SPELD SA was founded on May 29, 1969

From day one it had all the hallmarks of a charitable organisation:

  • It was responding to a perceived need in the community.
  • There was one person, Shirley Dibden, who was prepared to put her ‘hand to the plough’ and break new ground.
  • And, there was a band of people who were prepared to give their energy and enthusiasm to ensure the growth of a fledgling organisation.

In the early days, Committee Meetings were held in the Dibdens’ sitting room which soon became adorned by a number of beer cartons. These cartons constituted SPELD SA's first filing system. Then, thanks to the generosity of the late Dr John Slade, SPELD SA moved to premises overlooking Light’s Vision.

Awareness spread rapidly mainly through speaking engagements at schools and to parent groups across the city and in many country centres. Weekend seminars were introduced to provide teachers with an understanding of specific learning difficulties and the most effective methods of remediation. A significant development was the establishment of a joint SPELD SA/Education Department committee to identify the nature and needs of these children, the first such committee in Australia. Its formation reflects the concern of the South Australian government of the time and the growing demand for SPELD SA's services. A crisis developed in the mid 70s when it became necessary for SPELD SA to vacate its North Adelaide premises. When suitable accommodation was not forthcoming, Shirley set up a mini office with a chair and card table in the parklands. There was a sign advising passing traffic: “This is where SPELD SA will be next week! Can you help?”

In the early days meetings were held in the Dibden's sitting room. This meeting was held in the SPELD SA Kensington premises.The Dunstan government of the day together with the Kensington and Norwood Council under Jack Richards quickly put their heads together and out of the blue the building at 298 Portrush Rd, and the means to purchase it, became available.Weekend seminars were introduced to provide teachers with an understanding of specific learning difficulties and the most effective methods of remediation.

The Dunstan government of the day together with the Kensington and Norwood Council under Jack Richards quickly put their heads together and out of the blue the building at 298 Portrush Rd, and the means to purchase it, became available. At last SPELD SA had a permanent home.

Shirley Dibden served as Foundation Director of SPELD SA for almost 25 years. Her services to the community were recognised in 1976 when she was made aof the Order of Australia and, in 1994, when she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate for her outstanding work in education and literacy by Flinders University. Shirley retired from SPELD SA in 1991.

The organisation receives a grant from the Minister for Education and Children’s Services but is dependent on donations and income from sales and services to maintain its present level of service delivery.

Don Dunstan opening the new SPELD SA premises.Shirley Dibden served as Foundation Director of SPELD SA for almost 25 years.The organisation receives a grant from the Minister for Education and Children?s Services but is dependent on donations and income from sales and services to maintain its present level of service delivery.

SPELD SA entered a new era in 1999 when Jan Polkinghorne, one of our tutors, joined SPELD SA as a consultant and opened our eyes to the possibilities available for supporting our clients through computer software and assistive technology. The Information Technology Information service was developed by Jan and has since grown to three members, who are leaders in their field.

2003 saw the widening of Portrush Road and with it the need to move services from the front of the building to the back, to escape traffic noise. Thanks to a grant from the Lions Club of Glenside, which was matched by SPELD SA Council, the SPELD SA building underwent a transformation. The reception and library areas, as we know them today, were created, and the wall between the conference room and waiting room removed to provide an area large enough to accommodate an audience of 50. On June 2nd, 2004, the Shirley Dibden Centre was re-opened in the presence of Her Excellency Marjorie Jackson-Nelson, then Governor of South Australia.

Next, came purpose-built shelving for the library and the space, at last, to increase the range of resources for sale in the shop.

janpThe building has changed, services have changed but SPELD SA remains a small organisation with a dedicated staff, good friends, a wise and supportive Council to provide guidance, and longstanding volunteers. Thanks to a wide network of tutors, parents and other professionals, SPELD SA's influence continues to spread throughout South Australia and beyond. The reception and library areas, as we know them today, were created, and the wall between the conference room and waiting room removed to provide an area large enough to accommodate an audience of 50. 

SPELD SA continues to broaden its client base. Sandy Russo’s specialist knowledge of accommodations and assistive technologies has attracted invitations to address secondary school teachers, TAFE institutions, colleges and universities and to support individual teachers. The internet and social media have opened many doors and SPELD SA has embraced the opportunities these platforms provide to convey information to the broader community, to create free online resources, we respond to queries and share news as it happens.

In 2009 Angela Weeks (author), together with Dick Weigall (illustrator) and Sandy Russo (compiler) created the first online SPELD SA phonic book. The books were created to give schools, tutors and parents access to decodable books rather than levelled readers available in most schools. The books were available in an online flash version and a printable version and instantly recognised as a useful resource for teaching struggling students to read. Thyne Reid agreed to help fund 100 books. In 2011 demand led to a Tablet and iPad format of the books.

Tim HillDick Weigall 02Tutoring 

In 2010 Angela was approached to help train volunteers with the Prison Service and the Australian Refugee Association in how to teach adults with very poor literacy skills to read and write. Angela used the free phonic books in programs she created to help these groups learn to read. Keen for related resources through which to teach spelling and writing, they queried the possibility of complementary worksheets. Worksheets were created and trialled. In 2013 Thyne Reid provided funding for a further 100 books and worksheets to be used with each book. The books have now been used to teach students to read by almost 750,000 people.

In 2014, SPELD SA received a grant from the Douglas Whiting Trust enabling Sandy Russo to update the website. The website is now mobile friendly, easier to navigate and able to accommodate more online materials. At the same time Angela Weeks was approached by the Department of Correctional Services to create an intensive literacy program to help teach prisoners to read and write. This program will be shared with the public as a part of the Department of Correctional Services community program. The Intensive Literacy Program is ready to load on to our website to be trialled by interested schools and tutors in 2015. The program will be available in 2016.

And thus SPELD SA continues to evolve. The building has changed, services have changed but SPELD SA remains a small organisation with a dedicated staff, good friends, a wise and supportive Council to provide guidance, and longstanding  volunteers. Thanks to a wide network of tutors, parents and other professionals, SPELD SA’s influence continues to spread throughout South Australia and beyond.

From the speech given by Keith Grundy, AM, first chairman of SPELD SA at the re-opening of the Shirley Dibden Centre on 2nd June, 2004. Recent additions provided by Angela Weeks and Sandy Russo.

SPELD SA is generously supported by

thyne reid foundationDepartment for education and child developmentaustralian executor trustees

SPELD SA would like to acknowledge the support of the Douglas Whiting Trust in the development of this website.

More benefactors and supporters

We are a proud member of AUSPELD

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AUSPELD is a member of the IDA Global Partners Program

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