disABILITY Awareness speaker Ashley Jones shares her “why JMF” story and how she highlights the abilities in disabilities.

What is my “why JMF” you ask? Approximately 3 years ago, I was approached by my then co-worker asking if I would be interested in giving a presentation to St. Maria Goretti Catholic School to kick-off their disABILITY Awareness Week with the Joseph Maley Foundation. I didn’t have to think twice, as I was already interested in being a part of a program that highlights the abilities of disABILITIES.  Once I discovered everything disABILITY Awareness Week entailed, I instantly fell in love with the Joseph Maley Foundation and all it has grown to offer.

My why is personal. My why is my own disability, dyslexia. I was diagnosed with dyslexia when I was in second grade and school was not easy for me. At the time, I did not realize I was training myself to be the most organized, hard-working and determined woman I am today; but as a kid, that was a hard lesson to learn. Even though I excelled in the arts and sports, reading was difficult and studying for tests for hours on end to only end up getting “Cs” was beyond frustrating.

I met my angel, as I like to call her, when I was in second grade. She was a tutor in a method called Orton-Gillingham. She worked with me twice a week throughout the year for six years and taught me how to retrain my brain. She taught me how to read, spell, be organized and most importantly, built my confidence.  She is the reason I am as successful as I am today.

At the age of 31, I have two degrees. The first is in Child Development; I can do what was done for me by teaching children with learning differences the Orton-Gillingham method. The second is in Nursing: I was a NICU nurse at St. Vincent Women’s Hospital, and now work at the Health Department with mothers and babies after they go home from the hospital. My life goal is to figure out a way to put both my teaching and nursing together to create a program that will benefit children with learning differences and their families.

During my disABILITY Awareness presentations at schools, I speak with students about what dyslexia is, what it looks like to me, and share my story with them. I want the kids to know how it made me feel to be in school, as well as what I excelled in, even though school was not my strong suit. I want the kids to know that I see my disability as an asset and I am extremely proud of my disABILITY. We talk about what you should and should not do with a friend in school who may have a learning disability (i.e., don’t laugh or talk about them behind their back, instead give time and be patient). We talk about various famous people who have/had dyslexia in different categories (sports, acting, artists, presidents, inventors, etc.), and why Albert Einstein is my favorite famous dyslexic, followed closely by Walt Disney and Steve Jobs, because he had dyslexia and we consider him a genius.

My presentation is very interactive with the kids and I always leave time for questions at the end. Some questions are pertinent to the topic such as, “Will your kids be dyslexic?” or “Can you make pictures in your head while you’re reading?,” while others involve my favorite color, what I ate for dinner the night before and “my sister went to college at IU…”

While my “why JMF” is personal, I also find it my personal responsibility to educate children that it is okay for us all to be different, whether it be on the inside or outside. Not only is it okay for us to be different, but it is important to treat everyone kindly.  The Joseph Maley Foundation has paved the way for us to do so with the disABILITY Awareness program, among many other activities.

I always ask the kids if they can tell if I have a disability. Their answer is always “no” and my response is, “Good, but only because if you could tell, that would mean you could see my brain and that would be weird.” I then tell them I want them to be able to see my disability because I’m proud of my disability. I’m proud of being different and they should be too.

Post written by:

Ashley Jones

disABILITY Awareness Speaker