Brooklyn, NY – On Monday, October 2nd, 2017, Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon (D-Brooklyn), Miya Ali, Muhammad Ali’s Daughter, local elected officials, and students, parents and administrators from the Mary McDowell Friends School helped kick-off the first ever Dyslexia Diagnosis Day. The day marks the beginning of October’s Dyslexia Awareness Month and was started by actor, activist and author Ameer Baraka, who did not learn to read until he was diagnosed with dyslexia at age 23 while incarcerated. The Brooklyn event focused on the need to screen more young kids for dyslexia and the state’s efforts to address this issue. The event also featured a video made by the Mary McDowell students, which details their experiences with dyslexia.
One in five children have dyslexia, a language-based learning disability that makes word recognition, spelling and reading success a difficult task. Mr. Baraka launched Dyslexia Diagnosis Day to encourage schools and other educational institutions to screen students who may be at risk for dyslexia as early as kindergarten, first or second grade. Governor Cuomo recently signed into law a bill sponsored by Assemblymember Simon and Senator Golden which instructs the State Department of Education to develop a guidance memorandum to inform schools that they may include the names of specific learning disorders, such as dyslexia, in Individualized Education Plans so that schools may provide targeted language-based interventions and help more students become successful readers. Assemblymember Simon and Senator Golden also sponsor a bill to establish a pilot program to provide early screening and intervention services for children with risk factors for dyslexia (A7086/S2767).
Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon said, “I am thrilled to kick-off the inaugural Dyslexia Diagnosis Day to highlight the need to screen more young kids for dyslexia, which too often goes unidentified. Dyslexia impacts one in five kids and yet there has been inadequate attention to this issue. The more we can shine a spotlight on dyslexia, the better we can provide targeted language-based interventions and help more students become successful readers. I am particularly grateful to Miya Ali for sharing her and her father’s stories as we know that dyslexia runs in families. I also want to thank Ameer Baraka for sharing his story and bringing attention to the fact that an overwhelming number of people who are incarcerated show childhood symptoms of dyslexia that have gone undiagnosed. We can make a big dent in the school-to-prison pipeline by attending to children’s reading needs.”
Miya Ali stated, “My dad wasn’t just “The Greatest” he was also the “Greatest Dyslexic of all Time.” He loved New York and he loved kids. With me having dealt with dyslexia my whole life and not knowing that I had dyslexia until I was diagnosed in college, I personally want to make sure kids don’t get bullied and teased for not being able to keep up in school like I so often was teased as a kid.”
Senator Martin Golden stated, “Students who are diagnosed with dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia require unique and specialized educational needs. I am proud that Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law (A.8262/S.6581) Assemblymember Simon and my dyslexia legislation that we hope will improve the lives of thousands of students. It is reported that millions of American students have dyslexia, dyscalculia or dysgraphia. Sadly, many suffer in silence because their learning disability goes undiagnosed or treated incorrectly. I am confident that this bill will encourage the dissemination of proper guidelines and establish educational strategies to help students with dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia. We owe it to every student to provide him or her with the tools required to lead productive lives and achieve great success.”
Assemblymember Robert Carroll said, “I was diagnosed with dyslexia between 1st and 2nd Grade, which allowed my parents and teachers to intervene in my education so that I could receive specialized instruction that allowed me to become a fluent reader and writer and graduate of college and law school. Without a proper and specific diagnosis my parents and teachers would not have been able to tailor an individualized education plan for me, and my life would be very different than it is today. It is important that our laws and our education system recognize how important it is to identify and diagnose with specificity any and all learning differences so that all students receive the appropriate and individualized education they are entitled to. Without proper diagnosis and appropriate instruction countless students will not meet their full potential. I commend Assemblymember Simon for her continual advocacy and focus on this critical issue.”
Assemblymember Herman D. Farrell, Jr. said, “I am glad that people are finally understanding dyslexia. Before I knew that I had dyslexia, I thought I wasn’t smart, but now we know that you can be dyslexic and excel in school and life once you get the appropriate evaluation and support. We also know that dyslexia runs in families and my daughters have dyslexia as well. My youngest daughter attends a specialized school where she is thriving and her self-esteem is high because the teachers are trained in effective methods of teaching such children. Her experience is totally different than mine was.”
Debbie Zlotowitz, Head of School, Mary McDowell Friends School said, “It is an honor to host the kick-off of Dyslexia Awareness Month. Mary McDowell Friends School is a K-12 Quaker school for students with learning disabilities, including many students who have dyslexia. Our high school graduates attend many excellent universities and colleges, demonstrating that, with proper education and support, students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities can and do succeed. At Mary McDowell, we do this by tailoring our learning methodologies to meet each student’s individual needs. As an educator who has specialized in working with students with dyslexia for almost forty years, I cannot stress enough how important it is for students to be tested, diagnosed, and given an appropriate education plan. I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to Assemblymember Simon and Senator Golden for being such passionate advocates of this issue.”
Marcus Soutra, Eye to Eye President said, "At Eye to Eye, a national mentoring and advocacy non-profit for the 1 in 5 who learn differently, we are proud to join with Ameer Baraka, Miya Ali, Jo Anne Simon (NY State Assembly), and The Mary McDowell School on the first ever Dyslexia Diagnosis Day to kick off October, Dyslexia Awareness Month. Being identified as a person with dyslexia is the first, most powerful step toward receiving the support and accommodations students need to succeed in school and in life. The earlier a student is identified, the sooner they will know they are not alone, and that they are part of a strong 'LD Proud to Be' growing community of different learners."
Raul Frias, high school senior at Mary McDowell Friends School said, “For many people, dyslexia is different. For me, I find that I have trouble deciphering text. I try to sound out words and I tend to stumble a lot when I haven’t deciphered it yet. It makes reading aloud difficult when I haven’t rehearsed. When I first came to MMFS, I was a bit intimidated by the fact that I was going to yet another school…With all honesty, I expected to struggle academically, especially with reading and writing, as I did in the past. But I was pleasantly surprised to see that that Mary McDowell had the support I needed and the resources and training to teach me. I feel way better than I did in 4th grade, but dyslexia is still a constant part of my life…I think after my time at MMFS, I will be ready for the world and will have the strategies I need to strive in the world, dyslexic or not.”
Brooklyn native and former New York Knicks star Stephon Marbury said, ”When I heard that Governor Cuomo had signed Assemblywoman Simon’s dyslexia bill giving kids from neighborhoods like mine all over the state a chance to get help that they most likely would not otherwise get, I made a fast break to get involved in any way I could. I can’t wait to help the many Chinese kids over here who I know need the same kind of help from committed people like Ms. Simon, Governor Cuomo, and my man, Ameer Baraka.”