The Understood Update
Read the latest news about our team, innovations, developments, and partnerships as we work to shape the world for difference.
If nothing else, this year has confirmed that many of the “old” ways of doing things won’t work moving forward. We’ve witnessed the countless ways people who are considered different, whether because of how they look, learn, or think, are being left behind—and will fall further behind if we don’t make lasting changes now.
Throughout the pandemic, our focus has never wavered from the 1 in 5 people in the U.S. who learn and think differently. As our country rebuilds, Understood believes that we must reimagine our schools, workplaces, communities, and homes to be more diverse, inclusive, and equitable so that everyone can thrive.
Understood experts Bob Cunningham, executive director of learning development; Amanda Morin, associate director, thought leadership and expertise; Trynia Kaufman, expert and senior manager, editorial research; and Claire Odom, senior program manager, have four key predictions as to what major changes in 2021 will impact people who learn and think differently.
Below is a glimpse into their predictions for the year ahead. Check out Understood’s Medium page for a more in-depth analysis of each prediction in the near future:
1. If families don’t start preparing now, some students who learn and think differently may find it hard to reacclimate to post-pandemic life, especially those who struggle with social interactions and transitions.
2. Schools and learning spaces will be reimagined to be more inclusive and equitable in order to give all students an equal opportunity to bounce back from the effects of 2020.
3. Employees will take the lead in creating the future workplace and push employers to embrace the inclusion of all types of differences, including disabilities.
4. The ‘one size fits all’ model of teaching is dead. To prevent irreversible losses, teachers will need flexibility to prioritize individualized and trauma-informed instruction.
Rebuilding our communities with difference in mind won’t always be easy, but it is the only way we can shape a world where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.
To learn more about the Understood team’s predictions for the new year, follow us here on Medium.
At Understood, we’re living our mission by creating a world and a workplace
where everyone can thrive. We support and challenge each other to make an impact, embrace difference, set the standard, and act with purpose so that we can thrive together as a team—including interns. Our interns play a foundational role in helping us achieve our mission and strengthening our culture.
In our new “Intern Spotlight” series, we interview interns from across the organization about their background, their work at Understood, and why they’re motivated to empower the 1 in 5 people in the U.S. who learn and think differently.
This first spotlight features Communications intern Gonzalo Monge Castillo, who is also a fellow with Understood’s partner projectBASTA, a recruiting and staffing nonprofit dedicated to bridging the employment gap for first-generation students. A native Spanish speaker, Gonzalo was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to the Bronx when he was 11 years old. He graduated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice this past spring with a bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in film studies.
In a recent Q&A, Gonzalo shared a bit about his background, his experience at Understood, and what its mission means to him.
What does Understood’s mission of “shaping the world for difference” mean to you? / ¿Qué significa para ti la misión de Understood de “construyendo un mundo que valore las diferencias”?
Shaping the world for difference means removing the stigma associated with learning and thinking differences so that we can uplift individuals and create a community where everyone is accepted. It also reminds me that other peoples’ differences aren’t always visible, especially if they have a learning or thinking difference, and why it’s important for us to embrace each other’s unique qualities.
Construyendo un mundo que valore las diferencias significa eliminar el estigma asociado con las diferencias en la manera de pensar y aprender para ayudar a que las personas prosperen y crear una comunidad donde todos sean aceptados. También me hace recordar que las diferencias de los demás no siempre son visibles, especialmente si tienen una diferencia en la manera de pensar y aprender, y la importancia de que valoremos las cualidades únicas de los demás.
What do you wish people knew about Understood? / ¿Qué desearías que la gente supiera de Understood?
I wish people knew how dynamic and diverse the organization is, especially since many members of the Understood team learn and think differently themselves. The team constantly collaborates and many people come from different backgrounds, but they are all dedicated to the mission. The organization truly embraces change as it continues to evolve with new insights gained from research, different initiatives, and the current times.
Deseo que la gente sepa que Understood es una organización dinámica y diversa, especialmente porque muchos miembros del equipo piensan y aprenden de manera diferente. El equipo colabora constantemente y muchas personas provienen de diferentes orígenes, pero todos están dedicados a una misma misión. La organización verdaderamente se adapta al cambio a medida que continúa evolucionando con nuevas ideas obtenidas de investigaciones, diferentes iniciativas y los tiempos actuales.
What made you interested in an internship at Understood? / ¿Qué te hizo interesarte en una pasantía en Understood?
I’ve always gravitated towards organizations that promote helpful resources and enrich the lives of others. Understood’s impactful content made me want to pursue an internship with the Communications team.
