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Dyslexia is a Social Justice Issue

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Dyslexia is a Social Justice Issue

Schelbe, L., Pryce, J., Petscher, Y., Fien, H., Stanley, C., Gearin, B., & Gaab, N. (2021). Dyslexia in the context of social work: Screening and early intervention. Families in Society.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization1 has identified literacy as a human right and argues literacy is required for sustainable development across the world.

Federal law, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, requires schools and programs to identify children with disabilities and provide the appropriate education. A lack of the necessary supports and services limits opportunities for people with dyslexia.

Dyslexia is disproportionately underdiagnosed in children of color2 and children in poverty3.

Most states have legislation that promotes the use of universalscreening within schools across grades K-2, where students are screened at least annually to assess risk for dyslexia and other reading disabilities.

Social Workers’ Role in Addressing Dyslexia: Four Roles

Screening and Identification

When completing a biopsychosocial intake and ongoing assessments, social workers can incorporate questions related to reading proficiencyand dyslexia to facilitate early screening and communication with a child’s school.

Referrals for Intervention

When social workers identify risk for dyslexia, they should make referrals for interventions and further assessment.


Social workers’ responsibilities start with educating families, children, and communities about the importance of literacy.


Advocates are needed for the availability and provision of universal screening and early intervention for dyslexia. They should advocate the specific needs of those who have been identified as at risk for dyslexia.

Learn More

1 UNESCO (2019). Literacy. Retrieved from:
2 Robinson, S. A. (2013). Educating Black males with dyslexia. Interdisciplinary Journal of Teaching and Learning, 3, 159-174.
2 Rojas, C. (2018). Portland State University. More minorities labeled ‘learning disabled’ because of social inequities, study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 6,
2021 from
3 Peterson, R.L., & Pennington, B.F. (2015). Developmental dyslexia. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 11, 283-307.

Suggested Citation

National Center on Improving Literacy (2021). Dyslexia is a Social Justice Issue. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Office of Special Education Programs, National Center on Improving Literacy. Retrieved from