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dyslexia legislation

Leveling the Playing Field for Kids with Dyslexia

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Friday, November 13, 2015

By Barbara L’Italien

Children with dyslexia often go without the essential support they need in order to succeed in our traditional public schools. Although research shows that when students with dyslexia get the method of instruction early in their educational careers they frequently become very successful students, Massachusetts does not provide specialized training, teaching strategies, or evaluation process for teachers of students with dyslexia. Additionally, many educators have not been taught how to recognize the early signs of dyslexia. The result is that thousands of children with dyslexia suffer in silence after being labeled below-average or lazy. These children do not get to enjoy learning in the same way their peers do, and their fear of constantly asking for help with deciphering words can result in long-term effects on their literacy.

The need for legislative action is clear. The demand for dyslexia-specific instruction far exceeds the number of seats available at the Landmark School.  Providing accessible methods to help teachers better understand how to instruct students with dyslexia should be a priority, as should early evaluation of students who show signs of dyslexia. We want all students to work at grade level, and we know that kids with dyslexia can do this if they are properly supported.

For these reasons, I have sponsored a bill (S.312) to address the special education needs of children with dyslexia. The bill has four important components: (1) an optional endorsement for teachers who wish to be trained in teaching strategies for students with dyslexia, (2) adding a standardized definition of dyslexia into our special education statute, (3) a requirement that schools provide early evaluation of young students showing signs of dyslexia, and (4) a requirement that students with dyslexia have access to teachers who have earned the dyslexia endorsement.  

This bill is not perfect or all encompassing, but it has begun a statewide conversation on the importance of providing high-quality instruction for students with dyslexia and how to best equip our hardworking educators with the tools they need to help children with dyslexia succeed. I want to honor our children and educators that advocate for students with dyslexia through this bill. We will use their experiences and the research to advance dyslexia education in our schools and ensure children with dyslexia excel in their educational careers.  If you agree that this legislation is needed in our Commonwealth, I encourage you to contact my office to discuss how you can help advocate on behalf of this issue.

Barbara L'Italien headshot

Barbara L’Italien is the mother of four children and is the State Senator for Andover, Dracut, Lawrence, & Tewksbury.  Her career in advocacy and public service also includes eight years as a State Representative and Government Affairs work in the State Treasurer’s office and at the Arc of Massachusetts.

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Tags:  Barbara L’Italien Decoding Dyslexiadyslexia dyslexia awareness dyslexia legislation Landmark School

Making Time to Create Change

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Tuesday, October 6, 2015

By Nicole Mitsakis

"You have to do the right thing...You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result." Mohandas K. Gandhi

The quote above explains the very personal and passionate commitment I have to establishing Decoding Dyslexia in Massachusetts (DD-MA) as a relevant and effective means to improve the school experience of students with dyslexia. The struggle for my own child’s positive outcome in a public school was a work in progress, full of frustration and stress. DD-MA is a constructive outlet that allowed me to take some action.

or me, one of the most relevant opportunities was on June 17, 2015, when I testified before the Massachusetts Education Committee to share why dyslexia legislation is so necessary (HB 463 and SB 312). DD-MA has worked with neuroscientists and legislators to initiate legislation that will guide public school policy makers to better outcomes. What I’ve learned about the legislation process is invaluable, but the most important lesson I have learned is that by taking steps and creating the opportunity for others to join in those steps towards change, Massachusetts is closer to a result that would benefit all public school students struggling with dyslexia. As a new parent in the Landmark community, I’d like to share the mission of Decoding Dyslexia MA.  

Who is DD-MA and what do they do?

Decoding Dyslexia Massachusetts  (DD-MA) is a grassroots movement to raise awareness of the research-based interventions that are effective in overcoming dyslexia and opening the doors to academic success. We aim to influence families, educators, and legislators and our motto is: Make time to create change or the time for change will never be now.  

