My disabilities do not define me. I am Jim

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) allowed access to special education for people with disabilities. Tim KweeCC BY-NC

I am an educator of educators. I teach others how to be the best teachers. But, I’m also different.

I have learning challenges.

I found my way and my life’s calling thanks to dedicated educators.

As we celebrate the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), I am reminded of my personal journey.

My disabilities could have defined me. But they did not. I do not consider myself dyslexic or learning-disabled.

I am Jim. And here’s the story of how I overcame my challenges and the educators who helped me along the way.

My disability

Born in 1970, I suffered a head injury as a young boy while roughhousing with friends. Perhaps that led to my learning problems. Perhaps it didn’t. Doctors aren’t really sure.

What I do know for sure is that in kindergarten, I could not spell my name – James. That is when I became Jim. Over a period of time, I turned Jim into Mij.

I did not like school. I decided it was about one thing – learning to read and write.

I was poor at both. I didn’t like myself.

The author, James Gentry, when he was in 2nd grade. CC BY

At the age of six, I was diagnosed with dyslexia or a minimal brain dysfunction; with learning disabilities. At the time, awareness about dyslexia was so poor that my mother asked, “Is it contagious?”

Then something changed.

A breed of new educators – called special education teachers – came to my school. A curriculum tailored just for kids like me was started at my school in East Texas.

The curriculum provided reading and writing experiences using specialized learning strategies. For example, I learned I could read books by looking at pictures, orally retelling the stories, acting out stories and reading text.

All this happened because in 1975, Congress passed the Public Law 94-142, now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This law provided special education services for all students with disabilities.

Before this law, students with disabilities had limited protections and rights to an education. This law allowed me to receive the special services I needed to learn to read and write.

I began to develop a more positive perception of myself.

How I learned

I wanted to join my peers as a learner, reader, thinker, writer and everything else educational.

But it was hard for me to know left from right.

A crucial event occurred in my second year of first grade that helped crystallize the visual cues I was being trained to see.

It was the summer of 1977. The roads of my small town were being resurfaced with asphalt and tar.

Curious about the process, I did what an inquisitive young boy would do – stepped right into the middle of the warm, gooey stuff. Predictably, it stuck to the side of one of my shoes.

I remember the thrill and joy of sticking and unsticking my shoes.

The next morning, I lined up the pair so they stuck together perfectly. Next, I slid my feet into the correct left and right shoes.

I was elated with my success.

For the first time I was able to place my shoes on the correct feet using the sticky tar as visual and kinesthetic cues that my teachers had taught me, for determining left from right. I was independent.

This was the beginning of understanding visual cues to learn to read, write and ascertain directions. Although it still took a while, I learned to make the connections.

For instance, when one of my teachers told me I needed to write on the correct side, I still did not understand. I asked, “What is the correct side?” She said, “Write from left to right.”

I asked what are left and right. She took my paper, moved the holes of the paper to one side of my desk and said, “The holes face this way, left.”

I looked in that direction and saw these huge windows.

I still remember thinking, “This is like my shoes and that tar.” I knew it was unlikely the windows would move, so I moved the holes of my paper, lines side up, toward the windows before writing every time.

I never wrote on the wrong side again and learned to adjust to my visual landmarks if my desk moved by asking people what was my left.

It worked every time.

Using visual cues

Once I understood spatial relationships, I made new discoveries with letters and numbers, discovering that some have “legs” and “loops” that faced the holes in the notebook paper while others faced in the opposite direction.

For instance, letters and numbers like a, d, 7, 3, 4, and Jj faced the holes, while Bb, L, Ee, Ff, and Cc faced away from the holes. There were confusing ones like Zz, 5, Ss, and 2 which had loops and legs that faced toward and faced away from the holes on the notebook paper. I had to memorize or review them each time.

As I learned to write, I learned to read better too. I was not like my peers, but I could call some words out orally and use pictures to fill in the missing parts.

Using visual cues, working with peers and seeking meaning were the solutions to learning, reading and writing. Also, I could persuade peers to read to me, and I situated the meaning together like a puzzle.

I became a “meaning gatherer.”

Later, using visual cues helped me play football and drive a car. And, to think, it all started with asphalt, tar and some teachers holding my hand.

College and beyond

Learning with learning challenges is never easy. Higher education proved to be a greater challenge.

The author, James Gentry, at his graduation. CC BY

My first English paper was difficult. Spelling was often perceived as an insurmountable challenge by me. I had to type my papers. But the typed paper resembled a drywall due to the amount of white correction tape I used to correct misspelled words.

