Initial Evaluation of the 2014 Festival of Dyslexic Culture

The First International Festival of Dyslexic Culture initial evaluation

This was the first time that dyslexia (and overlapping neurodiversity) has been identified as a Culture.  It was certainly not the first festival of dyslexia!  DYSPLA has that honour, we believe, and was one of the ground breaking events that inspired us to organise this Festival.

We argue that dyslexia involves a distinctive way of thinking about the world, of making meaning from our experience and generating innovative solutions to problems.  Our approach is holistic, often involving 3D visual thinking, synaesthesia, crossing boundaries, thinking ‘outside-the-box’ and producing the most wonderful and innovative cultural artefacts and interactions.  This is seen right across the world from stereotypical successes in art, engineering, acting, comedy and architecture to lesser known areas such as poetry, business, writing, dance, film, sport and academia.   On the one hand, we have been held back by schooling and tests, and, on the other, much of dyslexic culture has become mainstream culture through our practical and innovative successes.  However, the Festival of Dyslexic Culture was intended to celebrate all our culture, not just our successes; how we all approach learning, living and interacting. Above all else, the Festival was participatory.

Our feedback shows that the Festival achieved this central aim:

“My goodness me I was blown away with how brilliant the Dyslexia Festival was on Saturday” Cass O’Callaghan

“Great to meet so many likeminded people dint know we were so many” Joe Cairo

“I found it both profoundly moving and enlightening.” Cheri Stone

“Best part of today is it is not just me who struggles, works, or thinks this way” Dr Anne Nortcliffe

“Wow, (the Festival of Dyslexic Culture) looks amazing! Any chance you’ll have one in the states?” Jay Bakker

“It created for me a sense of greater hope and community” – Steven Saunders

“Paradigm shift? dyslexia as culture NOT disability @dysculture Festival strategic, holist, creative and intuitive leaders & thinkers”,  Annie Morris

This dramatic success does not disguise the fact that we have a lot to learn about how best to organise, orchestrate and develop the Festival for the future.  We are very pleased to have received constructive criticism from presenters, performers and participants.  Fortunately, Dyslexic Culture is not only good at making things happen, it is extremely good at learning from mistakes and finding new ways to do things better.

Combining an academic Symposium with non-academic workshops, art exhibition,  films, book launches, meditation and music, poetry and theatrical performances was also innovative and enhanced the sense of community, culture, and self-belief; a sense that we no longer have to put up with inappropriate education, of confidence in our abilities, of the right to do things our way.  This growing sense of cultural identity, sense of community and empowerment was also recognised and acknowledged by non-dyslexic academics on the day:

“A brilliant success for the first festival of dyslexic culture” Prof John Gabriel

“Congratulations on the utter brilliance of the FDC!!!” Principal Lecturer in HE

“Interesting that GCHQ visit engineering schools to recruit dyslexic people” Chris Lane, Academic Leader in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at London Metropolitan University (watching Dr Anne Nortcliffe’s presentation)

“The emergence of a new movement today?” (tweet from Social Science academic)

Of course we are pleased that academics began to notice this paradigm shift, but we make no claim that the movement started at the Festival.  We merely modelled it and articulated what has been growing for over a decade.  The roots of the movement came out of the concept of neurodiversity articulated by the Aspergers global online community as well as Tom West’s ‘In the Mind’s Eye‘ (1997) and the establishment of the ADO in the 1990s, the establishment of  DANDA (2003), the BRAIN.HE project (2006) and AchieveAbility in the 2000s, DysPla Festivals since 2007, the emergence of RASP (Rebelling Against Spelling Press- 2007), the LSE Identity Conference (2011), Dyslexia Advantage in the USA (2012), Unique Dyslexic (2013) and a number of dyslexic academics challenging the social construction of specific learning difficulties including Dr Ross Cooper, Katherine Hewlett, Dr Nim Folb, Dr Andy Hill and Dr Stephen MacDonald, to name but a few.

We are, however, proud that the Festival has given the movement more momentum and a new aspect – the recognition of ‘Dyslexic Culture’.

We will be uploading videos of the event and further feedback and commentary in the coming weeks.  We would invite you to participate in the process and join us in the development of the Festival of Dyslexic Culture 2015, a celebration of who we are through what we create.  We have only just begun. We expect to be amazed at what we can achieve together.