Christine Staley says she understands the urgency of determining early on whether a child is struggling with dyslexia.
“I know if my daughter had been identified in kindergarten she would most likely be reading and writing at grade level,” Staley told CBC Toronto.
“But because she wasn’t identified until quite a bit later she’s always going to struggle with her reading writing and spelling.”
Staley is hoping a series of public hearings held by the Ontario Human Rights Commission sheds more light on the lack of resources for students. The first four Right to Read public hearings are happening in Brampton, London, Thunder Bay and Ottawa. Staley will be speaking at the Brampton hearing on Tuesday.
Starting Tuesday, the commission is inviting students, parents and other stakeholders to share their stories and experiences related to reading disabilities. According to Dyslexia Canada, that specific learning disability — in which kids have trouble reading accurately and fluently — affects three or four children in every classroom.
The commission launched the Right to Read inquiry in October and has already heard from more than 400 people — students with reading disabilities, parents and guardians — who answered a survey made available on its website. The inquiry was launched to find out if students with reading disabilities have meaningful access to education.
After being told there was a two-year wait list in Peel to have her daughter Kate assessed, Staley paid to get a private test done. She says she saw her daughter struggling in her early years of school but it was challenging to pin down what the problem was.
“At some point along the way we started to see her lose her confidence. She was calling herself stupid, crying herself to sleep at night,” she said.
“By Grade 2 she was still struggling to even spell her name.”
Now that her daughter is in Grade 6, Staley says she has done everything she can as a parent to help her, including getting involved in Dyslexia Canada — a not-for-profit group that advocates for children who suffer from the learning disability. Staley eventually became the group’s executive director.
‘You feel stupid’
Keith Gray, who has a successful business career behind him and is the founder and current chair of Dyslexia Canada, was not diagnosed until he was 35, and at 84 he still remembers the hardships of school clearly.
“Seventy-five years ago the teacher walked down the isle and strapped me because I couldn’t read,” he said.
“That is very clear in my mind. We aren’t strapping children today but we’re certainly not giving them the benefit of a fair and just education.”
Gray says the group hopes concrete solutions come from the inquiry, including getting children assessed in Kindergarten, more resources and help for students who are affected by it and additional training for teachers.
Gray failed Grade 3 and dropped out of high school but still managed to build TD Green Line, known today as TD Waterhouse Investor Services.
He claims he got “lucky” and had many people help him along the way. But he says no one can know what it’s like to live with dyslexia unless you experience it first-hand.
“The fact that it’s very difficult to read is a big issue,” he said.
“If you’re dyslexic you feel stupid.”
‘Hope is all that we are looking for’
The human rights commission requested information from eight school boards to get a sample of what’s happening across the province.
“We are always open to ways to build on our understanding and knowledge of students’ needs to help them succeed,” Peter Joshua, the director of education at Peel District School Board, said in a statement.
Joshua adds the board looks forward to the findings to inform and improve literacy practices and “ensure every student has the resources and opportunities they need to excel in reading.”
The commission will release a formal report on findings and recommendations later in 2020.
A spokesperson for the Ontario’s Ministry of Education said in a statement to CBC News the ministry “looks forward to receiving the results of the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into services provided to support students with learning disabilities related to reading.”
The government “is committed to supporting all students, including students with special education needs so they have the skills to succeed in school and in life,” the statement reads.
Gray says he has been pushing for an inquiry for years and that this is a huge step in the right direction.
“It will open the door. It’ll give our program, give the children some hope that maybe something can be done,” he said.
“Hope is all that we are looking for.”