Elected Officials With Dyslexia

By Lexi Walters Wright
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These elected officials didn’t let reading issues get in the way of their political dreams. In fact, having dyslexia often played a role in their success. Learn more about their challenges and accomplishments.

Carol Moseley Braun, Former U.S. Senator From Illinois

Moseley Braun was the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Senate. Women’s rights and civil rights were important platforms for her. And her experience with dyslexia fueled her political interest in education. As a child, she struggled to be appreciated by her teachers. She hopes today’s students with learning and thinking differences can shake off the stigma she felt. “We need to encourage these kids to believe in themselves, because if they are taught to, they will,” she’s said.

Gavin Newsom, Lieutenant Governor of California

This powerful politician has said he has a recurring nightmare. It’s based on an incident from middle school. “I’ll never forget … having to read [in front of the class] and having everyone laughing,” he shared in a video interview.

Newsom has proven that he can handle stress and adversity. He’s spent more than 15 years in government. First he served as a San Francisco supervisor and then as mayor. Now he’s lieutenant governor of California.

Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator From Colorado

Education has always been a key issue for Bennet. Before becoming a U.S. senator, he was superintendent of the Denver Public Schools. He’s called that role “the best job I will ever have.”

Bennet credits his teachers with his success. “There’s no way I’d be where I am now if somebody hadn’t noticed that I had issues with spelling and recommended to my parents that I repeat second grade and do the work I needed to do to move on,” he’s said.

Kendrick Meek, Former U.S. Representative From Florida

“As someone who was diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age, I know what it’s like to work hard without complaining to overcome a disability,” Meek has said. He held major political positions in Florida—state representative and state senator—before becoming a U.S. representative. As a result, he’s had to deliver many long speeches to large audiences. His dyslexia made it hard for him to read the speeches, so he memorized them instead.

Gaston Caperton, Former Governor of West Virginia

Caperton was elected governor of West Virginia not once, but twice. He then went on to become president and CEO of The College Board. That’s the group that gives the SAT college admission exams. In that role, he worked to add accommodations options for students, such as letting them type rather than handwrite essays. And he’s said that having dyslexia helps him understand parents’ concerns about getting their kids access to supports like these.

Dannel Malloy, Governor of Connecticut

As a very young child, Malloy struggled with reading, spelling, math and motor issues. His mother worked hard to help him. “[She] pushed me to develop my strengths, to focus on my leadership and oral-communications skills,” Malloy has said. He was later diagnosed with dyslexia.

Malloy went on to succeed in college and in law school. Later, he became mayor of Stamford and then governor of Connecticut. An advocate of early intervention, he works to expand high-quality preschool for all children across the state.

Anne Northup, Former U.S. Representative From Kentucky

During her time in the U.S. House of Representatives, Northup was a committed advocate for young readers. In 1998, she founded the House Reading Caucus. That group still raises awareness nationwide about the number of children who can’t read.

Northup gained her awareness firsthand. As a child, she struggled with reading and attention issues. Although she was never officially diagnosed, she’s said that she’s “probably dyslexic.” And she encourages young people not to let their learning struggles discourage them.

Dave Reichert, U.S. Representative From Washington

Long before he was elected as U.S. representative, Reichert served as a county sheriff in Washington state. As sheriff, he headed the task force that helped solve the biggest serial murder case in U.S. history. He was honored a number of times for his courage.

In his role in Congress, he helped introduce legislation to enforce full federal funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. He and the other sponsors of the bill aimed to make sure “schools have the resources to provide a first-class education for every child.” What fuels his passion? His role as a parent and grandparent, and his own dyslexia.

About the Author

About the Author

Lexi Walters Wright 

is the former Community Manager at Understood (u.org/community). As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.

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