I Just Watched a 60 Minutes Broadcast Showing Ben Foss’s Intel Reader for Dyslexics Like Him

Ben Foss
Director of Access Technology Intel Digital Health Group

Ben Foss is Director of Access Technology at the Intel Digital Health Group where he leads a team of industrial designers, mechanical engineers and software architects to develop mobile computing systems for people with disabilities. His group focuses on improving communication and access to information for all, including those who are dyslexic like him.

The idea for the Intel Reader, a mobile device designed to increase independence for people who have trouble reading standard print, first started with Ben. After being identified with dyslexia in elementary school, Ben had to rely on others to read to him or struggle through the slow process of getting words off a page throughout high school, college, and graduate school. Necessity is motivating, Ben says, “but frustration is the real mother of invention.” His innovative ideas and technological know-how led to the creation and launch of the Intel Reader, Intel Digital Health’s first consumer product.

Ben’s efforts in the dyslexia space have extended beyond industry as well: in 2003, he founded Headstrong, a California public benefit non-profit corporation, with the mission of forming a dyslexic community and encouraging learning disabled people to join the disability rights movement. The non- profit’s first film, Headstrong: Inside the Hidden World of Dyslexia and Attention Deficit Disorder, was recently broadcast across the U.S. on public television stations.

Previously, Ben served in the White House National Economic Council during the Clinton administration. Ben holds a B.A. from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, an M.S. in Moral Philosophy from the University of Edinburgh where he was a Marshal Scholar, and a J.D./M.B.A. from Stanford University. He is married to Dr. Alexis Filippini and lives in San Francisco, California.

August 23rd, 2011
07:33 AM ET

Human Factor: A bridge from dyslexia

In the Human Factor,  we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn’t know they possessed. This week Ben Foss shares how his own disability led him to invent a device that helps others who share his condition.

People like to say that I have overcome dyslexia.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

What I have overcome is the mainstream world. A person in a wheelchair overcomes stairs with a ramp. In the same way, I have overcome people who think dyslexia equals lazy.

This experience is why I am now the executive director of Disability Rights Advocates, a national legal center that tries to get people to do what they should have done in the first place, i.e., include people with disabilities in the mainstream.

Eighteen veterans a day commit suicide. We are fighting to make sure that the Department of Veterans Affairs provides the services vets with disabilities such as post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury deserve. In New York, they are about to replace all the cabs in the city with vans, but they have not picked one with a ramp built-in.

Wheelchair users can use 100% of the cabs in London, but less than 2% of those in NYC. That is wrong. For 17 years DRA has been fighting for equal access to work and school for all.

I made it through a JD/MBA at Stanford but it was because I have integrated my disability, dyslexia, not because I overcame it. I think of it like my nationality; I am from dyslexia. ADHD is our Canada and dyscalculia is our Mexico. Indeed, there are 30 million people with the same disability I have in the U.S.

If we join the disability rights movement with the people in chairs and with canes who fought to get the workplace and schools open to us, there is little we cannot do.

The real mother of invention is frustration. In college, I used to fax my term papers home to my mom to get help finding my own spelling mistakes. It was a bad situation for me and for my mom. When I got to graduate school, it took three weeks for me to get my textbooks converted to digital text so I could have a computer read them aloud with a Stephen Hawking voice.

That led me to invent the Intel Reader. For me it is a ramp into a book. Independent research suggests that kids with dyslexia or other specific learning disabilities  can improve their reading comprehension test scores by up to 23% when using the Intel Reader. These days GE and Intel are selling the product through a joint company called Care Innovations.

The most important thing any person who is dyslexic can do is be seen. Tell your story with all its warts and better still with some good one-liners.

We are everywhere. If you work with 500 people, at least 50 are from dyslexia. But if we do not stand up and talk about it, the kids coming up behind us will believe they are broken. They are not. Together we can overcome, or better yet fix, the world around us.

Editor’s note: The text below was the raw version of this blog. To blog, I write my thoughts, then put it into a speech engine and proof it three or four times myself. I then hand it to an editor to assure the written language is clean. The key here is I have command of literacy, metaphor and vocabulary, but not the code of the written language. I am publishing this to show people the work behind the curtain. Yep, still from dyslexia.


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