side of the face in my drawing is facing the neck. This earing should be facing away from the neck. The earing in the drawing on the right is turned towards the shoulder. This earing should be facing the viewer.

Now, how do I resolve these issues when I see things the way that I do? In regards to art, I have to start to use the tools that make artists better, like lines and rulers and shapes. These things are difficult for me to use because I am unfamiliar with them. I know a circle from a square, but I struggle with using the circle to create a face – so I have to practice this over and over until I can use it easier.  I have practiced at least one drawing per day for weeks now, and I am still struggling to remember tools I learned in the beginning. This is something we in the research community are working on – why do students like myself forget instructions, even though we might master them during the time we are being instructed?

When writing and reading, I have to practice reading and writing. I have to try various techniques and I have to keep using them until I learn to do them on my own.  Will I ever be a great portrait artist, I do not believe that I will, but the tools have helped me to create some art that I can be proud of.  Just like practicing reading and writing has helped me to be proud that I can communicate.

Attached, take a look at some of what I have been able to do when I have the right tools and some support from teachers and family.

You can still see visual issues appear and you still have distortions in things like the nose.

You can still see visual issues appear and you still have distortions in things like the nose.

But there is more of a natural look starting to show.

But there is more of a natural look starting to show.

It alters the graphic work too. Not perfect, but not where I began.

It alters the graphic work too. Not perfect, but not where I began.

When you are working with a student who has reading and or writing problems, try figuring out how they see and if they can describe it. Then try to figure out tools to assist them in practicing. I believe that the more you use your tools, the better you become with those tools.

Until Next Time.

Dr. Richmond