CONvergence: Year of the Dyslexic Workout

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A picture of part of the CONvergence crowd from above. Over 5000 people attended this year!

I attended CONvergence, my favorite yearly sci-fi/fantasy convention, last weekend. Actually, it’s usually my only yearly sci-fi/fantasy convention. It’s also the largest volunteer-run convention in the United States midwest.

This year was a little different because my regular group couldn’t attend, but a buddy from Washington state did with her little boy. As a result, most activities revolved around keeping him entertained. That was ok, he’s a sweetheart and quite the character.

We spent a lot of time in the craft area and the new Minecraft blocks someone had set up. The person had found boxes of the same size and shape, painted them like the blocks from the game and set them out for the kids to play with. I don’t remember liking being built into structures and having them cave in on me, but apparently, kids enjoy that sort of thing these days.

Yeah, I don’t get it either.

A slightly blurry shot of my little Star Trek Crew. Captain Ryker, Commander Kit, and Expendable Emilie.

I was also on a couple of panels this year. One was Spoonie Support, a panel about disability support. Ironically, I was late due partially to my dyslexia.

The convention had moved to downtown Minneapolis this year, and the day of that first panel, we got going a little later than I had expected. Admittedly, my grasp on time isn’t the best, either. Minneapolis is known for its skyways, and since there were no stoplights in them, I thought taking them there would be faster.

I was wrong. So very wrong.

My poor friend was stuck pulling her little boy and the bags in the wagon I had picked up for con while I lead the way with my phone in hand. One of the problems with the system is the online maps don’t match up with the overall shape or signs in the skyway. Getting lost here and there was only partially my fault!

Did I mention we were all wearing our Star Trek outfits?

My friend was in her science blue uniform, her little boy in command gold, and I, of course, was the sole expendable red shirt. (There’s a long-standing joke that in the original series unnamed officers in red shirts were fated to die in their away missions.)

I barely survived this encounter with a Face Hugger. I did better than the guy from the USCSS Nostromo, at least.

So, they were being led by an ill-fated red-shirt. Whoops. Naturally, we got a few stares and a couple chuckles. In years past, I’ve gotten a few comments asking how my last mission was going and apologies for what was about to happen to me. Sadly, that didn’t happen this year.

Dyslexia didn’t help, either, as maps have never translated well into real life for me.

She got quite the workout, especially since the skyways by the hotel weren’t air-conditioned. Minnesota may be known for its winters, but its summers can be sweltering.

This is the state of extremes. Minnesnowta in the winter, Minnesquito in the summer.

I was about 20 minutes late to the hour-long panel. It wasn’t quite as well attended as other disability panels I’ve been on, and quite frankly, I didn’t enjoy it as much. It was far soberer than I prefer, and I’m not entirely sure how much value many folks got from it. It was great seeing a couple of friends there, though.

The next day, we checked into our AirBNB. This was a first for me, so I was a bit nervous. There were codes.

With numbers.

NUMBER CODES. MY NEMESIS.

Fortunately, cell phones are amazing devices. I had taken a screenshot of the e-mail from the host and just referred to the codes there whenever we had to leave or return.

Of course, my dyslexia still had to flare up while we stayed there. One of the times we returned, we took the bus. Our house number was 2106. What did my brain fixate on? 2601. We got off the bus five blocks out of the way.

Fortunately, my friend noticed we were going in the wrong direction because right and left are the same in my head, but so are increasing and decreasing house numbers. She certainly got her exercise in that week.

On the bright side, she discovered she lost 5 pounds when she got home. There’s the new fitness fad – Dyslexic Boot Camp.

“And MARCH! THIS WAY!”

“Wait, isn’t this the wrong-?”

“NO THIS IS CORRECT!”

“But the numbers are going in the wrong direction.”

“NO IT’S-wait. Oh. You’re right. ABOUT FACE!”

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Usually, con adventures happen at con. I guess this time, they happened before and after our convention visits.

I suppose this goes to show that even if I can read and write fluently, my dyslexia is still very much there, and it’s a great weight-loss aid.

Flamingos from CONvergence must have followed me around, too. Such skinny legs!

