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Difficulties in a Digital World

Updated on July 30, 2012

Typographia and Dyslexia-who knew?

People with learning disabilities (LD) have many difficulties in society. This is because of the way their brains perceive information that is incoming from the senses. This can lead to misinterpretations and difficulties in functioning. In addition to a learning disability, these persons can also have disabilities in: reading, writing, math, or any other academic area. This article will discuss reading disabilities and how they can affect a learning disabled person.

Reading disabilities are caused by the brain misinterpreting the written or printed word. There is a disconnect between what the eye is seeing on the page and what the brain thinks is there. A reading disabled person’s vision may skip all over the page because of this. To an average person, the written or printed words may be in straight, easy to read lines, but for someone with reading disabilities, the words may be forward, backward, sideways, or zig-zag across the page. This makes it hard for a person to read.

Two examples of reading disabilities are Typographia and Dyslexia. Typographia has to do with how the written or printed word is written. For example, handwriting may have to be done in a certain color of ink for the disabled person to read such as green or blue. A printed page may have to be in a certain font such as Times New Roman or Ariel. Font size is also important as is font color. Most business documents such as bank forms may not be readable to a disabled person. Most business documents are printed on white paper and are in black type. The font size is generally 10-12. The average person will be able to read this as this is what society expects. A person with reading disabilities may not be able to. Therefore, they must request a person to read the document(s) aloud to them or request that printed documents be in a certain font color, font size, or on a different color paper.

Dyslexia also has to do with the written or printed word. People who have Dyslexia have much trouble reading. This also has to do with the connection between brain and eyes. Data is seen by the eye on the page as light. It is then sent through the eye to the brain. The average person’s brain will then interpret this data and be able to process it, thus knowing what is written on the page. A Dyslexic person will not be able to do this so easily. Data is still seen by the eye and sent to the brain, but the words may be different. Letters can be turned backward or upside down. Spaces in between words may not be even. Whole words may be backward or split. Words or letters may not be in a straight line, but zig-zag. They may be above or below each other or switched around. Or, a page may look like a series of dots and be unreadable to the dyslexic person. This causes difficulty in the areas of spelling, writing, and math. A student with Dyslexia will not be able to spell correctly. Letters will be backward to them or switched around. Students will also have trouble writing as the letters b, d, q, and p all look similar in their lower case form and are easily mixed up. This is the same with math. A Dyslexic student will not see the same problems as the rest of the class and so will arrive at a different answer. Their numbers will be different as their brain has switched them around. For example, 54 might become 45. The problem 54 + 27 could be: 45 + 72, 57 + 25, 52 + 75, 42 + 57, etc.

Typographia and Dyslexia usually go hand in hand and are coupled with learning disabilities. It is very frustrating for students and teachers. One never grows out of a learning disability. Persons with learning and reading disabilities struggle with everyday things that the average person does not. Ours is a digital society, reliant upon technology for everything from navigating the city to the internet. For persons with reading disabilities, life is difficult because so much depends on being able to read. To navigate the city, a person with reading disabilities may need handwritten directions or rely upon his/her memory to get around. Street signs may be difficult to read. Public transportation is another issue. Destination signs are digital on both buses and trains. The train has an intercom that announces which line it’s running and the names of the stops. Destination signs on trains use orange lights for the letters making them easy to see and read. Buses are not so easy. Buses also have intercoms, but drivers do not always announce stops as they are supposed to. Also, some destination signs on buses are use orange lights for the letters, but others use green. The green is less bright and so is harder to see and read.

Even grocery shopping is difficult. The directory in the store is hung high and all items are in very small font so that everything fits on one board. It is difficult to read and so therefore it is difficult to find the item(s) wanted. Also, the aisle signs may have fancy lettering that can be difficult to read. For one with reading disabilities, the font on coupons can be difficult due to its size. Check outs at the grocery stores are digital. The monitors are difficult to read for a reading disabled person; especially the older ones. The monitors that use green lights for the letters and numbers can look like merely a bunch of dots. The newer monitors are computer screens, but the type is still such that it cannot be read very easily. The list of items is in small font while the total is in medium size font. It is also black type against a white background which may be unreadable for those with Typographia.

It is a similar case with the internet. Those who have reading disabilities may have difficulty reading a web page. Web pages usually have black type against a white background, though this is not always the case. Words on a web page can look just as weird to a person with reading disabilities as they do on a physical page. Words and/or letters may be backward, sideways, split, zig-zag, above or below each other. It is difficult to navigate the internet as well. A URL address may be spelled wrong, but the computer will bring up website suggestions for the user so that the user will be directed to the place he/she wants to go.

Persons with disabilities who do not require a medical apparatus face a unique challenge: they look like everyone else, so average people are less likely to help them if they ask for it and assume that they have another physical impairment. An example would be if a reading disabled person asked for a document to be read to them or if they needed help filling out a document. The average person would not understand why the disabled person would need help because they do not have a medical apparatus so the assumption is that they do not have a disability. Other assumptions that are made in this situation are: the person asking for help is hard of hearing or deaf/blind or illiterate. Average people also make the assumption that persons who have learning/reading disabilities are dumb or stupid when this is not the case. On the contrary, persons with learning disabilities have an average or above average intellect.

