MDAI at The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity
Education for all is the civil rights issue of today. We need to improve literacy levels in the multicultural community through increased education and awareness of dyslexia, the most common reading disability.

Multicultural Dyslexia Awareness Initiative

Dr. Sally Shaywitz welcomes a multicultural audience representing cross-sections from a variety of fields, from higher education to law and policy making, at the MDAI kick-off event at Yale University.

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is defined by an unexpected difficulty in learning to read. Dyslexia takes away an individual's ability to read quickly and automatically, and to retrieve spoken words easily, but it does not dampen their creativity and ingenuity.

In 2013, The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity launched the Multicultural Dyslexia Awareness Initiative (YCDC-MDAI), a yearlong outreach to the diverse community of dyslexics.  The goal: to raise awareness about dyslexia to communities of color and those of Latino heritage through dyslexia-focused advocacy, education, and knowledge sharing with families, and education and legislative communities.

Dyslexia affects 1 out of 5 people.  It crosses racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines, and with proper instruction and accommodations, it can be remediated.  While there are numerous curricula and programs designed to increase literacy, dyslexia is often overlooked when searching for causes of illiteracy.  Dyslexia is the most common reading disability—20% of the population is struggling with this hidden disability, and many remain undiagnosed, untreated, and struggling with the impact of their dyslexia.  The diagnosis and treatment remain elusive in public schools, and even more so in urban school populations, and African American and Latino communities. 

Nelsan Ellis, Carol Moseley Braun and Gina Belafonte speak on a panel at the 2013 Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference.

Children who cannot read are marginalized and left to struggle and ultimately risk falling completely through the cracks, dropping out of school and facing dismal futures.  With proper identification and intervention, this is preventable.  So YCDCs MDAI team set off on a nationwide education tour of town-hall-style meetings, university engagements, meeting with lawmakers, and presentations at the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, D.C. 

Honorees Maggie Aderin-Pocock (with daughter) and Harry Belafonte. The kick-off event was held at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, in August of 2013. 

On the evening of August 4, we honored two dyslexic heroes: entertainer and social activist Harry Belafonte and space scientist Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock.  They shared their struggles and their triumphs with a multicultural audience representing cross-sections from a variety of fields, from higher education to law and policy making.  Additionally, panels that included other successful dyslexics, such as author Victor Villasenor, Shark Tank star and business tycoon Daymond John, were living proof that dyslexics can and will achieve great things if they are diagnosed and given proper supports.  Students with dyslexia spotlighted the need for accommodations like extra time and the need for mentors and champions of dyslexics, regardless of race, gender, or class. Click here to see video clips from the student panel.

“With dyslexia, we dont have a knowledge gap; we have an action gap.”
– Dr. Sally Shaywitz

Backing it all up with scientific research and evidence were world-renowned physicians and dyslexia experts Drs. Sally and Bennett Shaywitz, co-directors of the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity.  Sally Shaywitz, M.D., wrapped up the kick-off event with this: “A child only has one life to live.  She or he cant wait.  Its immoral to sacrifice a childs entire future to maintain the status quo; we must act.  We must ensure that scientific knowledge is translated into policy and practice and that ignorance and injustice do not prevail.  We know better and we must act better.”

From New Haven, YCDC-MDAI picked up more momentum and continued on to town-hall-style events in Atlanta, Georgia, Cleveland, Ohio, Houston, Texas, and San Francisco, California.  Each one had its own flavor, but also commonalities: Drs. Sally and Bennett Shaywitz brought the science of dyslexia to each one, and inspiration came from panelists like Mr. John, Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun, community leader Rev. Dr. Keith Magee, actor Nelsan Ellis), and actress and producer Gina Belafonte.  Award-winning journalist Jeff Johnson (a.k.a. “Cousin Jeff”), and father of a dyslexic child, talked about dyslexia detection and moderated the panels.  The initiative is also grateful for the support of Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee, Marcia Fudge, Barbara Lee, and Hank Johnson.

Know the signs of dyslexia.  Know that anyone can struggle with it.  Use the word dyslexia.  Advocate for dyslexics and the accommodations these bright young people need to succeed in school and in life.

What was so eloquently expressed by all is that dyslexia is color-blind.  It isnt class conscious, and it doesnt discriminate among genders or ethnicities.  “With dyslexia, we dont have a knowledge gap; we have an action gap,” says Dr. Sally Shaywitz.  The time to make a difference and change a life is now.  Know the signs of dyslexia.  Know that anyone can struggle with it.  Use the word dyslexia.  Advocate for dyslexics and the accommodations these bright young people need to succeed in school and in life.

For more information on dyslexia, please click here, and visit the many articles on our website, dyslexia.yale.edu