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Editorials
Learning Differences Add Diversity,
Not Disability, to Life

by Donald A. Winkler

M
any years ago, children who were left-handed were bullied to write "right." It was

believed they had a choice on which hand was the dominant hand, and that southpaws

simply chose wrong.

Sound crazy? Believe it or not, people with learning differences are still dealing with this type of misunderstanding in communities, corporations, and even government. I know because I am dyslexic. I deal with it every day, as do millions of other adults.

In the last 30 years, we have gained a good understanding of the nature of learning differences – how to identify them and how to help the school children who have them. But we still have many milestones to accomplish.

According to the research of language and reading authority Reid Lyon, if a child leaves the third grade without reading at grade level, there is only a 1 in 7 chance of that child ever reading at grade level. So, at the wise old age of 8, a child could have the deck stacked against him for the rest of his life.

While the government can take steps to help, so can the rest of us. We need to establish more community programs that offer assessment for those adults who slipped through the cracks 20, 30, and even 40 years ago. Teachers trained to help children deal with learning differences could provide volunteers in local literacy programs the tools they need to teach adults with learning differences.

Also, because reading is the most fundamental job skill, we should look to corporations to lead the way. Extrapolating from NIH statistics, as many as 30 million of the 200 million Americans of employment age may not be working to their full potential due to learning differences. CEOs and boards of companies that enjoy ever-higher productivity by providing employees new technology tools surely must recognize the tremendous gains to be realized by providing employees who have learning differences with the training and environment to succeed.

Some well-known companies already are active in the field of learning differences. Cisco Systems, for example, has a program called the Networking Academy, which teaches students to design, build and maintain computer networks, preparing thousands of young people in the United States and many foreign countries for careers in technology. The Networking Academy, available through high schools, colleges, and adult education programs, is being re-evaluated to ensure it is accessible to students with learning disabilities. Of course, awareness helps move such efforts forward. Cisco’s CEO, John Chambers, is a fellow dyslexic.

At Ford Motor Credit, we have developed a program we call "LD in the Workplace" to increase awareness of the contributions those with learning differences can make to the company’s success. It is largely an internal communications effort with an information kit featuring materials developed jointly with the International Dyslexia Association and the National Center for Learning Disabilities. We have distributed 1,400 kits since August and are investigating opportunities to offer our materials to other companies as well.

We also share that information at an internal Web site and in our newsletters. We hold "Lunch & Learn" sessions with experts, and those videotapes are added to the Ford Credit learning differences library. We are developing a "Meeting-in-a-Box," which provides materials, including video presentations, that managers can use to remind employees that a workplace that acknowledges and accommodates learning differences positions Ford Credit as an employer of choice in recruitment, retention, and compassion.

Of course, we also are reviewing our recruiting practices, which we know need revision. I am the CEO, but I might not have gotten an interview if I had been required to take Ford Credit’s employment exam.

This is the path all corporate America should follow to realize the potential of all our people. America is finally learning to value the incredible energy and creativity that results when we embrace uniqueness, recognizing that everybody can contribute their own talents and viewpoints to move the organization forward. Working with learning differences is the next objective where we should exercise the attitude and philosophy of diversity. Visit www.Cyberwink.com to learn more about Mr. Winkler, or email him at Don@cyberwink.com

Don Winkler is chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Ford Motor Credit Co., the world’s largest automotive finance company, serving more than 10 million customers in 40 countries worldwide. Winkler, who has what experts call "severe dyslexia," is responsible for setting the strategic direction of Ford Credit and for maximizing the company’s focus on customer relations.


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