In honor of Hispanic heritage Month, we are highlighting members of the Latino community who are also members of the disability community.
Victor Villaseñor was born in 1940 in Carlsbad, California and was raised on a ranch in Oceanside, California. His parents were born in Mexico and he only spoke Spanish until he began school. As a second language learner, he experienced discrimination from his teachers and fellow students: He was slapped on the head for speaking Spanish, he endured a steady barrage of ethnic slurs, teachers beat and humiliated him for being a “stupid Mexican”, and Anglo students bullied him because he struggled with reading and had to repeat the third grade. It would take decades before he discovered that he has dyslexia, which is what made reading difficult for him.
It was in the seventh grade that Villaseñor discovered the joys of writing, when a substitute teacher told him to write about what he loved and that he should not worry about spelling and grammar. The substitute gave him an A for a paper he wrote, praised his work, and refused to lower the grade for spelling or grammatical errors. While this teacher encouraged him, other inspiring teachers were difficult to find and Villaseñor dropped out of school after his junior year of high school.
Villaseñor continued to study, learning how to read and dreaming of becoming a great writer. He wrote prolifically. Eventually he filled his truck with his manuscripts and drove to the University of California, Los Angeles, where Ronald Kayser, a professor of creative writing, helped Villaseñor gain admission.
He finally received a diagnosis of dyslexia at the age of 44. According to the test administrator, Villaseñor scored off the charts on the test for dyslexia. In his memoir, Villaseñor writes about his diagnosis: “Someone finally understood all the hell that I’d been through since childhood, when I’d first tried to understand language. And yet in other forms of communication, like painting, sculpture, music, math, problem-solving, and chess, I’d been very good.” He felt compelled to conquer written communication so as to dispel the anger and hate due to his experiences as a child in school.
Today, Victor Villaseñor is a prolific writer and sought-after speaker. His books include Burro Genio, Rain of Gold, Crazy Loco Love, and Walking Stars. He lectures around the country to educational and community groups where he describes dyslexia as a gift and encourages teachers to bring out the genius in their students. Because of his experiences in school, including because of his then-undiagnosed dyslexia and his language difficulties, Victor Villaseñor supports giving all students an education appropriate to their potential, instead of putting them on the non-college track due to their ethnicity, native language, or disability.
If you would like to learn more about dyslexia, the International Dyslexia Association has information for students, parents, and educators, along with a list of frequently asked questions. The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity provides information for parents and educators, along with information on policy and advocacy; technology; tools and tips for success; and creative work from young people with dyslexia. Do you need information on dyslexia in Spanish? KidsHealth provides information in Spanish for parents.
People with dyslexia have the right to access educational and cultural programs, as well as supports and accommodation for the workplace under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To learn more about the ADA, please contact one of the ten Regional ADA Centers, part of the NIDILRR-funded ADA National Network, by calling 800/949-4232.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that students with disabilities have access to an equal education in the least restrictive environment. If you are a student or parent of a child with dyslexia or other disabilities and need help with advocacy, please contact the Disability Rights Education Defense Fund (DREDF), a national law and policy center dedicated to protecting and advancing the civil rights of people with disabilities by calling 510/644-2555 (V/TTY).
NARIC’s information specialists searched through the NARIC collection to find over 700 articles from the NIDILRR community and beyond. If you would like more information on dyslexia and referral to additional resources, please contact NARIC’s information specialists via phone, chat, or email.