Living with dyslexia during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Ingenium - Canada's Museums of Science and Innovation

As the COVID-19 pandemic travelled around the world this past year, countless individuals have had to make changes to their everyday routines. Likewise, my life has changed dramatically in a short time. In some ways, these necessary changes have been magnified for me because, like one in five Canadians, I am dyslexic.

As a member of the disabled community, I believe it’s essential to look for the similarities between people, but it’s equally important to understand and make space for what sets us apart.

In a short series of three posts, I will be sharing a glimpse into my journey as a dyslexic, my struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic, and how my disability impacts my view of the collection at Ingenium – Canada’s Museums of Science and Innovation.

Dyslexia has a major impact on my day-to-day life in ways that many people don’t understand. Those who are unfamiliar with dyslexia often envision jumbled letters on the page, which make it impossible for an individual to read. While I personally struggle with reading and writing, many dyslexics do not actually have any problems in this area. In broader terms, the brain of the dyslexic individual is physically hardwired differently than the neurotypical brain. By way of example, I struggle with short-term or working memory; I have never been able to memorize my phone number or address, and even if I know how to get somewhere, I can’t explain it to you using street names and directions. In 2014, I bought my first smartphone and started using Google maps. This was revolutionary for me! Until then, I really didn’t have the freedom to move around how I wanted to, because I would get lost and not remember my phone number or address (plus, I’m unable to read bus schedules).

On the flip side, the dyslexic brain has many strengths. While I may struggle with short-term memory, my visual memory is very strong. My capacity to analyze data, along with my ability to guess futuristic events, are also strengths. The dyslexic brain can also problem solve in a much broader sense, and excels at making connections between abstract thoughts.

Over the past decade, the advancement of neuroscience has helped us to better understand dyslexia. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and other visual imaging technologies have helped scientists to better understand what’s really happening inside the human brain. For example, we now know that when a dyslexic individual is reading, different sections of the brain are activated when compared with a non-dyslexic brain. So while it was previously believed that disabilities like autism and dyslexia could be overcome, we now know that the physical wiring of the brain is different for some people.

Understanding this, our society is learning that there are alternate ways of existing; the “one size fits all” model does not work for all people. As we make this shift, it’s also important to look at the disabled community not as being “broken,” but rather to step back and see the differences and strengths that can be found in different capacities.

Interested in reading more about accessibility? Stay tuned for the next posts in this three-part series, including The dyslexic view: Working from home during COVID-19 and Representing accessibility in the Ingenium collection.

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Carlile Sea

As the assistant conservator at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, Carlile takes responsibility for ensuring objects — the only known time travelers in existence — can continue travelling through time as their most authentic and original selves. Living as a member of the dyslexic community, Carlile is passionate about accommodating and celebrating the differences represented by disabled people and other minorities.