This is a speech I gave in June at my Toastmasters’ club–Route 66 Toastmasters in Upland. We meet the first and third Fridays of every month at the International House of Pancakes, IHOP, restaurant in Upland. It’s right next to the railroad tracks. We meet in the back, with picture windows looking out on the railroad crossing and Upland’s magnificent Euclid Avenue. When the Metrolink roars by, just yards from our meeting room, it tests the speaker’s (and audience’s) ability to stay focused and avoid distractions–to control attention, as Mr. Csikszentmihalyi says.

Maybe you know someone like my friend Franklin. He’s really smart. I don’t mean smart as in intellectual, book smart, because Frank’s not well educated. I mean he’s just naturally really smart and really bright.

And he can do anything, from restoring classic cars, building a house, cooking a gourmet meal. All you have to do is show Frank once, let him try it, and he can do it, and do it well!

But Frank’s struggled with something all his life: he doesn’t read very well. Franklin’s so good with the spoken word, a great storyteller. But the printed word is another story.

I’ve never seen Franklin with a book. Even so, he’s one of the smartest people I know.

My friend Franklin is dyslexic. While dyslexic people are intuitive and highly creative, their brains sometimes have a hard time understanding letters and written words.

It’s especially tough when a kid with dyslexia is learning to read. Sometimes letters get mixed up in their brain, so… “RUN”… becomes “RNU.”

Or they have word reversals: they see… “WAS” …as “SAW.”

Letter reversals are common, especially with… “b” and… “d,” so dyslexics see… “words”… as “worbs.”

When Franklin was a kid in school, it was the worse time of his life. Other kids called him “dumb.” His teachers were always talking to his parents. And he almost had to repeat a couple of grades.

Two famous people who were dyslexic and had the same trouble in school are Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison.

Right now in San Bernardino County, 48,000 kids have visual impairments, dyslexia or other disabilities that affect their reading. For a lot of those kids, their textbooks might just as well… have padlocks on them. [Here I held up a prop, a book that I had wrapped in a chain and padlock].

But there is help, and I’m proud to say I play a small role in helping those kids unlock the knowledge in books.

I’m a volunteer at Reading for the Blind & Dyslexic, a national  organization that takes textbooks, records them into audiobooks. And gives them to students who cannot read print books effectively.

In Southern California, RFBD has a recording studio in Hollywood and another in Upland, only a couple of blocks from my home.

I’m a volunteer recording artist. Every Tuesday night I go there and spend two hours reading out loud in a little sound booth. I record textbooks about history, science, literature… whatever kids need for their classes.

These aren’t your usual audiobooks. They’re real easy to navigate. If the teacher says, “Read chapter six and do the assignment on page 86,” the student can go to that chapter and that page, as easily as you turn the pages of a printed book, probably faster. And you can speed up the reading… o r   s l o w   i t   d o w n.

Students listen and learn.

Unfortunately, the need is so great that Reading for the Blind & Dyslexic in Upland, with its limited resources, only reaches about 8,000 of those 48,000 kids I told you about.

If you’d like to help, or just find out more about this incredible place, right here in Upland, we have an open house the second Tuesday of every month. I have a handout about it.

And Tuesday nights is when I work, so you’ll see me there yakking away in a sound booth the size of a closet.

I’m unlocking textbooks.

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