Disability is Diversity: Our Place in the World

disability theory

When I was younger, I struggled hard with the concept of labeling. I was labeled as dyslexic in kindergarten at a time when most dyslexic kids went undiagnosed for at least three to four more years. It gave me a leg up on learning my letters, though my numbers were another story. I floundered in math, but I flourished in English comprehension. Even in my dyslexia, I have always been backwards.

For a long time, I hated the label of “disabled” or “special education” because it opened both my brother and I up to cruelty. We were set aside and mistreated by our peers and sometimes our teachers. For me, it became something to hide. Something to be ashamed of.

Now I know “disability” isn’t a dirty word. The way the American culture is structured does disable people who don’t fit in the spectrum of “normal”. Life thrives on diversity and that is what disability is. We who experience the world differently think differently. We come up with solutions and art unique to what the temporarily abled can.

When I first learned about my ADHD, I got curious about why I function the way I do. Sure, there are brain-based theories and biochemical theories, but I was interested in evolution.Why would rapid changes in attention and high distractibility exist if it didn’t somehow benefit the species?

After poking around a bit, I found articles like this one on the Healthline website. ADHD helped our ancestors better gather food and protect their families. The constant switching between stimuli helped them find more  types of food than those without ADHD. On top of that, they could pick up threat presence more easily, which offered a better chance of survival.

However, those talents don’t fit in very well with modern classrooms or jobsites. That’s probably why I gravitated towards writing rather than something with a strict structure. As a writer, I have the freedom to follow diverging lines of research. My tendency to hop between threads creates unique material.

My first drafts are never great, but there are always pearls worth keeping. Editing is where that structure comes in. It’s also where I can pick out the pearls that don’t fit and save them for later.

As a tutor, I’ve found both my dyslexia and ADHD have given me advantages. Often, I’m the only tutor on duty, and when I have multiple students simultaneously, I must switch between them. Our particular lab works on a walk-in basis, so there are no appointments.

For instance, I have helped one student with anatomy homework, another with a paper about diabetes, and a third with a paper about racial issues at the same time. I did that by giving them each turns, evaluating what they needed, offering them advice or giving them tasks, and then moving to the next once I was sure they understood what was needed. I do prefer doing that sort of work one-on-one, but multitasking is sometimes necessary.

Dyslexia has helped because I have worked with other dyslexics and those with other disabilities. It helps when the people helping you have a personal understanding of your challenges. Interestingly enough, the fact I had to incorporate a unique understanding of English has helped me work with adult English learners.

Many ESL (English as a Secondary Language) courses rely on memorization. That may be great for some people, but it’s not for many people. Part of how I used my dyslexia to understand writing is by learning about why words behave the way they do and why the spelling is often so wonky. That acknowledgement helps students who struggle with self-esteem, while sharing tips gives them hope while providing tools to better language skills.

Obviously, I have close personal relationships with dyslexia and ADHD. They’re part of who I am. I don’t see them as separate entities, but I understand why some people do. I’ve put a lot of thought into how they complement who I am as a person, but it also makes me think about different forms of neurodivergence and disability.

While no disability experience is universal, many are similar. We who live differently must develop different modes of thought. Who’s to say we can’t create amazing things within the world we live?

Free Accessibility Training!

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Although I’m currently paying thousands of dollars for my second degree, and will be paying even more for a graduate degree, I still love finding free educational opportunities.

I’ve decided to be a part of student government for my last semester. Because disability is never far from my mind, I asked the accessibility department about disability training. The advisor sent me a link to a free document accessibility on the Minnesota IT Services website (mn.gov/mnit/about-mnit/accessibility/training/). I’ve completed the training for the word document section, but I plan on at least looking at the social media and webpage sections as well.

Being as interested as I am in accessibility, I admit to being at a bit of a loss about how to implement it into my webpage (which is now brand new!) and blogs past, including the original incarnation of Alternative Wiring. I’m sure these training sessions will be useful in the future.

For those of you who regularly make documents for a broad audience, I highly suggest you check that training out. It’s geared towards disability accessibility, but it also shows you some neat little tricks in Microsoft Word I had never known about and helps make document design in general a little easier.