An Ivy League-educated author and activist who didn’t learn to read until age 12 will serve as the speaker for Cal Poly Pomona’s disABILITY Awareness Day.
Jonathan Mooney will discuss his experiences and advocacy at noon, Tuesday, Feb. 21, in the Bronco Student Center’s Ursa Minor. Mooney, a person with dyslexia who graduated from Brown University in 2000 with an honors degree in English Literature, has dedicated his professional career to developing organizations, programs and initiatives designed to make the lives of marginalized groups better.
Catherine Schmitt Whitaker, executive director of accessible technology and president of the Access disABILITY Alliance, says organizers approached Mooney about serving as the keynote speaker because of his dedication to education.
“We felt Jonathan Mooney was a great fit with our university because he is really focused on student success,” Schmitt Whitaker says. “His experiences and his work, as well as his books, speak to students who have struggled and maybe learn differently. He is about helping them succeed.”
While in college, he co-founded Project Eye-to-Eye, a nonprofit advocacy organization for students with learning disabilities. The organization has 38 chapters in 20 states working with more than 10,000 parents, educators and students. He also has worked to forge career and college pathways to help move low-income youth and adults out of poverty through his Los Angeles Energy Pathway Program, The Urban Teacher Fellowship, and the Promo Pathway initiative.
Mooney also is an author. He wrote the books “Learning Outside the Lines” and “The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal.” A highly sought after speaker on neurodiversity, education reform, the learning revolution and creating college and career pathways, he has been quoted and featured in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine and the Washington Post. He has appeared on HBO and ABC News.
Dawn Finley, job location and development coordinator for the Career Center, says she reached out to Mooney after viewing the documentary “Journey Into Dyslexia,” which profiled accomplished professionals and students with what is said to be the most common learning disability. About 23 percent of students registered with Cal Poly Pomona’s Disability Resource Center have a learning disability, Finley added.
“We want to encourage the idea that a disability should not be seen as a limitation, but rather, signs of perseverance, strength and determination,” she says. “It is our goal to increase awareness and understanding about ableism and create a spirit of inclusion.”
Mooney’s story speaks to this message and is an important one of all campus stakeholders, Finley says.
“Through his passionate and engaging delivery, participants will gain insight and strategies for teaching and learning differently, while being challenged to ‘reimagine what normal is.’”
In previous years, the disABILITY Alliance has hosted a week-long or month-long series of events, but opted to spread speakers and workshops out over the school year so that more students, faculty and staff could attend.
The alliance plans to team up with other entities on campus to host the events throughout the year.
“We have a number of folks on campus who feel passionate about providing educational awareness in regards to creating an environment that is welcoming to people with different abilities,” Schmitt Whitaker says. “We hope people in our campus community can attend and gain some meaningful knowledge that will help them go back to their areas and create more welcoming environment and that students can get something from it that they can use to help them be more successful in the classroom.”