The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC)  (October 2019). Recent Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) test scores show over 25% of Grade 3 students and 53% of Grade 3 students with special education needs did not meet provincial standards.

The OHRC cites that students who cannot read struggle with many aspects of school and are more vulnerable to psychosocial stress, behavioural issues, bullying and much lower levels of educational achievement (Schumacher, 2007). The result of these challenges means that these students face life-long consequences including , homelessness, and involvement with the criminal justice system (Bruck, 1998; Macdonald, 2012); Maughan, 1995; Rice, 2001).

All students with reading disabilities, such as dyslexia, have a right to learn how to read. The OHRC is concerned that these students are not getting the supports they need to become literate. This is particularly challenging when students are not receiving early intervention and supports that are known to be effective in increasing reading ability.

The OHRC inquiry wants to hear from parents, student, and educators from across Ontario to determine if school boards are using evidence-based approaches to meet students’ right to read. The OHRC will be assessing five benchmarks as part of an effective systematic approach to teach all students to read which includes:

All about Reading Disabilities

How can teachers support students with suspected reading disabilities?

  • promote early identification through tracking reading levels and psychoeducational assessments
  • develop effective interventions and accommodations support through an Individual Education Plan (IEP)
  • instruct through scientific evidence-based and systematic instruction in reading
  • advocate for more support via funding of psychoeducational assessments as parents may struggle financially to get assessments, interventions and accommodations for their children, and in many cases have no options, if able, to pay for services privately

Empowering Readers

As a contained Communication Classroom teacher, I am trained to use the Empower™ Reading Program provided by The Hospital for Sick Children (Sickkids). This program, developed by Maureen W. Lovett and her team, is based on a series of evidence-based reading interventions that reinforce skills in reading, comprehension, and writing. As the SickKids’ website states “ The Empower™ Reading Program  includes decoding, spelling, comprehension and vocabulary programs that transform children and adolescents with significant reading and spelling difficulties into strategic, independent, and flexible learners. The success of the program is proven through the extensive  rigorously designed research conducted by the research team.”

There are four distinct literacy intervention programs that comprise the Empower™ Reading Program:

In my classroom of Grade 4/5 students who cannot read at grade level, I’ve seen dramatic results in students increasing their reading ability several grade levels in a 2 year period. One of my students, this year, went from a Kindergarten to mid-grade 2 level in 4 months. Students usually stay in the Contained Communications class for about two years and return to a mainstream classroom.

In the 3 years I’ve used the Empower™ Reading Program Grades 2-5 Decoding and Spelling program, I typically have students entering the program reading at two or three grades below level and leaving at a grade 5 reading level. The program is well laid out for teachers and students. I appreciate that it’s a hour of my day that has already been planned. Teachers receive 3 to 5 days of training and are provided with face to face Empower support check-ins. Teachers are also required to provide assessment tracking via PM Benchmark assessment, Empower Sound and Word Assessments, and the Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement (KTEA-III) testing.

As a teacher, I strongly advocate for boards of education to take on the  Empower™ Reading Program, not only because of its effectiveness, but because it changes students’ lives by boosting their overall self concept and their ability to thrive as learners.

Finally, I know what it is like to not read and write well as I struggled for years in all levels of my academic studies. I failed grade 1 as I was very uncoordinated and a slow learner. In my time as a elementary, secondary, and university student, I was told that I made careless mistakes and that I needed to work harder. I had grades taken off my essays and exams due to poor spelling and grammar. I did not come out to colleagues and professors as being learning disabled until I was accepted into my PhD program as often people would not believe me.

The biggest challenge with being learning disabled was my lack of confidence in myself as a person and in my ability to read and write. I am still a poor speller. My self-worth remained low for a significant part of my life and I lived with depression and anxiety. I posit that my drive to overachieve in education is a compensary response to my life as a learning disabled person. Even though I present as being highly self confident, I still struggle with my confidence today.

I ask you as an parent, educator, and/or student to push for more support and intervention for Ontario students who deserve the Right to Read as the right to education is a Human right.

Collaboratively Yours,

Dr. Deborah Weston – B.Sc., B.Com., B.Ed., M.Ed., PhD OCT# 433144

PS: It took me 4+ hours to research and write this blog using a talking word processor.

