Episode 25 - The Intersectionality of Race and Dyslexia with Resha Conroy
During Dyslexia Awareness Month, Resha Conroy, the founder of Dyslexia Alliance for Black Children (DABC), joins the READ Podcast for a conversation about education reform and equity. Using a historical and social lens, Ms. Conroy discusses how Black children with dyslexia are often left behind in the system of education, and the consequences are dire and dangerous. She cites research and draws on stories from communities where Black children with dyslexia face barriers to diagnosis and intervention and experience stigma and deficit-model thinking in their classrooms. On a societal level, Ms. Conroy explains the historical implications of the school to prison pipeline. She discusses the actions the DABC is taking to increase knowledge, advocacy, and awareness and identifies immediate calls to action as well as systemic changes needed to save a current generation of children from failure.
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1. Dyslexia Alliance for Black Children
Resha Conroy established the Dyslexia Alliance for Black Children (DABC) because of the challenges her family experienced to acquire a diagnosis and intervention for her son with dyslexia.
"As a parent of a child with dyslexia, I heard language similar to what many families hear from their school related to waiting for your child to fail, like 'he's too young,' or 'let's give him more time.' We know that this is false, and it's dangerous because it delays intervention."
Based on her professional experience and research, Ms. Conroy explains societal and historical barriers that have inhibited Black children with dyslexia from experiencing educational equity and access to high quality education and intervention for their disability.
"It became time to prioritize the needs of Black children with dyslexia who are underrepresented in most research, and they're absent from dyslexia advocacy spaces. Black children with dyslexia are under-diagnosed or misdiagnosed, and receive no intervention, or late intervention."
"For Black children, the consequences are dire. The consequences are unforgiving."
2. Priorities of the Dyslexia Alliance for Black Children
- Building parent knowledge about special education evaluations and the system education as well as their understanding about dyslexia and language-based learning disabilities
"Literacy is a civil and human rights issue because it impacts our life outcomes, and it becomes critical when we talk about equity."
- Increasing community level advocacy and expanding support networks for Black children with dyslexia and their families
- Targeting advocacy efforts for Black children with dyslexia amongst for school-based professionals such as speech-language pathologists, psychologists, teachers as well as supporting Black professionals in education
- Promoting literacy, dyslexia, and equity “warriors”
- General awareness campaigns
"We want to increase representation, remove stigma, educate, and bring awareness that dyslexia exists and that Black children can have dyslexia."
3. Intersectionality of Dyslexia and Race
Intersectionality, a term identified by Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, explains how power structures and systems of oppression impact a person with multiple marginalized identities. Watch Dr. Crenshaw’s TED Talk on Intersectionality.
"Intersectionality can be applied to multiple identities and how these identities can collide in a catastrophic way with power structures and the systems, like education, that house these power structures."
Ms. Conroy frames her work in intersectionality to advocate for how Black children with dyslexia face barriers to educational equity such as experiences in the classrooms, access to diagnosis and intervention, and life outcomes.
"If we're just talking about a child with dyslexia or a Black child, we're not thinking about what happens when you have both. What does that look like in the classroom? What does that look like in life? If we aren't even identifying Black children with dyslexia, they're essentially invisible."
4. School-to-Prison Pipeline
There are many factors, or entry points, where children of color are not seen in the school system, increasing likelihood of incidents in the justice system.
"The school-to-prison pipeline has a lot of entry points or factors that can push a child into it, where they are no longer seen in the school system, or they’re seen as a problem and penalized for behaviors that are out of their control, like having dyslexia."
The Texas Prison Study for example, showed that 80% of the incarcerated sample had low literacy or were illiterate. Almost half had characteristics of dyslexia.
When adult programs for incarcerated individuals are infused with literacy, recidivism rates, or the likelihood to recommit a criminal offense, are reduced.
"The real crime here is that we're not infusing literacy at the other end of that pipeline, in early education and in elementary school. We shouldn't have to [diagnose and remediate] in the prisons. We should be able to do that in our in our preschool, kindergarten, and first grade classrooms."
5. Calls for Action
"The pandemics certainly highlighted the cracks in the foundation of many of our public institutions like our educational system. However, the pandemic, this moment in time that we're in, did not create them."
It’s important to work with communities to understand the experiences of the problem to find best solutions. At the same time, we can enact immediate change now.
"There’s a call for action to both change the systems and to come up with immediate solutions because there's a third grader, a fourth grader, a fifth grader sitting in a classroom right now, who is not being taught to read."
About READ: READ, the Research Education ADvocacy Podcast connects you with prominent researchers, thought leaders, and educators who share their work, insights, and expertise about current research and best practices in fields of education and child development.
Note: All information and insights shared demonstrate the expertise and views of our guests.