Dean connected recently with the visual artist and creator of the easier-to-read typeface designed with dyslexia in mind, the Dyslexie Font. You can listen to the audio of the conversation and see it in the awesome original Dyslexie typeface here.
Dean Bragonier, Founder and "Executive Dyslexic" at NoticeAbility joins Dyslexie font to talk about reinforcing positive self-image in young people with dyslexia, imagining a more accessible world for the neurodiverse and - being dyslexic before it was cool.
HOW DO YOU DESCRIBE WHAT YOU DO AND WHO YOU ARE?
Professionally I am the founder and executive dyslexic of NoticeAbility. I think that a lot of what NoticeAbility stands for and what I personally stand for can be encapsulated in our unofficial mantra – "Dyslexic before it was cool". My belief for the future is that being dyslexic and the competitive advantage it can give you in the work place will actually become such a pronounced distinction that people will want to pose as if they’re dyslexic. So the “dyslexic before it was cool” is a projection of what I believe the future holds for our population.
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU DISCOVER THAT YOU HAD DYSLEXIA?
My mother is a child developmental psychologist and my father was a diagnosed dyslexic. So there were the early warning signs that I was struggling with my reading but cognitively I was firing on all pistons and in every other regard.
HOW HAS HAVING DYSLEXIA AFFECTED YOUR RELATIONSHIPS?
That’s a really great question. I have a really deep-seated compassion for the underdog. When I interact with people and they’re brimming with confidence and arrogance that’s not really what draws me in. I tend to be attracted to people who are committed to self-improvement, who are dealing with realistic challenges in life, people who are candid about those challenges and who I can join on a very spiritual level with and communicate with. Christian Boer is such a perfect example, he’s such a wonderful creative and – I mean this affectionately – a quirky dyslexic. And that’s what attracts me to a friend. This guys unique, this guy's fascinating. He’s got pain, he’s got inspiration and so I get really intrigued.
WHAT ARE SOME POSITIVE EXPERIENCES OF DYSLEXIA IN YOUR DAILY LIFE?
I have the ability to walk into a social event and literally read the social dynamics instantaneously. To be able to read who is the dominant figure in the room, who is the one who is insecure, who is the one who is angling for something. And, similarly it’s a wonderful opportunity to exist as a really high-powered problem solver. Whether or not it comes down to our cognitive profile or our ability to see solutions where others don’t, or perhaps it’s a ramification of having to find solutions to problems that other people don’t have. Either way, we emerge to be uniquely positioned problem solvers in our daily lives. It’s a fascinating world to exist in where you can see multiple dimensions of outcomes and possibilities.
DYSLEXIE FONT AIMS TO HELP PEOPLE WITH DYSLEXIE TO READ, TO MAKE VISIBLE WHAT CAN BE DIFFICULT TO SEE - AT NOTICEABILITY YOU'RE ALSO TRYING TO HELP PEOPLE ACCESS WHAT IS NOT ALWAYS ACCESSIBLE TO THEM, TO BRING OUT UNIQUELY DYSLEXIC SKILLS, CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT THIS?
It’s such a wild ride. I mean the disappointing fact is that our education system certainly doesn’t encourage this way of thinking, as it’s based on rote learning. Society does a tremendous job of stripping away ingenuity and adults are charged with shaping and growing the world-view of young children but as dyslexics see the world in this fascinating light, adults generally say that it doesn’t fit into the model that they’re trying to preach. It can be a horrible paradigm that, more often than not, we stamp out the conditions that enable creativity to exist.
CAN YOU SHARE AN IMPORTANT MOMENT WHEN YOU REALIZED THAT SELF-IMAGE WAS AN IMPORTANT PART OF LEARNING WITH DYSLEXIA?
I’ll tell you a story that is outlined in The Dyslexic Advantage – in the USA we have these horrific math tests called SAT's – ..... the author interviewed CEO’s and global entrepreneurs who scored (very low) on their SAT's and asked them "what is it that allowed you to change the trajectory of your life in such a significant way?". And each of them said the exact same thing- it was a person. An uncle, a coach, a parent who stopped just once and noticed what they were good at and verbalized that. Validation.
Validation points out that we have something of value and I think because we are so deeply insecure as a population - because why wouldn’t we be, when the world is telling us that we are somehow broken - that a little ounce of validation is enough to start to rebuild our self-esteem and begin to rebuild our confidence. And without confidence and self-esteem, it’s really tough to make it. Self-loathing is so corrosive; you’ve got to have some kind of antidote and that’s what we’re trying to create for kids who may not be in situations where they have those outside validation points. We are trying to create a situation where they can see their value for themselves and activate inspiration.
HOW COULD YOU IMAGINE THE WORLD AS A MORE SUPPORTIVE PLACE FOR PEOPLE WITH DYSLEXIA?
In the USA accessibility is a big issue, usually physical accessibility – rampways for people who use wheelchairs, or Braille for people who have impaired sight. Accessibility is something that needs to be considered for different neurodiversity realms as well. I don’t know what that would look like for people with autism or ADHD necessarily but from a dyslexic perspective there’s a lot of very basic accommodations – specifically in the workplace that will enable dyslexics to thrive and offer their best output. I know, for myself personally and my dyslexic son, that we need to work in a very quiet space, if I am composing an email, or writing something I need to have sheer silence because listening to words and trying to generate words can’t co-exist for me. You will see with young dyslexic students, they have this urge to get up and walk around a classroom which is discouraged all the time and it’s not that they’re doing it because they’re bored or distracted but that’s what they need to do to stay engaged. When you look at the different modalities that we adults use, for example you’re recording this interview so that you can go back and extrapolate stuff that you may not have noted down or remembered right? And that’s a totally different modality that exist in the classroom – or even professional spaces – very rarely are recorded meetings offered – and that could be an enormous benefit to dyslexics. Or better yet we tend to read human dynamics, so the ability to have meetings over video conferences is a really big benefit for dyslexics. Being able to transmit content using your font – first and foremost and also using video – if you want to watch a news article you can do that now with video recording. So we as adults use these things in our personal lives all the time but this level of accommodation hasn’t necessarily made itself mainstream in either education or the professional space and that would be greatly enhancing our output.
I think it is changing – I think a lot of it’s changing because of the Silicon Valleys of the world. The ‘disruptor’ is the most prestigious title. A person who has just blown apart some pre-existing system. Well the idea that this rote learning which came from this massive standardization of our educational programs which was to ensure that someone education was streamlined for streamlined workplaces. That’s no longer the model. The model is all about this disruptor and innovation so why are we educating our kids in the same way that has existed for more than a century? It’s not what the work force is demanding so why are we teaching something that is irrelevant to our professional lives?
WE ALL REALLY WANT TO SPEAK THE SAME LANGUAGE AND BE UNDERSTOOD - THERE IS A DESIRE AMONGST PEOPLE TO COMMUNICATE, EVEN IF WE SHARE THE SAME LANGUAGE, LITERALLY USING THE SAME WORDS, WE STILL DON'T REALLY UNDERSTAND EACH OTHER.
You’re absolutely right. The ego is a very dangerous thing, partly because it wants to protect our vulnerabilities, ironically vulnerability is one of the fastest ways to really get to know somebody. Posing is nonsense. I guess that’s why over the last few years as NoticeAbility has really gained traction, people say why don’t you do the same sort of thing for the general education? My argument is – just because we are doing something well why do I have to abandon my people? These are the ones I care so deeply about, the ones who have been in so much pain and have so much promise, why do I then have to turn my attention to something else? This is the population I am committed to, these are the people I love that’s what I want to be doing.