Davis Graham wanted to participate. His teachers could not understand why he was so resistant to learning. He almost completely gave up on his education. Mr. Graham, a life-long dyslexia advocate, has dyslexia and he was not alone. Eighty percent of children who have a learning disability are also impacted by dyslexia. This is a staggering number of students.
With technology we can tackle some of the challenges facing these students. Even changing how we view these differences.
I asked a friend of mine, Tony Wright, who has two children with dyslexia, what he would change in the world of education. He said we need a change in perception because, “In a perfect world, my children’s learning differences would be accepted as differences, not disabilities. Their peers would understand that they think differently. That they are not inferior. Also, they would be able to be accommodated without disruption to their day. Of course, they have a father who loves reading. I want my kids to enjoy reading. In a perfect world, my kids would be just able to be normal kids and given the chance to excel and succeed in whatever their talent is. I think that’s what most parents want as well.”
With increased early screening we could identify more children who struggle with dyslexia. Early screening could provide a pathway to learning with Text to Speech technology (TTS) and could even lead to a decrease in our total IEP costs. TTS in schools creates an excellent opportunity for a huge impact in schools with very limited budgets.
With regard to how we view reading and writing in education, Mr. Graham points out, “It’s a crossroads. [We should] say look, you can dictate it with speech to text or you can consume it by text to speech or the reading acceleration program.”
The point is the challenges caused by dyslexia in reading and writing can be alleviated. Cost savings for IEPs would be realized in both the short and long-term. Providing students access to TTS technology is the most efficient solution in solving reading challenges that dyslexic students face. In the long-run, districts will see improved comprehension and less frustrating outbursts from students. Very often we see a decrease in the need for assistance from teachers and better test scores often follow. All of these elements combined lead to a positive net impact on students, teachers and schools with limited budgets.
“In the Education delivery system, text to speech will level the hurdles of the printed word in any language, providing a level playing field for all students,” says Mr. Graham.
Despite being severely dyslexic, Mr. Graham went on to receive his Master of Science in Health and Medical Informatics from Brandeis University. When he was diagnosed with dyslexia in the late 60’s, his road to achieving educational success was a long, winding path. With support from many educators along the way, he became passionate about providing access to various content for those who also suffer with dyslexia. Mr. Graham found Bookshare, an ebook library, and began listening to volumes of books converted from a written format to an audio format. This is a life changing experience for someone willing to learn, but who lacks the ability to just sit down and read. Enter the mobile age and the explosion of access to content for those with dyslexia, and we begin to see innovative solutions in solving learning disabilities.
Along with internet access and either a mobile device or tablet, any student with dyslexia can access TTS technology. TTS is not new, but it is dramatically improved over the years.
The increase in processing speed and decrease in costs over time, has allowed for dramatic improvements to TTS technology. Now with programs like Dragon Dictate or Google’s Dictation.io, students can speak into a microphone, or use a dictation feature to “write” papers or take tests.
The problem goes beyond just improving grades
Research by Jean Cheng Gorman, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist who studied youth suicides in 1998, found a staggering 50% of students who unfortunately end their lives have a learning disability, and 40% suffer from dyslexia. There is yet to be a research study showing TTS technology having a causal impact on decreasing suicide. However, helping alleviate barriers to knowledge, while decreasing frustration with learning, will have a positive impact on all student’s lives.
Beyond cost savings, the significance in learning to each student is tremendous. As a child, I personally was slow to read, but I don’t remember when I suddenly “learned” how to read. The act of reading is so automatic for most people, that it is hard for most people to imagine what it would be like to lack the ability to read. Providing solutions to these problems can help make some students feel empowered to learn again. TTS can change the lives of those students who need help with managing dyslexia.
Jabez LeBret is Chief of Schools at Sisu Academy, the first tuition-free private boarding high school in California. Cofounder of two companies he is also a regular Millennial Management speaker.