Interview with Dean Bragonier, Founder and Executive Dyslexic of NoticeAbility
[ut_icon icon="fa-quote-left" size="fa-2x" align="alignleft" color="#000000"]Dean Bragonier, Founder and Executive Dyslexic of NoticeAblitiy, a nonprofit dedicated to creating a dyslexic-specific middle school curriculum, spent the summer swimming around Martha’s Vineyard to raise funds for the nonprofit. We recently caught up with him to ask a few questions about the experience and his work as a whole. Check out the full interview below:
- Over the summer, you swam 60 miles around Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the Massachusetts coast that attracts beachgoers and enormous hungry sharks. We’re compelled to ask you: WHY IN THE…?
I looked at some very effective models, specifically the Pan Mass Challenge. I noticed that there was a level of camaraderie incorporated and it created an opportunity for people to come together and work collaboratively for social change, something that I wanted to recreate. One of the other parts of the Pan Mass Challenge, that I thought was interesting, was that it was a physical undertaking. This aspect fostered a level of curiosity as to whether or not an individual could finish. The magnitude of the challenge increased the interest in the adventure.
I asked myself what I could do to attract the same amount of attention. It needed to be something that I was capable of and that others would recognize as challenging. Swimming is my sport and the natural intrigue of open ocean swimming, based on a couple of the bullet points that you mentioned (specifically the natural inhabitants of those waters) was the perfect solution to generate a significant level of curiosity and interest, and it did!
- Why should people care about the dyslexia issue?
Dyslexia has a unique impact on social and the individual. A disproportionate number of dyslexics drop out of high school (a 35% attrition rate) and 50% of adolescents involved in drugs and alcohol and 60% of all individuals in the juvenile detention system have dyslexia. These statistics alone warrant a solution. When juxtapose these stats with those of empowered dyslexics – 35% of all entrepreneurs, 40% of all self made millionaires – you recognize that this is a population that has tremendous potential to be change agents on a macro level.
When you compare these disparate outcomes and look at the delta that exists between them, it justifies, in my opinion, whatever solution we can generate to skew the negative numbers towards the positive. You can imagine how this would impact the individual, in terms of their self-actualization and satisfaction with life, but also how it would benefit our society.
An incarcerated individual needs to be financially supported by the system. If this same individual has the cognitive capacity to be on the other side of the spectrum, as an entrepreneur for example, you have a job creator who is satisfied with life, an asset to society and an effective member of their community. When you consider that this situation is relevant to 20% of the global community, you can’t help but to see the investment as worthwhile.
- What has your personal journey with dyslexia been like? What pushed you over the edge to start NoticeAbility and make advocacy your calling?
I was blessed by having a diagnosed dyslexic father and a mother who was a child development psychologist. They had an awareness, they were seeking the red flags and as a result, I was able to get the assistance that I needed. It did not spare me from the social stigma though and for many years I grew up believing that I was, in fact, stupid. It took me literally decades to reverse that commentary.
What dyslexia did give me, however, was the gift of adversity. As a result, I was able to cultivate a work ethic that is, in my belief, second to none. For me a normal day was coming home from school at 5pm and working until midnight everyday. When you translate that into the real world and somebody says “we’re going to pay you for 40 hours a week”, you have to laugh because 40 hours is like a part time gig for the dyslexic. I would have to say though that my biggest motivation that propelled me to start NoticeAbility was my seven-year-old son. Since both my wife and I are dyslexic, he had at least an 80% chance of being dyslexic.
So, the combination of my own experience as a dyslexic, the personal motivation with my son, as well as the technologies and resources available to social entrepreneurs today, created a perfect storm of opportunity to start my organization.
- You had some famous people and committed activists join you at different points on the Martha’s Vineyard swim. What were some of the best moments?
Yes, there were some very generous, high-profile individuals who were able to lend their personal stories to validate the mantra I was putting out there, which is dyslexia is as much an asset as it is a difficulty. Certainly those influencers were able to underscore that message, but, in all honesty, it was the hundreds of emails that I got from parents and kids around the world that really made this experience so valuable for me. Throughout the swim, individuals would reach out and tell me that they were invigorated to hear someone speaking about what they had long suspected; that their exceptional skills were, in fact, a byproduct of their dyslexia. This was the most humbling aspect of the swim.
- What is your call-to-action for people who are either struggling with dyslexia themselves or know someone who is?
That’s a really good one, it’s multifaceted. The first is, don’t be silent. We are in an era of outspoken activism. No matter what challenges we face, may it be gender, race, sexuality, learning differences, etc., the only way we’re going to make progress is if everyone is verbal about it. No more of this stiff upper lip, speak behind closed doors mentality.
There are some incredible organizations that provide community for dyslexics and their families. Decoding Dyslexia, for example, is a national organization that has state chapters across the country and is an incredible resource for families that are struggling. What Decoding Dyslexia does is enable people to understand what rights they have, through IDEA, as well as what sort of IEP arguments they can present to their administration to get the services their children deserve.
A year from now, when I have build my first curriculum, my next suggestion would be to demand that NoticeAbility’s curriculum be imported to all schools, so that all dyslexic students can see what makes them so exceptional. In addition to exposing these students to what they are good at, NoticeAbility’s curriculum will teach the executive functioning and social emotional learning that dyslexics need in order to stay and succeed in school.
We’re going for a multi-layered effect through this curriculum. When a specific population becomes outspoken and its successful leaders, like Vanessa Kirsch and Richard Branson, start leveraging the spot light, the paradigm inevitably shifts. There is nothing more empowering to a young person than seeing an adult who has achieved significant success because of something that society perceives as a deficiency.
- What haven’t we asked you that you’d like to discuss?
The question that I would like to answer is: What can people who are unfamiliar with dyslexia do? What can those individuals do to familiarize themselves and access this latent capacity that exists all around us?
It’s a very bold statement to say that society has 20% of the population completely misunderstood and is suffering as a result of the misconception. The number of successful dyslexics is compelling but they represent only a fraction of this population’s potential. People are beginning to realize that some of the world’s most creative problem solvers are atrophying behind bars and in rehabilitation centers. Last I checked, our society is riddled with issues that need solutions. Let’s embrace the power of this population and unleash their potential.
For those committed to this vision, the first step would be to read (or listen) to a book called ‘The Dyslexic Advantage’. This book explains the neuroscience behind the dyslexic potential. Every employer in America should take a long hard look at this population. I can’t think of a single industry that wouldn’t stand to gain by employing more dyslexics. Don’t believe me? Talk about dyslexia at your next office party… Chances are one of the executive officers has dyslexia.