Media contact:

Yves Massicotte
Communications & Issues Management
Ontario Human Rights Commission/Commission ontarienne des droits de la personne

OHRC announces locations for Right to Read public hearings

The Right to Read public hearings will run from 6 to 9 p.m., with registration beginning at 5:30 p.m. at all locations.

January 14, 2020: Brampton –   Chris Gibson Recreation Centre 125 McLaughlin Rd N, Brampton, ON, L6X 1Y7

January 29, 2020: London – Amethyst Demonstration School Auditorium, 1515 Cheapside Street, London, ON, N5V 3N9

February 25, 2020: Thunder Bay – Public Library – Waverley Community Hub Auditorium, 285 Red River Road, Thunder Bay, ON, P7B 1A9

March 10, 2020:  Ottawa – Nepean Sportsplex, 1701 Woodroffe Avenue, Nepean, ON, K2G 1W2

Members of the public can participate in three ways:

  • Filling out a survey at least two weeks before the hearing they want to participate in and being selected to make a presentation up to seven minutes long
  • Attending a public hearing and registering to speak for three minutes during the “open mic” session
  • Attending a public hearing to observe.


Bruck, M. (1998). Outcomes of adults with childhood histories of dyslexia. Reading and spelling: Development and disorders179, 200.

Macdonald, S. J. (2012). Biographical pathways into criminality: understanding the relationship between dyslexia and educational disengagement. Disability & Society27(3), 427-440.

Maughan, B. (1995). Annotation: Long‐term outcomes of developmental reading problems. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry36(3), 357-371.

Rice, M. (2001). Dyslexia and crime, or an elephant in the moon. In 5th BDA International Conference: At the dawn of the new century, York.

Schumacher, J., Hoffmann, P., Schmäl, C., Schulte-Körne, G., & Nöthen, M. M. (2007). Genetics of dyslexia: the evolving landscapeJournal of medical genetics44(5), 289–297. doi:10.1136/jmg.2006.046516


6 thoughts on “Empowering Readers and the Right to Read

  1. Hello, I work for the public board in Windsor Ontario and my children attend the Catholic Board. My daughter has struggled with reading. Why does one board use the Empower program and Catholic Board does not. This is a wonderful program and I feel all students should hace access to it. My daughter is now in Grade 3 and I feel awful that she missed the opportunity this program provided her.

    1. Helen,

      Thank you so much for your comment. The Catholic Board likely does not use the program as it is very expensive as it costs over $3000 per teacher to be certified in it (I had to do 5 days training). I believe that the public boards are much more inclusive when it comes to special education. I wrote a blog about this … see below.

      If my child had challenges with reading, I would advocate for her getting into the Empower program as it is a game changer for students. I have students leaving my program after 2 years with grade 10 and 12 reading levels. As my children also attended Catholic School, I would have moved both to the public school system if my daughter had needed more support with reading. Luckily, my children did not inherit my reading disability and were reading well above grade level by grade 3.

      Source for below:'sAnnualReport/DirectorsAnnualReport17-18/ConfidentLearners/LexiaandEmpower/Pages/default.aspx#/=

      The Lexia and Empower programs were expanded to all GECDSB elementary schools during the 2017-18 school year. Ten schools participated in the original Research Project for Learning Disabilities and pilot which provided a wealth of useful data to help students move forward in their reading skills.

      The results of the study indicate that students using Lexia and Empower have had positive results in their reading performance, showing clear and sometimes remarkable improvement in their reading skills and abilities. There have also been secondary effects in other subjects, such as Math, and students have had an increase in their overall self-concept and well-being.

      Why It’s Time to End Publicly Funded Catholic Schools:

      All the best health to you and your family,

      Deb Weston

  2. Do you happen to know if the Empower program is offered outside of the school boards? If it’s such a great program, I’d be curious to know if it is offered for a fee outside of school hours.

    1. I am not sure, Ashley. There are some private organizations that charge over $150/hour. Students should get this support at mo charge. Contact SickKids, maybe they will know.


  3. Hi, do you know if this program is available in French? Or french school boards?. I havent been able to find an equivalent program in French, my son had double dysylexia.

    If its not available, why not? Kids with disablities should have access to programs in either of the official languages.

Leave a Reply

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.