Learning Ally Blog: Access and Achievement

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Now more than ever, people with learning and visual disabilities are flourishing in the classroom, launching productive careers and becoming assets in their communities. This blog spotlights remarkable individuals who demonstrate that having a visual or print disability is no barrier to educational success.


My Dyslexia Story: Megan Pasquantonio-Pierce, Harvard University
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Guest blogger Megan Pasquantonio-Pierce became a Learning Ally member when she was in college and graduate school. She recently reached out to us with a heartfelt note: "You made such a difference in my learning experience. I had many obstacles throughout my academic career, and still do. I am a graduate student at Harvard University at the Extension School, working on my thesis. I would love to have the chance to pay it forward by sharing my story."

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Head Shot IV (1)Many times when I write an email or a story, people think that I am uneducated or not intelligent. Not because of the content, but because of the spelling errors sprinkled throughout my writing like little gems. My first attempt to contact my now husband was a mess. He later disclosed that he thought that I was uneducated and divorced (read: Pasquantonio-Pierce). I have since gone back, read that email, and cringe. My writing is not always a good representation of who I am. It is only a part of me being expressed through the misspelled words littering my emails. To be honest, when I was in middle school, I thought my dyslexia was this big ugly, embarrassment that made me different than the other kids. People who find spelling and grammar to be easy, often judge someone who does not. They think it is laziness, or lack of appreciation for the English language. Throughout my life many have been quick to correct my spelling, and sometimes they will go about it in a presumptuous way, which drives me nuts. When that happens it feels as if it is not just my spelling and grammar that they are correcting, but they are correcting me on a deeper level. They think they are teaching me a lesson, or “helping me out.”
"People who find spelling and grammar to be easy, often judge someone who does not."
But I have learned to take it for what it is, a free editing service. Excellent. They are saving me from needing to hire someone else for my editing needs. Spending time and money on something that they are willingly giving out for FREE! Do you know how much a good writing tutor costs per hour? It is a pretty penny, believe me I have had hours of tutoring. Thanks guys, you’re the best. Sarcasm aside, my dyslexia has been a lifelong struggle, a lifelong struggle with the English language. It also manifests into the need to show my worth and intelligence outside of my ability to play nice with the written word. I have had this love affair with learning. This insatiable curiosity to know more about the world around me and all of its players. But with education often comes the expectation of being able to read and write well. I hated both and wasn’t too hot at either. Writing and reading in school would give me such anxiety and frustration. To me, writing and reading felt like my hands were tied behind my back, while spinning in a circle, while riding a unicycle. It was exhausting. I could never corral my thoughts into a concise order and as we know, my spelling was god-awful.
"I have thrived in graduate school because it requires higher level thinking that I just love exploring."
Now let’s add to the image, my hands are tied behind my back, spinning in a circle, riding a unicycle, but now I am being chased by a herd of really angry bulls. That is how it felt when I took standardized tests. SATs, ACTs, and GREs were my worst nightmare. Not only because were they making me do something I wasn’t good at, but my upper level academic career was riding on how well I did on these tests. But to be fair, the board of education did untie my hands. I was given accommodations to “level the playing field.” But guess what? I was still spinning in a circle, while riding a unicycle, being chased by angry bulls! Having extra time is not going to negate the fact that I am dyslexic and that my vocabulary and comprehension are not stellar. Does society really think that because I suck at the GREs that I should not be afforded the opportunity to go to graduate school? Like someone who is a great test taker? And not dyslexic? The GRE does not measure: grit, diligence, or dedication. At the end of the day it measures your ability to study for the test. And your ability to regurgitate the stuff you learned from your expensive “GRE” review book or your certified tutor. I went to a graduate school that doesn’t make you take that obnoxiously expensive test. They admit you based on how well you have done in previous graduate school classes at that school. What a novel idea! And you know what? I have thrived in graduate school because it requires higher level thinking that I just love exploring. I have the right tools to supplement my learning and knowledge that make learning accessible for me.
"You are not your disability. It is part of who you are, but it is what makes you beautifully different."
Writing has become more enjoyable, because I am writing for my blog on topics about which I am passionate. Spell check is a godsend and I have my wonderful editor to double check my work. I truly enjoy writing because just like many things, as you continue to do it, you get better at it. Once you feel that you have a mastery from experience, your confidence soars! My hope for anyone still reading this who has this struggle is: do not give up. Do not allow society to determine how you express your intelligence. You are not your disability. It is part of who you are, but it is what makes you beautifully different. You have a power that others do not. A way of thinking that, if harnessed and expressed in the way you feel most confident, will change the world. The experience of having a learning disability is one that many do not understand. Intelligence is expressed and experienced in different ways. The English language is a beautiful, and for some of us, a mysterious thing. I hope that we all have some grace and patience with our fellow explorers.

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