Striking out stigma: Understood’s Eye to Eye alumni share how stigma played a role in their journeys to thriving

By The Understood Team

Eye to Eye is a national, award-winning mentorship organization for students with learning and thinking differences, and a founding partner of Understood. This week, Eye to Eye is observing Strike Out Stigma Week to give every person who learns and thinks differently an opportunity to speak out against stigma. 

Several members of the Understood team are Eye to Eye alumni. In recognition of the Strike Out Stigma initiative, a few of them shared their experiences dealing with the stigma that comes with learning and thinking differently and what they recommend everyone can do to strike out stigma. 

Grace Halvey, Communications

Can you talk about the role that stigma has played in your personal journey?

Growing up with dyslexia, I was (and still am) often misunderstood, minimized and dismissed. There is a lack of awareness of what dyslexia is. People often assume that I can’t read or write or that I am stupid. Most often, people assume I write backwards. None of these assumptions are true. 

At Understood we are shaping the world for difference, which in part means eradicating stigma for people with learning and thinking differences. What do you think people can do to help?

Education is the first step towards eradicating stigma. If teachers and parents are educated about learning differences and know the signs, they can identify these early on. The sooner a student has a diagnosis, the sooner they can get the necessary support. 

How has Eye to Eye played a role in your life and how did it lead you to Understood?

Eye to Eye played a huge role in my college experience. Once a week I got to share with my mentees the tips and tricks that I learned growing up with dyslexia. I was able to teach them how to advocate for themselves and their learning differences. Working with Eye to Eye showed me the importance of creating a community for people with learning and thinking differences, which is why I wanted to work at Understood. 

Natalie Tamburello, Product

Can you talk about the role that stigma has played in your personal journey?

No matter how confident and accepting you are of your learning difference, battling stigma and its effects on your confidence is a lifelong journey. But it is better to acknowledge it head on then to let it silently consume you. Stigma can also teach you what really matters and who really is in your corner.

At Understood we are shaping the world for difference, which in part means eradicating stigma for people with learning and thinking differences. What do you think people can do to help?

Normalize difference and make it cool! Everyone should learn about stigma and how to control it to the best of your abilities. You can even make it work for you. 

How has Eye to Eye played a role in your life and how did it lead you to Understood?

Eye to Eye in many ways has shaped my career. It showed me that it was my duty to give back and lift up this community in any way that I could. Your individual success is so much more satisfying when you are able to empower others like you in the process.

Julia Wakin, Communications

Can you talk about the role that stigma has played in your personal journey?

Having a difference that is physically invisible has made me keenly aware of and sensitive to the unique nature of each individual. 

Assumptions are often made and prejudices are formed due to the sheer fact that I have a learning difference. It is tiring and can affect my confidence levels. The stigma will never be easy, but I grew to understand the absurdity of it and value the importance of knowing a person’s story. 

At Understood we are shaping the world for difference, which in part means eradicating stigma for people with learning and thinking differences. What do you think people can do to help?

The first step to eradicating stigma is acceptance and celebration.

To do this, we must understand the value of listening with intent, sincerity, and compassion. By addressing inaccuracies, we can shape the world to arrive at a more powerful level of acceptance where individuals are not seen as deficient, but rather, capable because of the challenges they conquer every day.

How has Eye to Eye played a role in your life and how did it lead you to Understood?

Being a chapter leader at Eye to Eye taught me so much more than just how to advocate for myself and the power of difference. It taught me how to get through the negatives in life, deal with them and use them to grow personally. 

Being a part of the Learning Disability community has inspired me to empower others to know and celebrate their strengths, while not being embarrassed to improve weaknesses. This is exactly what led me to the community at Understood. 

Strike Out Stigma Week was March 1–7, 2021.

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