Together, committed parents and professionals have joined us over the few short years since our beginning in 2013. I am grateful to all the parents, professionals, legislators, and dyslexia experts that I have had the privilege of meeting and learning from on this journey. The process of advocating for any child with a disability is difficult and it’s even more challenging when that disability is often not acknowledged or supported appropriately.  DD-MA allows me to direct my energy in a positive way to create better outcomes. Below is a list of a few highlights accomplished by our group:

  • Meeting with neuroscience researchers at the McGovern Institute of Brain Researchers to promote dyslexia awareness
  • Advocating as part of the National Decoding Dyslexia Network in Washington D.C.
  • Dyslexia awareness lectures with Dr. Nadine Gaab, Dr. Elizabeth Norton, Dr. Stephanie Gottwald, Dr. Matthew Schneps, Dr. Roberto Olivardia and other experts
  • Documentary movie showings (both The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia and Dislecksia the Movie) with panel discussions for Dyslexia awareness
  • Providing our 1700+ followers with an active place to learn about and discuss dyslexia
  • Engaging Massachusetts families in legislative or community action that will improve outcomes for students with dyslexia

There is still work to be done!

massachusetts dyslexia advocates

The current legislation includes two bills as drafts in the Joint Committee on Education, HB 463 and SB 312. At the Hearing, DD-MA families were accompanied at the hearing by experts like Dr. John Gabrieli and Elizabeth Norton of the McGovern Institute of Brain Research at MIT, Dr. Charles Haynes of MGH Institute of Health Professionals, and Dr. Roberto Olivardia, Harvard Medical School. Many members of the International Dyslexia Association also signed a joint letter submitted as testimony. Though the hearing is past, testimony can be submitted by anyone who wants to offer their opinion and story to the Joint Committee on Education. I encourage all families who are experiencing the challenges that come with dyslexia—academic, financial, social, and emotional - to contact legislators to support legislation.

Can you make time to create change?

For more information or to get or stay involved: Decoding Dyslexia MA wesbite DD-MA on Facebook

nicole mitsakis headshot

Nicole Mitsakis, Landmark Parent and DD-MA Co-Founder & Director of Operations

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Tags:  Decoding Dyslexia dyslexia dyslexia awareness dyslexia legislation Gabrieli Lab in the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT Landmark School making change National Dyslexia Awareness Month Nicole Mitsakis

The Voices of Students Like Me

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Thursday, August 17, 2017 Byline:  By Natalie Tamburello

people marching protesting

When you think about social movements that you learned about growing up, what do you remember? What do you see in your mind’s eye? For a moment, reflect on your experience when you learned about the civil rights movement. Were you sitting at your desk in a darkened history classroom, watching Dr. King deliver his "I Have a Dream" speech? Were you at a museum, perusing photographs and listening to an audio tour about marches and demonstrations?

"Individuals with learning and attention issues need the opportunity to join together, share their experiences, serve as leaders, models, and mentors, and articulate a vision for a different future that we can all embrace."

How about the women’s rights movement? Do images of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, or Margaret Sanger come to mind? When you think about the disability rights movement, are you reminded of people crawling up the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C., or of parades of able-minded citizens in wheelchairs who were shut out of libraries, museums, and office buildings that lacked curb cuts and ramps? Now… close your eyes and think about the community of individuals with learning disabilities. What do you see?

Organizations have been fighting on behalf of individuals with disabilities, including learning disabilities, for more than 40 years. Yes, the protections of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) were put in place, and accommodations for those with learning and attentions issues have increased. Public perceptions have started to change, and we’ve seen improvements in high school and college graduation rates. However, I can’t help but ask myself, what is missing?

A Community Lacking a Movement

I was identified with a learning disability in first grade. Neither I, nor my parents, identified with the disability rights movement from the history books and documentaries produced. There was no community with which we could identify, no protest my family could take me to, no leader with similar experiences for me to look up to, no footage to watch about my community, no speeches to inspire me… nothing… just me and my parents sitting with a specialist, my newly minted documentation, and a box of tissues.

