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The heritage building is currently lit up in red in honour of Dyslexia Awareness Month. Photo: Rhyanna Melanson/Fulcrum
Reading Time: 3 minutes

City lighting up in red heritage building portion of Ottawa City Hall from Oct. 12 to 17  

In Canada, it is estimated one in ten kids have dyslexia. Dyslexia is a learning difficulty impacting literacy development, sequencing ability, mathematics, and different aspects of memory to varying degrees. 

First declared by the United States in 1985, October has been observed as Dyslexia Awareness Month. It has since been established worldwide with Oct. 8 marked as Dyslexia Awareness Day.  

In recognition of Dyslexia Awareness Month, buildings and monuments across Canada are being lit up red as part of Dyslexia Canada’s Mark It Read campaign. The campaign was launched four years ago with the support of IG Wealth Management. Its aim: to build further awareness about dyslexia and what can be done to address it.

Dyslexia Canada encourages Canadians to visit the lit-up buildings and monuments and share a photo using #MarkItRead2021 on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

The Mark it Read campaign is centered on the traditional red ink pen used to correct work in school. The teacher’s red pen is used as a representation of the lack of awareness and support in educational settings for those with dyslexia. Many schools are not accessible because they lack the accommodations and services which are needed by dyslexics for success in school and later in life.

For the second time, Ottawa is participating in the campaign by lighting up the Heritage Building, a portion of Ottawa City Hall, from Oct. 12 to 17. The Heritage Building is the former Ottawa Teachers College which was the second institution of its kind to be established in Ontario after Toronto. The college educated Ontario teachers until 1974.

Presently, almost every American state and Commonwealth country have some form of legislation and/or procedures regarding the early identification of risk for dyslexia. However, Ontario and the other provinces still lack such regulation. 

Further muddying the conversation around dyslexia is that the educational system does not use the term ‘dyslexia’. Dyslexia, executive functioning (ADHD), dyscalculia (math disability), etc. are all lumped together under the Ministry of Education’s umbrella category of “learning disability”. This ‘collective’ term remains in place even though the initial recognition of dyslexia occurred nearly 150 years ago. 

Natalie Gallimore, the research lead for the volunteer-run advocacy group Decoding Dyslexia Ontario, explained the necessary changes the education system must make to ensure that all children — including those with dyslexia — are taught to read.

“[The public education system] must start by screening all children for dyslexia risk in Kindergarten and changing its curriculum to teach reading earlier. Additionally, intervention should begin before Grade 2 to close skill gaps as soon as possible.”

Christine Staley, executive director of Dyslexia Canada, stated over 75 per cent of children who do not master reading by grade 3 will continue to struggle with reading.

“Assistive technology is useful and necessary, but it does not replace the requirement to teach all children to read. These changes will allow for classroom reading instruction to become more accessible to the at-risk students while also benefiting all students in the classroom,” Gallimore continued.

Keith Gray, Founder of Dyslexia Canada, noted that with proper early identification, instruction and support, the impacts of the disability will be minimized. “[Children with dyslexia] can face stigma and shame, making school far more challenging. It has been linked to increased dropout rates, depression, abuse, incarceration and the entrenchment of illiteracy among Canadian adults.”

In 2017, Decoding Dyslexia Ontario approached the Ontario Human Rights Commission with growing concern over the divergences between the Ontario educational policy and global research. 

In response, the Commission launched its Right to Read’ Inquiry in October 2019. This inquiry investigated whether Ontario’s current educational policy forms a systemic barrier to the reading disabled within Ontario’s public education system. Following a delay, the Commission’s Right to Read Inquiry Report will be released in February 2022.

For now, many Ontario students still suffer. Students continue not to be screened for dyslexia and go undiagnosed by psychologists as the school board waitlist for assessment is numerous years.

“For parents and students with dyslexia, the only options to get help are to either wait years for school assessments and hope that educators have the resources to provide support or pay tens of thousands of dollars in private assessments and tutors,” explained Staley.

COVID-19 has worsened matters with traditionally vulnerable students fairing worse throughout the pandemic. Many of these students are falling even further behind than their peers.

In a statement released by Dyslexia Canada on Oct. 5, 2021, they spoke how the ongoing educational disruptions caused by COVID-19 “have exacerbated the problem to a crisis point for those most vulnerable, including children with dyslexia.”

Unfortunately, this means that many students will never reach their full potential; with far too many facing harms directly tied to their dyslexia: anxiety, depression, addiction, unemployment, incarceration, and even suicide.