Siempre me he sentido atraído a las organizaciones que brindan recursos útiles y enriquecen la vida de los demás. El contenido impactante de Understood me hizo querer hacer una pasantía con el equipo de Comunicaciones.
What have you learned so far in your role? / ¿Qué has aprendido hasta ahora en tu puesto?
My experience so far has shown me plausible ways to create environments where everyone has a chance to succeed. I am now more aware of ways to create accessible, inclusive spaces for people who learn and think differently. I’ve also grown to see how it’s necessary to innovate our school systems and workplaces in order to improve each other’s lives.
Mi experiencia hasta ahora me ha mostrado maneras viables de crear entornos donde todos tengan la oportunidad de tener éxito. Ahora soy más consciente de las maneras de crear espacios accesibles e inclusivos para las personas que piensan y aprenden de manera diferente. También he aprendido que es necesario innovar con nuestros sistemas escolares y lugares de trabajo para mejorar la vida de los demás.
Before working at Understood, did you have other experiences that shaped your perspective on difference? / ¿Antes de trabajar en Understood, tuviste otras experiencias que influyeron en cómo percibes las diferencias?
Back in 2017, I found myself selling sweets at Bryant Park’s Holiday shops during the annual Winter Village event. Tourists from all over the world came to experience this hot spot and I was exposed to so many different cultures. It made me more aware of how people can interpret information differently, and I realized we can always figure out ways to understand each other.
En 2017, estuve vendiendo dulces en las tiendas navideñas de Bryant Park durante el evento anual llamado Winter Village. Vinieron turistas de todo el mundo a disfrutar este punto de interés y estuve expuesto a muchas culturas diferentes. Esto me hizo más consciente de cómo la gente puede interpretar la información de manera diferente, y me di cuenta de que siempre podemos encontrar formas de comprendernos.
A personal question: What's your favorite book? / Una pregunta personal: ¿Cuál es tu libro favorito?
The Sherlock Holmes series sits at the top of my favorite book series. I’ve been a fan of detective novels from the moment I was introduced to this genre.
La serie de Sherlock Holmes es una de mis series favoritas de libros. He sido un fanático de las novelas de detectives desde el momento en que conocí este género.
Final question: What do you hope to accomplish for the 1 in 5? / Pregunta final: ¿Qué esperas lograr para las 1 de cada 5 personas que piensan y aprenden de manera diferente?
While interning at Understood, I hope to instill self-confidence in the 1 in 5 and empower their voices. I also hope to increase awareness of the many issues that intersect with learning and thinking differences, such as making information accessible to everyone.
Durante mi pasantía en Understood, espero infundir autoconfianza en las 1 de cada 5 personas que piensan y aprenden de manera diferente y potenciar sus voces. También espero crear conciencia sobre los diferentes aspectos que confluyen con las diferencias en la manera de pensar y aprender, como hacer que la información sea accesible para todos.
As Understood continues towards its mission of shaping the world for difference, the month of October included several important observances to help forward that. This included National Learning Disabilities Awareness Month, ADHD Awareness Month, and National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Understood also continued to recognize this year’s 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act in October.
In light of these recognitions, the Understood team highlighted individuals’ stories both inside and outside of the organization. By empowering the voices of those with differences and disabilities, Understood demonstrated how embracing differences as strengths can help everyone thrive.
Understood senior manager Natalie Tamburello, who is dyslexic, shared her journey from being labeled “uneducable” in elementary school to graduating college with honors and magna cum laude. She emphasized how her experience would have been different if her dyslexia would have been recognized as an asset instead of a hurdle.
“I wish learning and thinking differently wasn’t viewed as a barrier to success, but as an opportunity for everyone to reimagine the ladders to success,” wrote Tamburello.
At a gathering with Understood employees, disability and race consultant and Understood expert Keri Gray proposed reframing the ways in which we discuss disabilities. In an open dialogue about race and visible and invisible disabilities in the workplace, Gray shared her experience as a Black woman with disabilities in advancing intersectional inclusion in the workplace.
“Things changed for me when I was introduced to the disability community, I saw the world did not have to see me as the summation of my medical conditions,” she stated. “And as I got deeper in the workplace, I found it necessary that we were developing spaces that are inclusive of my Blackness, my womanhood, and my disabilities.”
Throughout her career, Gray’s impactful work with young people with disabilities, including those who learn and think differently, has led her to advocate for a future where workplaces allow people to bring their full selves to work. She noted that among persons with a disability, Blacks have a higher unemployment rate (11.8 percent) than Hispanics (8.6 percent), Asians (6.7 percent), and Whites (6.6 percent).
