Daphne Uliana believes everyone deserves the chance to learn how to drive. That includes people with dyslexia.
Uliana (pictured here with her son) is one of two parents who successfully pushed the state of Pennsylvania to create an audio version of its driver’s manual. She first saw the need when helping her younger son Samuel prepare for his driver’s permit test. Samuel has dyslexia.
“I kept asking Samuel if he read the manual,” says Uliana. “He kept saying ‘no,’ but then assured me he was taking online sample tests and passing.”
But that wasn’t enough for Uliana. Although Samuel was passing sample tests, Uliana was concerned he might not be learning everything he needed to know about the rules of the road. Like her son, Uliana has dyslexia. She knows the challenges her son faces when it comes to reading.
Uliana shared her concerns with Kathleen Hartos, a friend and educator.
“Kathleen was tutoring a student for a driving test, and she had the same worries that I had,” says Uliana. “She also has a son with dyslexia.”
The two moms decided to work together to get the state to make its driver’s manual available in an audio format. Doing so would make learning to drive more accessible for people with reading issues.
The pair met with state senator Pat Browne and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to make their pitch. That led to what Uliana says was a yearlong advocacy effort.
Having worked in politics in the past, Uliana knew it could take a long time to get a new policy passed. She and Hartos finally succeeded this April, when Pennsylvania published an audio version of its driver’s manual.
Getting for people who are learning to drive has been an issue in other states as well. Understood founding partner the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) recently surveyed its members from all over the U.S. on their experiences with driver’s tests.
LDA had heard that some were having problems getting accommodations. But there is a right to accommodations like audio, says Patricia M. Lillie, the president of LDA. “This is one of the ways the Americans with Disabilities Act protects people with learning disabilities.” However, she says, people have to advocate and ask for the accommodations.
Samuel has since learned how to drive. And Uliana is turning her advocacy toward other goals. She’s the co-founder of Pennsylvania Dyslexia Literacy Coalition, a group of parent advocates and education professionals that raises awareness for dyslexia. Hartos is a member of the coalition as well. The group is launching a pilot program within the state’s public school district to do early literacy screenings.
Looking back, Uliana traces her advocacy back to childhood.
“I struggled growing up because my mom just didn’t know I had a learning difference,” she says. She wants to make sure life is better for kids today.
“I think it’s really important that everyone has the opportunity to not only learn how to read,” she says, “but also to drive.”
Learn about how learning and thinking differences can impact driving. Read how an Arkansas officer gave driver’s test accommodations to a teen with dyslexia. And watch a video with race car driver Dusty Davis, who has attention issues.
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Tara Drinks is an editor at Understood.