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How one man turned disability into success

by Bree Tracey
Oct 15, 2009

 Bree Tracey/MEDILL

 Ron Davis talks about is dyslexia

Related Links

Davis Dyslexia Association InternationalThe International Dyslexia AssociationLearning Disability Association of America

Famous dyslexics

 - Jay Leno

- Thomas Edison

- Albert Einstein

- Tom Cruise

- Pablo Picasso

- John Lennon

- George Washington

 - Muhammad Ali

 - Leonardo da Vinci

- Robin Williams


When he was 12, Ronald Davis was labeled mentally retarded because he had trouble reading and writing.

“My biggest job in life was to hide from other people that I wasn’t the same as they were. To hide from them … that I couldn’t read or write, and as a result of that I was driven to be successful,” Davis told a Chicago audience this week.

It was only after Davis scored high on an IQ test that he realized that his diagnosis was inaccurate. He subsequently learned he was dyslexic, a learning disorder that hinders a person’s ability to read and write.   

The National Institutes of Health estimates that 15 percent of the population may be dyslexic and the National Assessment of Educational Process reports dyslexia is probably the most common of the language-based learning disabilities.

“Success for me had a different meaning and a different purpose for me than it does for a lot of other people,” Davis said.

In 1980, at age 38, Davis found ways to overcame his dyslexia. Today he is the author of three books, runs the Davis Dyslexia Association and has developed a program to correct and improve dyslexic’s reading and writing skills.

Davis said a person who is dyslexic does not see the world through words, but through pictures, which explains why people who are dyslexic are usually more creative.

“The very thing that that person is doing that causes a problem in school is going to make that person more intelligent and more creative than the average human being, and the greatest minds in history all fall under that same category,” Davis said.

“I read ‘The Gift of Dyslexia’ by Ron Davis to see what I thought, and I thought wow this guy’s either brilliant or crazy,” said Kim Ainis, the director of the Chicago Reading and Dyslexia Center.

Ainis became a facilitator for the Davis program after learning more about dyslexia.

“I thought this exactly explained and described my clients,” she said. “I mean it explained why there are people who are so bright and yet couldn’t read ‘the’ but they could read ‘encyclopedia,’ perhaps.”

Davis's Chicago visit is part of an international tour promoting his methods.