It is embarrassing to have to ask for help. There are five defense mechanisms used by learning disabled students both while they are in school and as adults. These are: denial, rationalization, repression, projection, and compensation. (Slosser, 1989)

Before a student knows he/she has a learning disability, he/she will automatically blame it on something or someone else and deny that there is anything wrong. In the classroom, the student may feel ignored by the teacher if he/she can’t keep up with what is going on during instruction or doing assignments. They may also conclude that the teacher is inadequate and is not fulfilling their needs. This makes the student feel depressed or angry. They will purposely not complete assignments and want to drop out or do drop out.

Rationalizations are the reasons why a person doesn’t want to admit that something is going on. They justify behaviors that seem rational, but are in reality not. It is an internal battle. This is when a student starts to come to terms with his/her disability.

Next, the student tries to repress his/her emotions concerning their academic achievements. Students will internalize their emotions because they do not wish to relive the past. They understand at this stage how their disability has affected not only their past achievement, but their present and even future achievements.

A student with LD will project their feelings or problems onto others as a way to deal with anxiety about school. The student wants everyone else to be like they are because they do not feel “normal” and not accepted by the majority. They don’t feel that anyone else understands them, even the people they are closest to.

The final mechanism is compensation. This is when the student finally understands that he/she has a disability and that they can still live as normal a life as possible. They will compensate for their weaknesses in whatever areas and seek out other areas where they can excel. This concludes in a positive move toward the future.

Persons with LD become frustrated very easily when they don’t understand something. They may externalize this by yelling out or yelling at the person who is trying to explain a concept to them. The person explaining should not take offense. Students may also call out the answer to a question that is asked of the class instead of raising their hand. The largest issues LD students have are motivation and self-esteem. They do not grow out of this and may become depressed later in life. Students with LD do not feel adequate enough to compete with their peers who are average. They think they are dumb and stupid and don’t want to be in school because they feel they cannot keep up and cannot do the work. It is self deprecating. The solution to this is positive reinforcement or positive feedback. These increase self-esteem and motivation.

“The GOAL of remediation is for the individual, with his/her learning disability, to function as an independent social human being in his/her unique direct environment.” (Kulick, 1980) Technology has brought knowledge of disabilities so much further in the past 30 years. Diagnoses are being made as early as possible so that interventions can be made and disabled students overall can succeed and become a part of society.

It is difficult to diagnose a learning disability in children as there are so many other factors that may affect their development. This is why no one knows if a child has a learning disability until they are in school and learning to read. LD students are typically below grade level and struggle with basic phonetic concepts. Their spoken language is at grade level and may be even above.

A learning disability is caused either by a birth defect or by the child’s environment. As a birth defect, a learning disability may be caused by the umbilical cord being wrapped around the infant’s neck while the mother was in labor. It can be a high fever after birth as well. A learning disability can also result from a brain injury and the latter can even cause a chemical imbalance within the brain. A learning disability can also be hereditary. On the environmental side, a learning disability can be caused by a stressful home environment, poor nutrition, toxins or severe allergies, “poor teaching”, or poverty. (Canges, 2012)

Dyslexia is the most common type of reading disability, but medical science is making it easier to find and earlier. A test has been created that uses lights and a computer to try and identify dyslexia in children who are in preschool. Because these children do not yet know how to read, they are asked to follow a sequence of lights. The lights are a substitute for letters. Children’s eye movements are then tracked and analyzed. Those with Dyslexia showed eye movements that varied significantly from average children. The accuracy of this test is not known as it was performed in the mid-80s.

The lighting of a room has a lot to do with how well reading disabled persons read. The light in a grocery store for example may be too bright or harsh. Sunlight can be too bright or too dim. The lights within a classroom too may give off too much or too little light. Humans see the visible spectrum of light. The light comes from the sun in its full spectrum of color and is reflected off objects or absorbed, giving them their various colors. For a reading disabled person, sometimes blocking out certain colors of light helps them to read better. Red, yellow, or blue filters placed over the page of a book or computer screen makes the text show better. Sometimes, a green filter can also help.

For students who have trouble reading or copying off the board in the classroom, an aide can be there to read to them or take notes. A peer can also do this. The teacher can also have someone read to the learning disabled student. Again, peers can do this. Being read to will allow the LD student to comprehend the reading and give the peer extra practice.

In the past, if a student had difficulty reading, the teacher would go back to the basics and review phonics with the student. This was not helpful for a student with a reading disability: it would only frustrate them more. As above mentioned, there is more help available now then there was 20 years ago. Technologies such as Dragon Speak, a computer program that allows the user to dictate what they want to write into the computer, help disabled persons to succeed.

Society looks down upon persons with disabilities. It is important to remember that just because a person looks or acts differently, they are still human.


Canges, Dr. Rebecca “Learning Disabilities” February 20, 2012. Lecture.

Kulick, Hollybeth “Learning Disabilities: Full Circle of Involvement and Telltale Signs of a Learning Disability” Blue Spectrum Press, Colorado. © 1980 Print.

McGrath, Ellie “Don’t Call It a Disease” Time 1982. Print.

United Press International “Dyslexia Test” The Denver Post 1986, 1F. Print.

Slosser, Holli “Five Defense Mechanisms of the Adult Learning Disabled Person” 1989. Print.


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