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"Our First Line of Defense"

Categories: Assistive Technology, Learning Disabilities, Public Policy/Advocacy

Chester Goad, TN Tech Director of Disability Services, is passionate about supporting students with dyslexia, a desire driven by a close friendship with his best friend in college whom he watched struggle through reading assignments. While fighting for changes in public policy and serving the Tennessee Branch of the International Dyslexia Association, Chester is referring students to Learning Ally as his “first line of defense” against dyslexia.

“When I was in college, my best friend had dyslexia and I realized how much he struggled,” Chester explains. “I would help by reading some of his school materials aloud. He was incredibly smart and bright and that got me interested in educational disabilities.”

After Chester received his degree in education and then taught school, he learned even more about learning disabilities while working for a U.S. congressman who sat on the Education and Workforce Committee subcommittee on Special Education and was one of the authors of No Child Left Behind.

Chester listened closely during the hearings where frustrated teachers and parents would present to the committee. "One of our goals is to promote the fact that students with learning disabilities are bright, often superior, and just need some assistance to succeed. I heard the same frustrations from those teachers and parents as I did listening to my friend in college," he says.

Many times, Chester found himself in the realm of learning disabilities. New career opportunities led him to Currey Ingram Academy, a school created specifically for students who learn differently, where he gained more insight about the issue from an administrative perspective. Later he worked as a disability coordinator at Roane State Community College, and is now the Director of Disability Services at Tennessee Technological University. Students who need assistance visit the University’s Disability Services office asking for tools to help them complete their education.

“Our first line of defense is to look at Learning Ally to see if the service can help,” Chester says. “People with a variety of disabilities learn best when they have resources like this.”

The office has found that in addition to the numerous students on campus with dyslexia, ADD and learning disabilities, there are many more who are not yet identified. Chester adds, “One of our goals is to promote the fact that students with learning disabilities are bright, often superior, and just need some assistance to succeed.” Noting that some students are leery of audiobooks when they first hear about Learning Ally, Chester asks them, “How do you know it won’t help if you don’t try it?” Others don’t understand that audiobooks are meant to supplement their reading and are reluctant to use the service because they don’t want to give up their printed textbook. Chester tells them, “Good, we want you to keep using the printed textbook,” and explains that they should listen while following along in the book. “Once they try it, they often come back and express how helpful it has been and how convenient. They aren’t tied to a computer, but can use a portable device and work it into their lifestyle.”

Chester on African rooftop

Aside from helping students at TN Tech, Chester is fighting to raise awareness of access and disability issues and lobbying for changes to public policy. He also recently visited eastern Africa and spoke with schools and administrators in Dars Es Salaam, Tanzania and the Tanzanian Island of Zanzibar. His blog, The EdVenturist, is a pertinent venue es facts, resources and successes all relating to his passion and also discusses problems and difficulties.

“Getting students identified as people with a disability is a huge problem,” says Chester. “In some states it is difficult to qualify for services because the assessments are geared toward lower functioning students. Students with dyslexia are intelligent enough to complete those tests to a level that makes it look as though they don’t need help. But if the right testing was actually done, they would receive the kind of help that is right for them.”

As a member of the Tennessee Branch of the International Dyslexia Association, and immediate past president of the Tennessee Association on Higher Education and Disability, Chester stays focused on making education accessible as a volunteer, professional and advocate. Throughout his endeavors, he has run into representatives from Learning Ally several times.

“I met Patrick Flynn, who represents the Southeast region for Learning Ally, and he did a great job presenting and explaining the program. I really like that Learning Ally is not just a phone number that you call, but you can put a face with the organization.”

Connect with Chester on Twitter @cgoad09 and visit his website: www.ChesterGoad.com.


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