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Actress plays leading role in battle against dyslexia

Joyce Bulifant didn’t learn how to read until she was 13. Now, as executive vice president of The Dyslexia Foundation, she’s bringing dyslexic education programs and awareness to the Roaring Fork Valley region.

Bulifant was at the Hotel Colorado on Tuesday to give a presentation on dyslexia and to introduce several of the foundation’s upcoming fund-raising events and learning programs.

Starting Dec. 1, Bulifant is hosting three presentations throughout the Roaring Fork Valley on dyslexia. And in January, Bulifant will star in a musical benefit that will provide money for education programs for regional students with dyslexia.



Bulifant knows all about dyslexia. She is dyslexic, as is her son, John. So was her father, though he was never formerly diagnosed.

Bulifant said she read theatrical plays as a young girl because “it was multi-sensory.” Later, her interest in the theater evolved into her work as a television and film actor, most known for playing Gavin McLeod’s wife on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and for acting in the film, “Airplane.” Most recently, she appeared as David Spade’s mother on “Don’t Shoot Me.”



The Dyslexia Foundation, which began 13 years ago and is headquartered in Florida, is endorsed by The University of Texas, Harvard Medical School and Wake Forest School of Medicine.

Bulifant described a dyslexic as “somebody of average or above-average intelligence who has trouble spelling, reading and learning in a traditional classroom setting.”

There are methods to reach people who don’t learn in traditional ways. Bulifant said her son, who once thought he wouldn’t be able to graduate from high school, is now a film director.

It takes special education and money to diagnose and teach people with dyslexia. Bulifant said that is what she is doing with her life now.

“I came to the Roaring Fork Valley to retire,” she said, “but this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”

`Learning differences’

Bulifant wants to bring to the Roaring Fork Valley area a version of an education program about dyslexia she developed in the mid-1980s.

At the time, her son was attending Landmark West School, a private school for dyslexic students, while she was director of public awareness for the Learning Disabilities Foundation.

Bulifant wrote a musical presentation called “Gifts of Greatness” that featured notable people such as Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Hans Christian Anderson and poet Amy Lowell. Bulifant rallied many of her actor friends, including Ed Asner, Julie Harris and Patty Duke, to work with Landmark students and present the musical together.

Bulifant said a videotape of the production has been shown in schools all over the country, and has been translated into several languages.

As the first tier of Bulifant’s regional public education about dyslexia, she will present portions of that video to parents, teachers, children – and anyone else interested in educating themselves about what she calls “learning differences.”

“I don’t like the term `learning disabled’ because it implies the learner is handicapped,” she said. “That’s not accurate. Dyslexics just have a different way of learning.”

Presentations are being held at 3 p.m. on Dec. 1 at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs; at 7 p.m. on Dec. 3 at the Pitkin County Library in Aspen; and at 7 p.m. on Dec. 5 at River Valley’s Ranch House in Carbondale. The presentations are free and open to the public and are sponsored by the Carbondale/Aspen Glen Rotary Club.

Was Molly Brown dyslexic?

Bulifant is again tapping her theatrical background to create a fund-raiser for the Dyslexia Foundation to raise money for the foundation’s local chapter and honor one of Hotel Colorado’s most famous guests. Bulifant is starring in a musical gala, “The Legend of Molly Brown,” in January with a cast of local musical talent.

How Molly Brown and the Dyslexia Foundation found one another was a stroke of luck. Bulifant and her longtime partner, television actor Roger Perry, were looking for a location to hold their first local benefit for the foundation. Coincidentally, the Hotel Colorado was looking for a way to publicly dedicate one of the hotel’s suites to Molly Brown, who stayed in the hotel. Bulifant, who has played the lead character in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” immediately saw a fit.

Now, final plans are in the works for the Dyslexia Foundation’s production of “The Legend of Molly Brown.” Performances are set for Jan. 3 and 4. On Jan. 5, there will be an afternoon tea and performance. Proceeds will benefit future dyslexic education programs in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Bulifant isn’t sure if Molly Brown was dyslexic, but she wouldn’t doubt it.

“She might have been,” said Bulifant, citing one of lines from the musical’s songs (“I’m Gonna Learn to Read and Write…”). “But back then, there was no way to diagnose dyslexia. She would have been on her own.”

That’s true of many people who are known to have been dyslexic and achieved greatness. But many of them had help.

“People like Winston Churchill and Thomas Edison were often from wealthy families who were able to hire tutors to work with them one-on-one,” she said. “But a lot of people don’t have that option. That’s why we’re here to build awareness and create programs to help people in the region.”

For more information about The Dyslexia Foundation, go to yesread.org. For information about the Learning Differences presentations and reservations for “The Legend of Molly Brown” benefits, call 963-8881 or 945-6511, ext. 117.


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