Dustin Henderson will be going to Washington, D.C., to accept his award.Dustin Henderson is one of six students from across the U.S. who will receive cash awards of $6,000 and travel with their families to be honored at Learning Ally’s National Gala celebration in Washington, D.C. this April.

Learning Ally, a nonprofit organization, serves thousands of students who cannot read standard print due to blindness, visual impairment, dyslexia, or other learning disabilities. Included are K-12 students, college and graduate students, veterans, and lifelong learners.

Henderson always excelled in math and science but struggled since the fourth grade with reading and writing. He recalled being diagnosed with dyslexia and put into special education classes in the fourth grade.

“It was like living in two different worlds,” he said. “In one, I was the intelligent kid who knew the answers to math problems. In the other I was the special ed student who couldn’t read or write.”

A turning point came when Henderson and his parents attended a seminar at Oregon Health and Science University on dyslexia. In addition to discovering tools that would later become essential to his success, such as audiobooks from Learning Ally, he gained a sense of confidence and new outlook on his dyslexia.

“I learned a lot about myself in those four short hours. I began to realize that my disability was simply an obstacle I would have to overcome,” he said.

Henderson, whose parents Angie and Lonnie Henderson are both teachers, attended Metolius and Madras schools through his freshman year. “He had all the accommodations he needed, including a laptop with text-to-speech software, where he typed in material and the computer said it back to him,” his mother said. And he received subscriptions to Learning Ally, which provided him with audio versions of his textbooks, read by a real person, not a robo-reader.

But his school schedule and a need for more flexibility to take electives, like computer classes, eventually led him to change schools. “Although he has trouble reading, he thinks at a high level and needed some way to get the content he wanted,” his mother said.

His sophomore year, Henderson enrolled in Redmond Proficiency Academy, a charter public school. “The advantage was their scheduling was set up like a community college, where students choose the subjects and the times. He had time for the classes he wanted and still had time for the extra help he needed,” his mother said.

Because it was a charter school, Henderson was still allowed to play sports at Madras High School, where he was active in swimming and water polo.

Once he was equipped with the necessary educational support, Henderson’s extracurricular and academic performance soared. A state medalist swimmer and the president of his school’s National Honor Society, he graduated from high school in May 2013 as a valedictorian with 28 college credits already completed.

Eager to continue his education, Henderson is currently pursuing a degree in electrical engineering at Oregon Institute of Technology. So far, he is having a great time and earned straight-As his first term.

“I used to view my learning disability as the bane of my existence,” he said, “but now I define it as a learning difference. I do not let my disability define me; instead I define it, and have been able to take this view and pass it on to others struggling with similar situations.”

Besides his parents, and sister Erica, Henderson gets to take a teacher on the five-day trip to Washington, D.C., and chose Melanie Schaefer, an assistant technical specialist at High Desert Educational Service District, who has worked with him from the beginning.

“The trip will be amazing. The big gala is being held at the National Portrait Museum in Washington, D.C., and we will be staying a couple of blocks from the White House and hope to be able to tour it,” his mom said.

For other parents of children who are struggling with dyslexia, she recommended they educate themselves and start looking for help. She said there were a lot of good websites including,, and an informative movie at

About the awards

Each year, Learning Ally (formerly known as Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic) honors exceptional students through the Marion Huber Learning Through Listening Awards, which were instituted in 1991 for high school seniors with learning differences such as dyslexia.

Hundreds of students apply for the prestigious awards each year, and winners are selected based on their academic excellence, leadership, and service to others.

Founded in 1948, Learning Ally has a collection of more than 80,000 human-narrated textbooks and literature titles that can be downloaded on mainstream smartphones and tablets, and is the largest of its kind in the world. Several thousand volunteers help to produce the educational materials, which students rely on to achieve academic and professional success.

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