DISABILITIES

HOMEPAGE www.danieljvance.com


By Daniel J. Vance


You won't find a nicer or more down-to-earth man than Dr. Jack Horner of Bozeman, Montana. And I challenge you to show me anyone who has worked harder to overcome a disability, any disability.

As a world-renowned paleontologist, he has been the technical adviser for the Jurassic Park films and inspiration for the movie's lead character, Dr. Alan Grant.

And he can barely read.

“I didn't know I had dyslexia,” said 60-year-old Horner about his childhood, in a telephone interview from his office at the Museum of the Rockies where he is curator of paleontology. “Reading is the hardest thing I do in life. I remember as a child kids would laugh at me because if a teacher asked me to stand and read, I wouldn't. I'd rather take the 'F'.”

Dyslexia may affect more than ten percent of Americans. The International Dyslexia Association defines it as a “specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding.”

For instance, in a simple, one-line e-mail to me to confirm our interview for this column, Horner had two glaring typos.

So how did he become “Doctor” Horner? Didn't he have to write research papers?

He said, “I don't hold a college degree of any kind, other than an honorary doctorate from the University of Montana, where I flunked out seven quarters in a row.” He claimed that in life he had written exactly six books, which was more than he had read. An assistant helped him write those books.

“The only fiction book I've read cover-to-cover took me months,” he said. “The Grapes of Wrath was amazing, but it took me so long to read. At the end I was starting to forget what I'd read in the beginning.”

In the mid-'70s, Horner's life changed dramatically when he discovered in Montana a new dinosaur species and was first in North America to find dinosaur eggs. In part due to Horner's other finds, the Museum of the Rockies now has the world's largest Tyrannosaurus rex collection.

In 1978, he was hired as a museum technician at Princeton University. It was there at age 32 by chance that he first learned of his dyslexia.

Next week I'll have more on Dr. Horner.

For more, see danieljvance.com or www.interdys.org [This column made possible by a grant from Blue Valley Sod, www.bluevalleysod.com]