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.


"You don't look like someone with dyslexia..."
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Following is the speech given by Kelsey Ross as she accepted the William L. Ritchie Award at Learning Ally's National Gala in Washington, DC on April 27, 2013.

I want to thank everyone here, our host Dee Rosenberg, everyone at Learning Ally, and the other honorees. All of us honored here tonight are lucky.  We’ve had parents, learning specialists, teachers and Learning Ally to help us realize our full potential in spite of our difficulties. I remember a friend telling me once, “You don’t look like someone with dyslexia.”  The truth is, I look like everyone with and without dyslexia and that’s what sometimes makes it so hard to figure out. In elementary school I was always the first kid with my hand up. Whether it was to answer a question or to volunteer to read, I wanted to be the first one the teacher chose every time there was an opportunity. As I stammered over words, I didn’t always understand why the teacher would ask “Who can help Kelsey out?”  The words played tricks on me and letters disassembled themselves into chicken scratch on the page. Since I had two older brothers my parents realized early on that I had a problem. I loved to buy books, but not to read them. My Dad read to me every night and I would memorize books and recite them back in order to avoid reading altogether. Kelsey Ross at the Learning Ally National GalaMy mom read Dr. Shaywitz’s book, “Overcoming Dyslexia” when I was in first grade and credits it with “diagnosing/discovering” me and giving my parents a timely and clear plan. As predicted in her book, once I began having timed tests there was real trouble. As I got older, the differences between me and my classmates became more pronounced. Some classmates thought I was the last one to finish a test because I wasn’t very smart. Initially, I wasn’t told I was different, a blessing in more ways than one, because I learned my own “work arounds” for my challenges.    I was evaluated several times and each time the results came out the same; I was a very intelligent student but I had severe dyslexia. When I first found out I was dyslexic I was distraught, and accused my parents of withholding important information from me.  The next day I asked them why they had told me at all.  About this time, I first became acquainted with what was then Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, now Learning Ally. Your organization became my saving grace in middle school and throughout high school. Since I could not read easily, I had stopped reading for pleasure. This had caused a sharp decline in my vocabulary and grammar skills despite the fact I had had the vocabulary of a fifth grader when I was tested at six years old. Learning Ally was the tool that allowed me to regain those losses and to become independent, efficient and confident. It even gave me time to read for pleasure and still have time for sports and friends.  In high school I could keep up with the AP reading in my classes again. These books also took my learning capabilities mobile. I no longer needed to have my parents home in order to get my work done, all I needed was my iTouch and headphones and I was captain of my own schedule.  Though I don’t personally know any of the people who volunteer to read, I can close my eyes and I would recognize your voices anywhere. Thank you so much.

"Listening to audiobooks through Learning Ally is a key reason my writing has improved."

Through hard work and with the help of Learning Ally, I was finally able to achieve my goal of being accepted at my dream school, Duke University. There, with the continued help of Learning Ally I hope to pursue math or science and Duke’s recently added writing minor. I am an anomaly in my interests. Despite my dyslexia, I am infatuated with writing. I began to write a fictional novel in eighth grade. Today it is approximately 150 pages, and I plan to publish it and others in the future. Listening to audiobooks through Learning Ally is a key reason my writing has improved. In high school I joined the school newspaper and am now one of its editors, a surprising accomplishment considering early testing put my editing skills in the fifth percentile. I never knew this and chose what I wanted, rather than what was predicted I should want. Dyslexia is a big part of my life, but it has not become my life. Dyslexia is certainly a part of my learning experience, but it never dictates it. I must work harder and longer than many of my friends to be a great student and life still has embarrassing moments courtesy of my dyslexia. I teach religious education to fourth graders. What was I thinking when I suggested we play hangman with words from the Bible…..think Deuteronomy and Ecclesiastes.
"All I needed was my iTouch and headphones and I was captain of my own schedule."
At the end of the day, dyslexia has given me surprising strengths. I even wrote a college essay about it being my “superpower”. Sure, it gets annoying going to softball practice late because I’m still working on a test, but many people can’t memorize an entire dance combination or anatomy chart after one lesson. Dyslexia makes me see things differently. I’m creative; I think outside the lines. I’m determined and diligent. I’m patient and empathetic to those who have trouble learning, which is why I also love tutoring and teaching.  Learning Ally’s help and recognition tonight has made me proud I never allowed dyslexia to stop my dreams and I can’t thank you all enough.


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