Alone and “disabled.”

I was asked to leave my first school. My parents were told: “This is not the right place for Natalie; we are unable to meet her needs here.” Removed from my friends and the school experience I learned to expect, I moved from one school to another, every three years, in search of an educational roadmap that didn’t yet exist for “my kind of learner.”

Throughout my educational journey I found others like me, learned how I learned best, became increasingly resilient and an effective self-advocate, enjoyed academic success, and volunteered for organizations that worked to improve the experience for students like me.

When it was time for me to choose a career path, I struggled. On the one hand, I wanted to enter the workforce as a successful student who happened to be dyslexic, and leave the dream of lending my voice to the disability rights movement behind. It was appealing to think about contributing to society and leading the “normal life” that I so desperately wanted, not letting my label or educational experiences dictate my career path.

On the other hand, there was no denying that the labels “disabled” and “dyslexic” had become a part of who I was, whether I liked it or not. I searched the landscape of organizations that fought for the rights of people with learning and attention issues, and realized that while all were fighting the good fight, not many of my peers with learning disabilities were leading the way.

Then I closed my eyes and remembered the social movements of the past, and realized what was missing and how I could fill that void. It was the voice of students like me who have lived the experience of learning differently. We, who were told, “you can’t,” “you won’t,” “you shouldn’t,” who were held back, graduated late, took tests in closets, transferred schools, dropped out of school, sat at the back of the classroom sweating, sat in the front of the classroom determined, stayed up all night trying, cried on our way to and from school, got that first A, read that first book on our own, told that first friend about the struggle. Those personal and emotion-filled experiences matter and make up an essential pillar of any successful social movement.

Disability Rights Movement on the Rise

At the start of any movement, there is a sense of urgency and unrest, and a core of individuals band together to right a wrong, correct an injustice, or implement changes that help to shape a just, equitable, and inclusive society. Powered by parents and shaped by lawmakers, the disability rights movement put policies and protections in place to ensure that every person with any disability was a valued and contributing member of his or her community.

I started on a journey to join a movement and represented a new generation of my community. I went to graduate school and did research so that I could talk the talk; I already knew how to walk the walk. I now work for the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), one of the organizations that have been at the forefront of the disability rights movement representing people like me. Because of their work and the collaborative efforts of a handful of other remarkable organizations, individuals with learning disabilities now have real opportunities to develop advocacy skills, build self-confidence, and access the tools needed to succeed in a society that often overlooks the potential of individuals who learn differently.

I am now a proud member of the first wave of young adults who have benefited from these protections. And through this foundation, we have been able to find and develop a voice. I know that NCLD and other organizations working on behalf of people like me understand the power of student voices, but understanding how to incorporate our voices and stories and to utilize them to energize, personalize, and realize the movement, is a much more complicated task.

Even now, I think about that moment with my parents, the newly minted documentation, and the box of tissues and ask, “What could we do now as an organization, as a growing and outspoken community within the larger disabilities rights movement, to lift up and empower our voice? How do we replace the tissues with a soapbox and a megaphone, and how can we prevent shame and stigma from entering our storyline? How can we provide every 10-year-old, 13-year-old, 16-year-old, 18-year-old, 26-year-old like me with a platform, a place in this movement, and a sense of belonging, strength, and purpose?”

Yes, we need laws and regulations, but when we recall the social movements of the past, what do we see? We see the real voices, names, and faces of individuals who are living the experience. Individuals with learning and attention issues need the opportunity to join together, share their experiences, serve as leaders, models and mentors, and articulate a vision for a different future that we can all embrace.

As a young professional, every year that goes by distances me from the day-to-day student experience, and I have a deeper appreciation of the importance of integrating the voices of students even more now. I am proud to work for NCLD, an organization that is committed to integrating and lifting up student voices. NCLD is committed to ensuring that all programming is informed and guided by the very population we serve. In addition to our Student Voices Research and internship program, we have engaged young adult advisors, and incorporated their voices and perspectives in our strategic plan. These steps are just the beginning. I encourage all organizations currently working to defend and protect the rights of a population that is not yet fully integrated into the organization, to find a way to include the voices of those served. Consider asking yourself the question: “Who is the face of our mission?” And if that face isn’t sitting at the desk next to you, then we have work to do.

