Archie Willard's life changed when he learned to read at age 54
Monday - June 15, 2015
Unable to read until he was 54 years of age, Archie Willard's life changed when he learned to read. Not content with simply knowing how to read, Archie took his message of the importance of literacy "to ends of the world." From sharing the stage with former First Lady Barbara Bush, to writing about literacy for magazines, journals and newsletters, from co-creating videos and documentaries and other media--Mr. Willard was relentless in bringing literacy awareness and its importance to improving both life and lifestyle to all.At the age of eighty-two, Archie continues to work with literacy issues in medicine and consumerism nation-wide. Why did you decide to write this book and share your story?
I wanted to inspire others to keep improving literacy. There are still too many people who cannot read or read well, some say as much as 60% of our population .
At what point did you realize that you couldn’t read?
I learned all my colors and the alphabet and could recite all the nursery rhymes but as soon as I started 1st grade and couldn't blend the sounds to put words together I knew something was wrong with me. I could memorize words but I couldn't sound out to make new words. That is when the teacher put me in the back of the room and I learned to just sit and look out the window.
How did you find out you were dyslexic?
It wasn't until I was 52years old and my wife read a newspaper article about Bruce Jenner,an Olympic star, being dyslexic. Wanda, my wife went to the library to find out more about dyslexia. When she read some of it to me we both had tears in our eyes as we recognized my problem had a name. After many attempts to find a way to be tested my medical doctor sent me to the University of Iowa medical school and the Neurology department determined that I was extremely dyslexic with an above average IQ.
What was it like to share a stage with former first lady Barbara Bush?
Frightening at first, but I was determined to make a difference for people like me. I have learned to use opportunities to make a difference for literacy and this was a giant leap. She is still working for literacy with her foundation and will have a contest to create a phone app later this year. My understanding is that the app will help young people learn or improve their reading skills.
How did running for city council (and winning) give you greater insight into managing your life?
I did this before I knew I was dyslexic and I wanted to see if I could do it. There is always this little voice encouraging me to try things and I have learned to accept those challenges. I encourage all of you who can't read or read well to let people know what you need and take advantage of opportunities to improve your life. If you don't try you won't know what you can do.
Talk to us about the “inner voice” that guides your life ?
I believe we all have this voice encouraging or supporting us in life and when you feel so different from other you tend to sit back and listen more than interact. This is why I learned to listen to my inner voice and let it guide me. I think I often tried to talk myself out of following before I learned I was dyslexic and had 2 1/2 years of tutoring. I finally understood that I wasn't stupid or lazy and that there was a name for my limitations and I wanted to find people like myself as well as learn what I could do to get better.
When you found out you were dyslexic (and that it probably was genetic and ran in your family) How did you feel?
RELIEVED...I was always afraid that I was just stupid because that's what many of the teachers told me.
You have said that one of your favorite places to speak is at GED graduation ceremonies in prisons...why?
Whenever I share my story I see hope in the eyes of the audience. This is what I want to give people is hope that they have lost because they think they are alone when they can't read. Many prisoners are unable to read or read well and they are proud to finally graduate and relieved when they hear my story because they know they are not alone. I want to give them hope to find a better way of living.
What can you recommend to parents of dyslexic children or adults that think they could be dyslexic?
My parents never judged me so first of all find out what is keeping your child from doing well, don't assume they are stupid or lazy. Schools today understand learning much better than when I was a child and there is federal legislation that requires all public schools to test children if parents feel their child has a problem. Medical doctors can also recommend testing at clinics and hospitals that have assessment programs for learning.
What do you think the government could do to promote literacy?
With every presidential election there is a change in focus and agencies. There use to be a National Literacy Program and now everything is lumped under Education. There are so many big fires in our society with wars, terrorism, the economy and health care that there isn't enough money or people to keep all the fires going so I believe there is a false sense of our nation thinking we are more literate than we are so it isn't seen as a crisis. There was a lot of good work being done for literacy when the National program existed so re-instating the program would be one way to go. Another would be to identify children's learning needs early (4-7 years old) so that no one is missed. I know some states are already doing this and having great success with early identification.
What do you think can improve literacy?
I think the early childhood identification and follow through would be the best way to ensure learning problems like dyslexia are discovered and helped. You cannot be cured you are learning disabled but you can improve and learn tricks to help yourself like I did.
Tell us about Your Program VALUE - The Literacy Program , How can people come forward to support it ?
VALUE (Voice for Adult Literacy United for Education) I was the founder and president for three years but I am not actively involved because I have been leading medical literacy for the New Readers of Iowa (of which I am a founder). I live in Iowa and Arizona and I am 84 years old so I don't have the energy for a national program like I did in my 50's and 60's. VALUE is active and has a website and I am still in touch but it would be best to ask them what they need for support.
Meet later this week our talk show with Archie Willard
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