Claire Odom and Nora Genster, two of Understood’s disability inclusion specialists, explored how accommodations can help organizations address this problem. With so many companies now operating fully remote, Odom and Genster emphasized the importance of accommodations in this new work environment and how employers should avoid assuming that new “perks” such as flex time comprehensively support employees.
They also shared their own personal experiences with accommodations processes, what supports have and haven’t been working while working from home, and why employers should trust employees with knowing what they need to thrive at work.
While October has come to a close, Understood will continue to highlight individuals’ experiences to encourage others to embrace differences so that we can thrive together.
Between the global pandemic, the movement for racial justice, and unprecedented upheaval to our education system and economy, this year’s events continue to highlight the importance of inclusion. More individuals and organizations are having dynamic conversations about diversity, equity, and embracing differences. Creating inclusive spaces has been core to Understood’s work since its beginning in 2014. Over the years, the social impact organization has focused on helping the 1 in 5 people who learn and think differently thrive.
Today, Understood’s mission - shaping the world for difference - is taking on a much larger meaning. In recent months, people with disabilities are losing their jobs at a higher rate than people without disabilities. And with many schools continuing distance learning, families and educators of children with learning differences are challenged to ensure kids continue to receive the right accommodations and support
“We’re at a time when the world is shining a light on the need for greater diversity and more inclusive spaces, and people with learning and thinking differences must be recognized as part of that conversation,” said Fred Poses, CEO of Understood. “When given proper support and the right opportunities, they can enrich the world but without that, they face educational challenges or even unemployment. There is more work to be done.”
Families are echoing this sentiment. In fact, in a recent survey from Understood and YouGov*, 71% of parents report concerns that their child will face challenges this coming school year, and asked for resources to empower them and their kids. As a response, Understood launched Take N.O.T.E. - an initiative and the first memory device to help families recognize early symptoms of learning disabilities and ADHD and get support. In addition to Take N.O.T.E., Understood supports learning and thinking differences in its accessible digital products, branding,and practical resources for educators and employers to create inclusive environments, to name a few efforts.
With its mission growing in importance, Understood is expanding as an organization with new team members and functions. Joanna Roses recently joined in a new role of Executive Director of Communications to lead its internal and external communications efforts, and help strengthen awareness of Understood and its mission. She reports to Chief Marketing Officer Nathan Friedman.
Roses’ background fits nicely with the audiences that Understood wants to reach with its mission. She has helped position companies like Nickelodeon and the Department of Education in its efforts to recruit future teachers, as well as corporate communications efforts for a range of companies across industries, such as L’Oréal and KAYAK. With leadership roles at agencies such as Golin, startups, and both public and private companies, she joins Understood from analytics company SAS, where she ran its communications and creative marketing division.
Roses is one of several newly added senior leadership team members who are reinforcing Understood’s work, including Chief Human Resources Officer Yvonne Cowser Yancy and Chief Product Officer Jenny Wu. As Yancy scales the team and builds Understood as a best-in-class workplace, Wu is focused on diversifying and expanding the organization’s product offerings.
Added Poses, “Externally, we are shaping a world for differences, but we are also operating this way internally and expanding our team of diverse perspectives and backgrounds within the organization. We are pleased to add Jenny, Yvonne and Joanna into the fold, and are looking forward to their helping to bring our mission to life.”
*YouGov, on behalf of Understood, conducted an online survey among 2,049 parents of children ages 5–17 in the U.S. between July 22 and August 3, 2020.
Understood is on a mission to shape the world for difference with the goal that everyone—especially the 1 in 5 children in the U.S. with learning and thinking differences—can thrive. Today, many of these children are not getting the support they need and face an unfortunate reality. They are:
Thirty-one percent more likely to be bullied;
Three times as likely to drop out of high school;
And twice as likely to be jobless as adults.
This situation is further complicated by the impact of COVID-19 as families are overwhelmed with the back-to-school season and hungry for resources to help them meet their kids’ academic and social-emotional needs. A recent Understood/YouGov survey* found that nearly two thirds—62 percent—of parents with diagnosed children said they wished they had a tool or resources to help them track changes in their child’s behavior.
Today, Understood launched Take N.O.T.E., an easy memory device and content-rich experience that empowers all families to take control, spot the signs of learning and thinking differences, and get the guidance they need for their children so they can thrive.
The Take N.O.T.E. initiative, which was developed in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics and through research with parents, centers around a simple, four-part memory device to help families remember the steps to identify possible learning and thinking differences in their kids. The four steps include:
Notice if anything is out of the ordinary
Observe behaviors to determine patterns
Talk to a teacher, social worker, or caregiver to validate
Engage with trusted professionals, like pediatricians
“I am a parent of three children, two of whom have been diagnosed with learning differences,” said Amanda Morin, a former teacher, and Understood senior expert and writer on family advocacy and education. “The process to reach our older son’s diagnosis taught us to pay attention to our instincts and collaborate with our pediatrician, and as a result, we were able to pursue a diagnosis for our younger son much earlier. Take N.O.T.E. would have been a welcomed resource for our family.”
