When people find out I have dyslexia, they ask “what is it like?” I’ve never found an answer for this question because I’ve never known what it’s like to process the world around me without it.
I first found out I had dyslexia in the early 80’s at the age of five. Luckily, I was in a school district that had a program for students with learning disabilities. However, I always felt different from others when I would go across the hallway and, later on, across the school district. At one point, I went to three different schools in three years as my needs grew.
Computers came into my life while I was moving between schools and had an abundance of spare time. I realized that when you are programming a computer, it doesn’t care if you have a hard time proofreading your own work, or if you misspell something. It only cares if the answer is correct, simple, and objective. I found the binary nature of the result and feedback comforting because I didn’t have to explain ideas in an abstract and, what at times felt like, arbitrary language. During that time, I felt a computer could understand what I was saying better than others around me due to my struggles with reading and writing.
Reflecting on my education, I see two pivotal moments. The first was being a part of a college-preparation program for high school students with disabilities called DO-IT Scholars. When I joined, I had been, either consciously or unconsciously, just coasting through school because it was hard working around my dyslexia. In the Scholars program, I met others who were working through similar issues with success and even joy. I felt part of a community that was interested in academic success. This helped renew my focus.
In high school and college, advocating for myself was hard—not because the programs weren’t present, but because I didn’t think I needed help and, at times, neither did others. Accepting that I needed accommodations, like extra time for tests, a proofreader, or a quiet room, made a huge difference in succeeding in school. I also learned that the goal of accommodations was to provide equal access, not to provide special treatment.
As I get older, I realize my dyslexia does make me different, but it doesn’t disable or disadvantage me. It allows me to see problems, understand people, and view the world in a different way. Immersion in STEM, and more specifically computer programming, has been one way that I have found that allows me to make a huge contribution by seeing the world in a way that others often don’t.