Tag Archives: Ben Foss

A Man From a Place Called Dyslexia

Let’s talk a little bit about dyslexia and new technology out there that is being utilized to help those who are dyslexic to overcome this disability.

Dyslexia, or developmental reading disorder (DRD) according to PubMedHealth, “is a reading disability that occurs when the brain does not properly recognize and process certain symbols.”

People with this disorder may have difficulty rhyming and separating sounds that make up spoken words, abilities which seem to be an integral key to learning to read. Early reading skills are based on word recognition; being able to separate out the sounds in words matching them to letters and groups of letters. But people with DRD have difficulty making the connection between the sounds of language and the letters of words. True dyslexia is more than just confusing or transposing letters.

According to this website, the symptoms of DRD may include the following:
* Difficulty determining the meaning (idea content) of a simple sentence
* Difficulty learning to recognize written words
* Difficulty rhyming

Ben Foss, a lawyer, businessman, and executive director of Disability Rights Advocates, was identified with dyslexia when he was in the first grade. His parents treated his disability frankly and supportively, even giving him permission to vent in his room when he became frustrated, but they did not let his DRD become an excuse in school.

Foss explains his dyslexia by telling people he is from two different places: “New Hampshire, and dyslexia. Dyslexia is a place where we have different learning practices. Both of these places are part of who I am.”

Foss described what it’s like to try to read when you have dyslexia to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent saying, “When I read text, it’s like having a bad cell phone connection to the page; things drop out, I miss pieces of information.”

He relied heavily, throughout his education, on his mother. Foss said, “When I was a kid, my mom would read out loud to me, which wasn’t a big deal. When I went to college, I used to fax my term papers home to her in New Hampshire, and she’d read them to me over the phone so that I could find my own spelling mistakes.”

Foss, like so many others with a reading-based learning disability, became increasingly frustrated with the long waiting periods he endured for limited audio materials. He was convinced that there had to be a better way for people like him to read in spite of their disability.
In January, 2006, Foss came up with an idea to make reading easier for people like himself. He said, “I was sitting at my desk holding a cell phone and wondering if I could get it to take a picture of text and have it read it back.”

The earliest Intel®Reader was actually a cut-up Styrofoam cooler with a lens taped on. Each development and improvement along the way, up till the current design, has been guided by accuracy, convenience, and discretion.

The current prototype is a portable, flexible assistive technology tool (click here to see it in use) that has a high-resolution camera as well as an Intel®Atom™processor.  Very simply, the user takes a picture of the printed text he wants to read. In about 30 seconds, the Intel Reader processes the picture, converting it from the written text to speech. As the words are spoken, they are also highlighted on the screen, creating a dual sensory experience.

Users are able to store material in its content management system in a logical manner. Additionally, its compact size and portability make it easy for people to utilize the Intel Reader in all aspects of their lives.

Foss admitted to CNN that his decision to create this device stemmed from his own desire to be independent. He laughingly explained, “That was basically so I didn’t have to call my mom every time I needed something read, you know like, good for me, good for my mom!”

Foss is an advocate for all kids struggling with learning disabilities, striving to provide them with the independence to succeed by themselves. His Intel Reader gives kids exactly this kind of independence and self-confidence.

His message to kids like himself: “Dyslexia is not a dirty word. The sun will not explode if you don’t read well. Just let people know that you have trouble reading and then find an alternative. Do not assume you need to do it the way everyone else does it.” 

Ben continues to fight for people just like him in his position as Executive Director of Disability Rights Advocates, where he tells an audience, “Think about who you are and what your story is.” He encourages his audience to be open about their disabilities rather than trying to hide it. And he persuades them to find ways to adapt in order to succeed.

Foss is also the president of Headstrong Nation, which their website states, “is dedicated to serving the dyslexic community by providing information about dyslexia, self-advocacy and new technologies in multimedia formats.” 

The mission of Headstrong Nation is: “to give people with dyslexia access to hope and self-respect. Our goals are to reduce dropout rates, ease underemployment and end the isolation of the world’s largest disability group.”

With an estimated 15 to 20 percent of the population struggling with language-based learning disabilities, it is extremely important that we continue to search for new ways to help these children learn. Because the possibilities are endless if they can gain the support and independence that Ben Foss advocates.

If you would like to learn more about Ben Foss, follow this link for the rest of his interview.