The Take N.O.T.E. launch comes at a time where learning environments are rapidly evolving and parents are finding themselves spending more time with their children. The same survey uncovered that 69 percent of parents have become more aware of the challenges their child faces in school than before the pandemic, and more than a third (37 percent) report noticing changes in their child’s behavior.
“We hope that with Take N.O.T.E., Understood will enable more families to start their journey of identifying learning and thinking differences, and provide them with a directional path with actionable steps,” said Nathan Friedman, Chief Marketing Officer at Understood. “Our ultimate goal is to shift those statistics from what can happen if you don’t get a diagnosis or identification early, to what can happen when you do.”
For more information about Take N.O.T.E., please visit our multimedia news release. *YouGov, on behalf of Understood, conducted an online survey of 2,049 parents of children ages 5-17 in the U.S. between July 22 and August 3, 2020.
Whether students return to school in-person or continue with distance learning, this year it’s vital for families and educators to work together to support children who learn and think differently. Understood’s back-to-school resources center around the power of parent-teacher relationships as students who learn and think differently enter a school year unlike any before.
Our goal is to help strengthen communication and collaboration between families and educators by providing information about:
Safety considerations for students who learn and think differently
Special education during the pandemic
Social-emotional learning for students with and without disabilities
How to address the impact of the COVID slide
Accessibility approaches for in-person and distance learning
Creating a safe space for open conversations about racial injustice
Many children will be entering the virtual and physical classrooms of teachers whom they’ve never met before. By sharing information about how students fared this past spring, families and educators can start the school year off strong. A lot of kids have experienced trauma, food insecurity, or have had loved ones pass away, which means open communication can help educators understand each student’s unique needs and situations.
Juliana Urtubey, an Understood teacher fellow and 4th and 5th grade special education teacher in Las Vegas, is also prioritizing parent-teacher collaboration to ensure the school can make thoughtful considerations on the child's behalf. “The only way educators and schools can do that is through close and genuine partnership with families”, says Juliana. “No matter what the need is, let us know. No matter what the challenge is, let us know.”
Understood, teachers, and families are working towards the same goal: exceptional care and education for all students.
This July marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a monumental civil rights law that prohibits discrimation against people with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places.
Understood is recognizing the ADA’s anniversary with internal and external initiatives to spark meaningful conversations about ableism and ways we can all help to improve the lives of people with disabilities.
This month, Haben Girma, a disability rights lawyer, advocate, and the first Deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law, connected with the Understood team for an engaging presentation titled, “Difference Drives Innovation & Disability Inclusion Benefits All of Us”.
“The dominant story frames disability as a burden on society. It’s up to all of us to redefine what disability means,” said Girma. “The definition I’ve come up with is disability is an opportunity for innovation.”
She went on to illustrate her own innovative approaches to navigating spaces, from salsa dancing to sign language to surfing in Santa Cruz, Calif.. Through highlighting “hidden stories” of innovations created by people with disabilities, Girma underscored how accessible design benefits people both with and without disabilities.
Girma also shared her experience of learning how to self-advocate, the role teachers play in removing barriers for people with disabilities, and the intersection of ableism, racism and sexism.
“There's a myth that there's two kinds of people dependent and independent. Not true. All of us are interdependent,” said Girma.
While many of us have all benefited from the ADA, there is still much work to be done to ensure people with all types of disabilities and differences have the opportunity to thrive at home, at school, and in life. We hope everyone joins us in our mission to shape the world for difference.
These are painful times. The impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many other Black Americans, and the protests in Minneapolis and around the world have left our team upset, angry, and hurt. Black lives matter, and our team shares the frustration of our country’s failure to deliver meaningful change.
As a social impact organization that aims to shape the world for difference, Understood is dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Through our team’s collective efforts we will continue to embrace and promote differences of all kinds. This means we are committed to:
Reaching people who are systematically oppressed and providing them access to our resources
Listening to and amplifying voices from marginalized communities
Empowering educators who teach our most vulnerable students in underserved communities around the country
Making Understood and other work environments places where everyone feels that they can thrive
While the U.S. has made significant progress on many issues around civil rights and equality, much more must be done. Our team will actively promote diversity, equity and inclusion within and beyond Understood. During this pivotal moment, we refuse to stand on the sidelines, and we encourage others to join us in this critical movement to end racism.
