The recent article Celebrities with Dyslexia Who Made It Big by ABC News not only discusses the dyslexia of Steven Spielberg, Steve Jobs, Henry Winkler, Tom Cruise, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Patrick Dempsey, Whoopie Goldberg, and Cher but also sparks a lot of comments.
Those comments under the September 28, 2012 article show that there is a newsworthy need for an increased awareness of the legal rights for children and adults with dyslexia.
“Why wouldn’t these very successful people push the education community to support these children in the acadmeic [academic] world….?”
These very successful people do not need to push the educational community because many of the legal rights for children and adults with dyslexia already exist.
Until the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) was made into law in 1975, only 1 out of 5 children received special education services in the United States. Fortunately, the historical and political events of the 1960s (John F. Kennedy, Vietnam War, Civil Rights Movement) also changed the rights and special education needs for millions of children; including children with dyslexia.
In 1990, EHA was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in order to provide more research, technology, and support to the program. Since 1990, several amendments have been added to IDEA to further the rights of children, parents, and special educational services. In 2004, President Bush added additional laws to IDEA in order to align it with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. In 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and thus opened the opportunity for $12.2 billion in additional funds to IDEA.
The Present: Dyslexic Students
According to IDEA’s Regulations: Part 300 / A / 300.8 / c / 10, “Specific learning disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.”
Today, IDEA is serving 6.5 million children ages 3 to 21 and governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services.
The Present: Dyslexic Adults
Just because a dyslexic individual becomes an adult does not mean his or her rights are denied. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, signed into a law on July 26, 1990 by President George H. W. Bush) and the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAAA, signed into law on September 25, 2008, by President George W. Bush), a disability is defined as “an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities”.
The Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008 includes as “major life activities” caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working and major bodily functions, including, but not limited to, functions of the immune system; normal cell growth; and digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.
Despite the existence of the legal rights provided by IDEA and ADAAA, different states, different schools, and different employers may interpret those rights in their own way.
As such, in order to claim those rights, individuals with dyslexia do not only need to be informed but also represented if necessary.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) ensures equal access to education and promotes educational excellence throughout the nation through vigorous enforcement of civil rights.
“We serve student populations facing discrimination and the advocates and institutions promoting systemic solutions to civil rights problems. An important responsibility is resolving complaints of discrimination.”
The U.S. Department of Justice provides a list of the most recent settlement agreements that have been achieved for students and workers protected under ADA. Students, parents, and employees who perceive that they have been discriminated against under the ADA law might benefit from a closer review of those settlement cases.
If there is one lesson that the life experiences of Steven Spielberg, Steve Jobs, Henry Winkler, Tom Cruise, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Patrick Dempsey, Whoopie Goldberg, and Cher show is that the times and rights have changed for students and adults with dyslexia. Now all that has to change is to make those rights for dyslexics as newsworthy as those celebrity names.