I again found something that was as life-changing as the tar-on-my-shoes experience for determining left from right – this time, it was the invention and availability of the personal computer.

I purchased an IBM clone with a word processing program that would review and check spelling. Once I used the word processor to complete various written assignments from college, I was like a caveman who discovered fire.

I became like everyone else. I could turn in clean documents without worrying about handwriting legibility or the letters facing the wrong direction.

I was free. I could be a writer.

I completed my Bachelor of Science degree in psychology with a 4.0 grade point average. Later, while working as a schoolteacher, I completed my master’s degree in special education and my Doctor of Education degree in curriculum and instruction, again with a 4.0 grade point average.

Making a difference

Not that my learning challenges have gone away. I still face the same learning challenges that I did as a young boy.

But I have learned to use visual cues.

For instance, while driving, I use visual cues – the rings on my fingers and a missing knuckle – to tell left from right. And I depend on technology to help with my writing.

I am now a teacher. And as an associate professor at Tarleton State University, I work with students and their parents to focus on their abilities and not their disabilities – just like my teachers did.

My experiences and challenges have enabled me to listen to my students more. I model every day the value of building relationships and collaborative learning. My school days taught me learning occurs best when done together.

That’s where good teachers make all the difference in the world. As they did in my life.

I give back to my community in many different ways. I am the co-chair of the university’s Diversity, Access and Disability Services Committee. I have the opportunity to train educators to help make a difference.

I have a purpose. I belong.

But more than anything else, I am Jim.

The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act before it have given me and others like me the opportunity to thrive.

And what a difference that has made in our worlds.


Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Off On

Craig has been a brilliant supporter, very professional, friendly, approachable and excellent communication throughout. Craig has gone out of his way to provide assistance, this has been a great aid for dealing with all my education difficulties and I really appreciate. Couldn’t ask for a better service, I highly recommend.

Would totally recommend Develop us, made my son feel at ease. Having the assessment done in the comfort of his own surroundings I think was a big help. My son actually enjoy his day and didn’t seem stressed or worried about the assessments. Craig was so helpful and still is a month on sending me useful links etc. Thank you so much.

Craig has been a great help, he’s been considerate and clear throughout and provided further support. Craig has gone out of his way to provide guidance and assistance, which has been a huge comfort and aid for dealing with workplace and personal issues, for which I am wholly grateful and highly recommend his services.

I recently had an assessment as an adult for dyspraxia or Developmental Co-ordination Disorder after self-referring. Craig was brilliant throughout. Great to deal with, understanding of my needs, and very supportive. He gave me a comprehensive assessment and communicated to me the whole process in an easy to understand manner. The final report was well written and I now have the evidence I need to get support in the workplace. I would highly recommend him and Develop Us

Craig is very patient and maintained really excellent communication throughout the whole process. During his assessment he was professional and patient, and pulled out all the stops to get his report to us ASAP. Highly recommended.

Craig has been a brilliant supporter, very professional, friendly, approachable and excellent communication throughout. Craig has gone out of his way to provide assistance, this has been a great aid for dealing with all my education difficulties and I really appreciate. Couldn’t ask for a better service, I highly recommend.

Craig has been a fantastic support with my son, Craig offers a wealth of knowledge, experience and great advice. Craig is enthusiastic and has a great deal of patience with the people he supports, I would have no hesitation in recommending his services and wish him all the best in the future.

Craig has been a Godsend to myself and my husband and my eldest daughter who was diagnosed. I am glad I asked for Craig’s professional opinion on the matter.  I am glad he did the assessment and we got the outcome of what we have thought it was for a while now. Thank you Craig.

I am a student who has been receiving support and tutoring from Craig since November 2018. Since receiving tutorial support from Craig, I have progressed onto high-level courses and an access course which has helped with my studies, knowledge and work. Craig has shown me support and helped make my course work manageable. I feel that I have been able to turn to Craig with any question or doubt and have received nothing but clarity and guidance. Without Craig’s help and support I do not think I would have the courage and ability to complete the courses and progress to higher levels. I have had support off Craig for a variety of courses and with work advise.

I feel that Craig has given me the confidence to take steps in my life that I would not have made on my own. Craig has not only been friendly and supporting, but has also been very professional, reliable and organised with the help he has given me.


Craig engages with his students in a way that is both professional and clear and thus gains the most of the time spent in his classes.

Phone: 07575 678 567
Message us on Whatsapp