- The Understood team
Son tiempos dolorosos. El impacto del COVID-19 en las comunidades negras, las muertes sin sentido de George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor y tantos otros afroamericanos, así como las protestas en Minneapolis y en todo el mundo han causado malestar, rabia y dolor en nuestro equipo. Las vidas de las personas negras importan (Black Lives Matter), y nuestro equipo comparte la frustración por el fracaso de nuestro país en lograr un cambio significativo. Por ser una organización de impacto social que se propone construir un mundo que valore las diferencias, Understood se dedica a impulsar la diversidad, la equidad y la inclusión. A través de los esfuerzos colectivos de nuestro equipo, continuaremos adoptando y promoviendo las diferencias de todo tipo. Esto significa que estamos comprometidos a
Llegar a las personas que han sido oprimidas de manera sistemática y proporcionarles acceso a nuestros recursos.
Escuchar y ampliar las voces de las comunidades marginadas.
Empoderar a los educadores que enseñan a los estudiantes más vulnerables en comunidades desatendidas de todo el país.
Hacer de Understood y de otros lugares de trabajo espacios donde todos sientan que pueden progresar, independientemente de las diferencias.
Si bien Estados Unidos ha logrado un avance significativo en muchos temas relacionados con los derechos civiles y la igualdad, todavía es necesario hacer mucho más. Nuestro equipo promoverá activamente la diversidad, la equidad y la inclusión dentro y fuera de Understood. En este momento histórico, nos negamos a permanecer al margen, y alentamos a otros a sumarse a este movimiento crucial para acabar con el racismo.
- El equipo de Understood
Today we welcome Yvonne Cowser Yancy to the team. As our new chief human resources officer, she will lead our human resources, finance, legal and administration teams to help strengthen our culture, recruiting, and operations. She will also co-lead our “Embrace Difference” internal working group to ensure our team, resources, and activities empower diverse communities and perspectives.
Before joining Understood, Yvonne founded and led YSquare Advisors, a boutique consultancy firm that helped developing organizations with their human resources functions. She also served as the chief human resources officer at supermarket chain The Fresh Market and was the commissioner of human resources for the City of Atlanta.
Originally from Atlanta, Yvonne lends her time to the Atlanta Chapter of The Links, Inc., a volunteer service organization for women of color, and is a current board member of the Central Outreach and Advocacy Center, which supports Atlanta’s homeless community. She enjoys mentoring other professionals seeking careers in human resources and is an active member of SHRM, a key partner of the Workplace Initiative by Understood.
Welcome to the team, Yvonne!
We’re on a mission to shape the world for difference.
Since 2014, we’ve provided free resources and a community to families of the 1 in 5 children with learning and thinking differences. We’ve grown to empower millions of U.S. families each month, and to support their children who learn and think differently at home, in school, and in life.
Today we’re sharing our expanded mission. We’ve grown beyond families and will focus on helping the individual throughout their life. In addition to helping families, we’re now working with educators and workplaces to help them adapt to and support those with differences. We have a beta program to help young adults find their first job. We’re engaging people with differences—and those around them—at key moments in their lives, all with the goal of empowering them to thrive.
By expanding our mission, we will be Shaping the World for Difference™ . From school and family life all the way through college and first jobs, our resources will support individuals on their unique journeys, no matter where they come from. Their world, your world, and our world will be ready for all they can achieve.
To support our important work, we created a new website and brand visual system to be more accessible and inclusive so that all people, regardless of difference or disability, will have an easier time engaging with our resources. We even created a new font that is easier to read for people who learn and think differently.
We’re grateful for your continued support and are confident that our expanded mission will have a significant impact on the 1 in 5 people who learn and think differently. Please share what you learn from Understood and join us as we embark on the mission to shape the world for difference. And remember, when we embrace each others’ and our own differences, we all thrive.
Understood has a new Chief Product Officer
Jenny Wu joins our team today as chief product officer and will lead product management, design, and user research. Her work will focus on managing the multiple tech, design, and research components that come together to form our website, tools like Through Your Child’s Eyes, and experiences with Understood. Jenny’s entrepreneurial background in creating user-centric experiences is guided by empathy and will strengthen our teams’ efforts in creating accessible, inclusive digital resources.
Before joining Understood, Jenny led the launch of a new live-streamed, wearable-enabled fitness video product at ClassPass, the fitness technology startup. Outside of work, she advises consumer startups on building next-gen product experiences. She holds an MBA and MA from the University of Pennsylvania, and an MA from the Wharton School, and the Lauder Institute.
Welcome to the team, Jenny!