When I have children, my hope is that they will close their eyes, think about the disability rights movement, see my face, and the many faces of individuals with learning disabilities among a crowd of many.

This post was originally published on New Profit's website. Read the original post.

About the Author

Natalie Tamburello

Natalie Tamburello is on the Learning Resources & Research team at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.  

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Tags:  attention deficit hyperactivity disorder disability rights dyslexia dyslexia and professional success dyslexia awareness dyslexia legislation dyslexic community learning disabilities self-advocacy social movements

Pending Dyslexia Legislation in Massachusetts

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Monday, March 5, 2018 Byline:  By Nancy Duggan, MA. S.C.

women in courtroom

Decoding Dyslexia Massachusetts (DD-MA) began a campaign in 2012 to raise dyslexia awareness across the state through collaboration with parents, educators, and neuroscience researchers. The effort has made steady progress in building dyslexia awareness in the parent, educator, and policy-maker communities.

Since 2013, dyslexia legislation in Massachusetts has come further along than ever before.

Initiating Legislative Action

One of DD-MA’s goals goals has been to initiate legislative changes that would help students get early services by providing the scientific context for dyslexia and the need for early identification. The legislative process in Massachusetts includes a two-year session. We have worked together to navigate the process. Public Dyslexia Hill Days, private meetings, and multiple public hearings have provided legislators with:

  • an understanding of the challenges that families face,
  • the need for educators and students to get support,
  • the relevant neuroscience research that supports our mission.

Dyslexia legislation has come further along the path than ever before. The 2016–2018 legislative session started with four proposed bills, H.330, H.2872, S.294, and S.313, that can be called “dyslexia legislation” pertaining to education. These bills were supported, in combination, by over 50 different members of the Massachusetts 190th General Court, the official title of the State Legislature. Special thanks goes out to the initial sponsors who drafted this legislation, Rep. Alice Peisch of Wellesley and Rep. Chris Walsh of Framingham, chair and vice-chair, respectively, of the Joint Committee on Education; Sen. Bruce Tarr and Sen. Barbara L’Italien; and the legislators who petitioned alongside them. The vibrant team of DD-MA students, parents, educators, and neuroscience researchers are responsible for calling attention to this issue as a passionate, respectful, and informed team of advocates for improved outcomes, and these legislators are working together to take action.

The Legislative Process

The legislative process in Massachusetts requires a hearing, which took place on July 11, 2017.  Families joined a powerful team of experts who explained to the legislators in live testimony and with written testimony the need for dyslexia legislation, particularly the importance of early screening and identification, a clear and accurate understanding in schools of what dyslexia is, and that evidenced-based instruction, teacher training and professional development are needed. DD-MA worked with families across the state and multi-disciplinary experts to ensure that the testimony was scientifically sound, broad-based, including social-emotional outcomes, academic outcomes, and teacher, educator, and administrator support.

Whats Next?

DD-MA is very pleased that the Joint Committee on Education has released legislation favorably that addresses dyslexia and early screening. Both the House and the Senate will consider the same version in each chamber. When the new draft language is public, it will be posted on the Massachusetts State Legislature website. Once the redrafted bills, with new numbers, are made public, the clerk will also post which committee will be next to consider the legislation. For the time being, parents, students, and educators can continue to advocate for dyslexia awareness and the need for the legislation to pass by building a positive and informed relationship with your State Representative, State Senator, and their legislative staff.  Share with them your personal story and express interest in the outcome of dyslexia legislation.

Follow DD-MA on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DecodingDyslexiaMA/

Nancy Duggan is the Executive Director of Decoding Dyslexia Massachusetts.

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