2015 will be the 4th year of the blue ribbon for Dyslexia Awareness. Wearing a blue ribbon to show dyslexia awareness was the brainchild of Edinburgh teenager Ellie Gordon-Woolgar in 2012 when she was just 12 years old. Her awareness raising campaign has grown from a personal project leading to the distribution of blue ribbons to Edinburgh schools in 2012 to a national campaign now managed by Dyslexia Scotland.
A former Dyslexia Scotland young ambassador (she had to step down due to imminent exams) Ellie writes:
“In Scotland, dyslexia awareness week is at the start of November – when people are already wearing poppies to remember soldiers. When I was 12, this made me think about how we wear poppies and pink ribbons to raise awareness of particular issues, and I thought that wearing a ribbon could help raise awareness of dyslexia. I am dyslexic and have three sisters – one is also dyslexic, one is dyspraxic and my younger sister is dyslexic and dyspraxic – so is my mum.
We have all needed a lot of extra help with learning and every time we get a new teacher my mum has to start explaining this all over again. My sisters and I would really like people – especially teachers – to know how difficult life can be for dyslexics (and dyspraxics) and to learn about the challenges we face every day.
At first I thought I would just get some blue ribbons and ask my family and friends to wear them during Dyslexia Awareness week in November 2012. Then I found out about Disney Friends for Change Youth Service America who give grants to help children and young people like me to fund our ideas – so I applied to them and they gave me £750 to buy the ribbons.
When I applied for the Disney grant, I had to think hard about my aim and the goals for this project. My aim was to raise awareness and promote a better understanding of dyslexia in Edinburgh, the Lothians and around Scotland. My goals were to distribute blue ribbons in local schools, in the local libraries and in the Scottish parliament.
My mum is on the committee of Dyslexia Scotland South East and when she told them about my idea, they were great, and agreed to support me in my campaign and one member – Moira Thomson – agreed to mentor me on behalf of Disney.
I wrote to the Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond telling him about my project and he invited me into the Scottish Parliament to distribute blue ribbons to MSPs – and I had a very interesting day giving out blue ribbons to MSP’s and explaining what they represented. One asked a dyslexia question in the parliament’s chamber and mentioned me by name. This was part of the formal record so I made it into Scottish history!
I spent the rest of Dyslexia Awareness Week that year attending events and handing out blue ribbons. I visited the Scottish Youth Parliament, was interviewed by the Young Scot magazine and met the Lord Advocate. I also attended Dyslexia Scotland events to hand out blue ribbons and even took part in an education discussion panel.
It was exhausting – and so much more than I had planned – but it felt good to be helping to raise awareness because dyslexia had always seemed to be invisible and ignored before this.
Why did I start this campaign?
By making more people aware of what dyslexia is and how it can affect learning I hoped to help other children and young people not to be embarrassed about their dyslexia and not to hide it away. I wanted them to be able to embrace the differences that their dyslexia brings and help them realise they can achieve their goals, whatever they are.
I would like to help educate other people about what dyslexia is and help them understand that people with dyslexia are not stupid – they just learn in a different way. I think this would help remove the stigma sometimes attached to being dyslexic and some of the weird things people believe about dyslexia.
My long term goal in 2012 was for the blue ribbon to be known as the Dyslexia Awareness ribbon in Scotland by 2013 – and the years after that – and for people to wear it during Dyslexia Awareness week every year. I hoped that other dyslexic people in Scotland would join me to raise the money to pay for the ribbons every year. I wanted to raise awareness – not money – so I did not plan to have people with collecting cans giving out ribbons – just to ask people to wear one for a week in November before they pinned on a poppy.
I achieved my goal in 2012, but I think the real challenge was keeping the blue ribbon going in the following year. During 2013, I took part in events arranged by Dyslexia Scotland South East (DSSE) to raise money to buy more blue ribbons – sometimes as a guest to speak to groups. We raised enough money to buy a lot more blue ribbons than the previous year – which was good because we had lots of requests for me – and DSSE committee members – to go into schools and take assemblies on dyslexia. The committee members made up resource boxes to give to the schools we visited and provided some child-friendly video clips to show – including one of me for schools I did not get to. Between us, we visited 14 schools in just over a week – and I was just sorry that I could not go to them all. For me the best part was talking to the children and answering their questions – knowing that their teachers were listening too.
After this successful week Dyslexia Scotland agreed to make the blue ribbon ‘official’ and they helped the DSSE committee to buy and distribute ribbons to schools and organisations all over Scotland in 2014. Again we did local fundraising activities during the year to help pay for the blue ribbons and school resource boxes. We invented the blue ribbon cupcake – and made and sold more than 1,000 in the months leading up to November’s dyslexia awareness week – actually extending this to a whole year of awareness-raising activity.
But I could not take time out of school in 2013 to take school assemblies or even attend events as I was now on exam courses – and – when you have dyslexia, you cannot afford to miss a single class.
But having Dyslexia Scotland involved meant that other local branches were organising their own dyslexia awareness blue ribbon events across the whole of Scotland and DSSE were happy to share the blue ribbon cupcake recipe.
In 2015, Dyslexia Scotland has taken over the blue ribbon campaign as part of Dyslexia Awareness Week and I feel that my long term goal has been achieved. Blue ribbons are being worn to show Dyslexia Awareness across Scotland in the first week of November and their distribution is being organised on a national scale. I will always want to be involved to some extent in ‘blue ribbon’ activities – but I can go forward into my exam years at school confident that when I wear a blue ribbon in the classroom, my teachers will recognise it and make adjustments to accommodate my dyslexia.”