Not Learning Disabled

Hi there! It’s me, Tory. I’ve got a little favour to ask of you:

Can we stop using ‘Learning Disabled’ to describe people?

To have a disability is to be unable to do something. People that are unable to walk, we say they have a physical disability that prevents them from doing so. Some can’t see or hear, and we say they have a sensory disability -- they have something that hinders them from the use of that sense.

With the term ‘learning disability,’ there is nothing preventing me from ‘learning,’ there is instead something that makes it difficult for me to tie a phoneme (sound) to a glyph (letter). Most everything else is hunky dory. So why is it that for my whole life I have been told that I am unable to learn?

Can we just let that idea sink in for a moment? Unable to learn. This student, this person, can’t learn. And this is what we tell our LD students. We tell them this everyday. I’ve seen a girl with cerebral palsy dance, I’ve seen hearing impaired poetry through sign language, and I have met many LD people with PhDs.

Don’t tell other people what they can’t do. If someone can’t walk up the stairs, make them an elevator, don’t tell them they can’t dance. If someone can’t hear, don’t tell them they’ll never sing, let them invent their own music. If a person has trouble reading, don’t tell them they’ll never write a novel, show them how.

I can speak, draw, dance (albeit badly), work a computer, write essays, read, debate, and I am able to understand history and science. Why is the fact that I am a horrendous speller been translated to an inability to learn? The entirety of the rich and full world of education is cut off from me because I can’t learn.  For most of my life, that’s what I thought:

I am unable to learn.

I teach about twenty different LD kids a week how to use adaptive technology (like WordQ, which I am using right now to write this post), to help them get over whatever small hiccup is making school hard for them. Some have ADHD, some are on the spectrum, and others like me have dyslexia, not to mention the hundreds of undiagnosed or undiagnosable ones in between. I have yet to meet one of these kids who couldn’t learn. I’ve only met people who Learn Differently.

LD does not mean ‘Learning Disabled’ anymore. We know better. Just how mute and hearing impaired people are not called ‘dumb’ anymore. I and people like me have a ‘Learning Difference,’ and I think I speak for all of us when I say: please don’t call us something we aren’t. We just don’t learn the way you do. 

We aren’t ‘Learning Disabled,’ we have a ‘Learning Difference.’

Yours always,