Interview: Ben Foss

Ben Foss (photo by Elizabeth F. Churchill) In our next installment of interviews with Inspiring People, Ben Foss talks to us about shame, empowerment, and some of the tools and organizations that are most successful in their help for children with dyslexia today.

Ben Foss is a prominent entrepreneur and activist and the founder of Headstrong Nation, a not-for-profit organization serving the dyslexic community. Foss graduated from Wesleyan University and earned a JD/MBA from Stanford Law and Business Schools. He invented the Intel Reader, a mobile device that takes photos of text and recites it aloud on the spot. Ben is a co-founder of Integration Ventures, a venture capital firm that is looking to invest in dyslexic entrepreneurs. He has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Fox Business News, ABC, CNN, HBO, and the BBC. Represented by the Random House Speakers Bureau, he regularly speaks to Fortune 500 companies, public policy organizations, and colleges and universities across the country.

Camp Spring Creek: We're a fan of your work because of your book, The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan, but the truth is that you've also completed many other successful projects in various fields. Can you briefly tell our audience about the Intel Reader you invented?

Ben Foss: I invented the Intel Reader in 2006. Eventually, I received five U.S. Patents for my initial idea of a device that would take a photograph of any printed material and read aloud on the spot. The device began shipping in 2009 and was the first consumer product in 7 years from Intel. It is still in the marketplace today. It is currently sold by Care Innovations, an Intel and GE focused healthcare company.

CSC: As founder of the Headstrong Nation, which believes that "dyslexia is not a disease, it is a community," what do you see as the single-most significant struggle facing children with dyslexia today? By contrast, what is a struggle that, because of organizations like Camp Spring Creek and Headstrong Nation, many children with dyslexia don't have to face anymore?

BF: The central issue for all dyslexics is shame. Kids are told they are unworthy in the first, second, and third grade if they cannot read or spell with ease. There are three types of reading: eye reading, ear reading, and finger reading. Mainstream people read with their eyes, blind people read with their fingers, and dyslexics read with their ears, listening to text very fast. There are really telling videos of that experience right here.

Shame makes you feel as though you are a bad person just for being who you are, not what you did. To get rid of shame, someone needs to understand that they are not broken and that they have strengths and weaknesses. A truly successful and resilient person learns how to play to their strengths and compensate for weaknesses.

The big change in dyslexia is that there are now public role models that people can look up to. These role models come from organizations teaching that dyslexia is not a disease and, in fact, is your ticket to enter a fabulous community. Camp Spring Creek does this in spades.

CSC: Please describe a turning point or moving experience you've had in your life as an adult advocate for people with dyslexia. Perhaps you remember the first time you saw a child with dyslexia using the Intel Reader. Maybe an audience member approached you at a book-signing event and shared a moving, personal story with you. Whatever the case, when did you most recently find yourself moved beyond words, feeling satisfied that true change and positive advocacy for dyslexics had been accomplished?

BF: One of my favorite stories about the Intel Reader involves a young man of nine years old who came to me and told me that he used the Intel Reader on the instructions for the board game Risk. After hearing the instructions out loud, he figured out that his friends had been cheating! That is what advocacy and independence look like. Having access to learning on your own terms and using it to something that you do enjoy.

CSC: Is there a book, organization, leader, or artist in the field of education advocacy or dyslexia studies, etc. that you wish more people knew about? If so, please share your recommendation with us!

BF: Eye to Eye is a  great organization. It is wonderful because it is led by people who are dyslexic and offers mentoring between college kids who are dyslexic and elementary school kids with dyslexia. When I see “dyslexia,” I mean dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, and ADHD. Everybody is in the club!