Dyslexia and Me: Dyslexia at Work
The one thing you will see me campaigning for is support for adults with dyslexia. There are so many charities, groups and parent networks that are pushing for change in schools, but there aren’t enough people (in my opinion) pushing for change in the way adults with dyslexia are treated. We’re kind of left to get on with it! This really needs to change, especially when so many people with dyslexia are unemployed or struggle to find work.
I found the debate ‘Education and Training: People with Hidden Disabilities‘ raised in the UK House of Lords very interesting, especially this section raised by Baroness Walmsley.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Addington on securing this important debate.
When reading the briefing material that came to those of us who had our names down to speak in this debate, there was one particular statistic that jumped out at me. It was that, in a study carried out in 2003, 41% of a sample of 1,000 unemployed people were dyslexic. I do not know whether there has been an update, because that was almost 10 years ago, but it is a pretty damning figure. Therefore, if your Lordships do not mind, I am going to stretch the topic of this debate very slightly beyond education and training into the employment which we hope will result from them and which is an important component of a fulfilled life.
An example from the Dyslexia Foundation about an organisation called Training Plus Merseyside in my city of origin, Liverpool, was instructive. In 2004, it was told that 4% of its clients had a special educational need. It obviously had a hunch that this was a gross underestimate, so it did something about it. It did some staff training, invested in screening tools, paid for psychological assessment and used ICT interventions, and it found that the real figure was nearer to 30%. What that tells me is that, at least at that time, the number of people slipping through the diagnosis net at school was far too large and many of those were landing up as NEET—not in education, employment or training. Indeed, all young people with disabilities are two and a half times more likely to fall into the NEET category than their fully able peers. Of course, there is a large cost, both personal and economic, to this, so we need to get it right at the education stage before the situation becomes entrenched.
To read the full debate head to: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201213/ldhansrd/text/120628-0002.htm#12062889000880
I would really love an up to date set of statistics on how many people signing on in the UK are dyslexic. 41% is a huge number! I think that addressing what’s happening in schools is vital, but there are so many who have already slipped through the net and we should be doing far more for adults with dyslexia, especially when it comes to employment and training.
After I left school, I still wasn’t aware that I was dyslexic. I had a number of jobs that really weren’t suitable for me. Counting up money in the tills at the end of the day takes me twice as long as everyone else! I am very thorough in my work so that I don’t make unnecessary mistakes, I work harder than everyone around me but it take me longer to do. Companies don’t like you taking longer to make sure things are perfect. They’d rather it was at a pace that Speedy Gonzales would be happy with!
The faster I work and the more distractions I have, the more mistakes I make. And yes, as a human, I have made many mistakes over the years. Trying to explain that though (especially before my diagnosis with dyslexia) really didn’t seem to go down well. The attitude seemed to suggest that I should really have just got on with it and stop making excuses! If I had been allowed that time to do things without the ‘you need to do X amount per hour’, which doesn’t allow any flexibility, I wouldn’t have become so flustered and worried that everything I was doing was wrong.
That was before my diagnosis. So how have things changed since then?
Well firstly, I was diagnosed at college and I now have three grade A Higher’s that I didn’t have before plus a university degree that included a first in my dissertation. These new qualifications haven’t made it any easier in finding work though, which is so unbelievably frustrating! Especially when added onto my previous work experiences, I’d have thought it would have made finding work a lot easier than it had before. How very wrong was I!!!
They always used to tell us that having qualifications made it easier to get a job. Yet I, and a number of friends, are struggling to find work now we’ve graduated. I guess there are masses of graduates coming out of university around the same time, but I found it far easier to get jobs just out of school with far fewer qualifications than I have now. I have to say, I feel slightly cheated by the people who told me that, though I don’t regret going back into education for a minute!!!
At college and university they were very accommodating (the vast majority of the time) of my dyslexia. Extra time in exams, extensions for essays if I needed them (I didn’t always ask for that), exams printed on coloured paper, disability allowance for equipment I needed to make my life easier etc. Of course there were still times where I was highly frustrated by things that I felt was unfair (some lecturers not allowing extra time for essays despite it being in my notes that I was allowed to being one that springs to mind straight away). Sometimes I found the classrooms unworkable with white walls, white board, artificial lights and my laptop in front of me, all making my visual stress go into overdrive and my headaches/migraines kick in big time!
I am now quite used to being given support and used to people being very supportive of the fact that I work in a different way. It wasn’t a case of exploiting the system or taking more than I should have. I was being given the right support that I needed to produce work that earned me firsts in essays and my dissertation, which I am very capable of when I am supported! I’m dyslexic, not stupid!!!
I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I was applying to jobs about the ‘dyslexia issue’. In the jobs I’ve had since being diagnosed, I’ve avoided the topic completely. I was told not to mention it just incase it was used against me! Having been in and out of work, I really didn’t want to risk my chances by mentioning that I was dyslexic! However, since I started blogging in February I have become far more proud of being a dyslexic person and I am now prepared to stand up and say to employers that I need a little more support.
My nana was one of the first women in the UK to take her company to court over the inequality of her pay in her work because she was a woman. I have inherited her strength and determination. Why should I be treated unfairly just because I have dyslexia? It’s not something that I can change. It’s a part of me and I am proud of that!
When I went for my interview for my current job I told the interviewer that I’m dyslexic. For me that is a massive step! And to be honest, I wouldn’t have done it if it hadn’t been for this blog and the support I’ve had from readers. It’s given me extra determination to stand up for my rights. When I started I made sure I told the people training me that I’m dyslexic and the support I had through college and university after they mentioned that the company support people of all backgrounds, including people with dyslexia. I wasn’t sure how to tell them, but they mentioned dyslexia and I knew that was my way in to approach the subject.
I’ve really been struggling with aspects of the new job. The work itself doesn’t seem too difficult, but being sat in a white room with artificial lights has been really difficult. I have been told I can wear my cap though, which has been helping a lot! We’ve been staring at a screen a lot though while learning all the new systems which has been killer! I need to have regular breaks from screens and learning or I switch off. It’s not an intentional thing, but my brain goes into overload. I was told by my dyslexia advisor at university that when I got to that point (before I got my laptop) that I should sit and draw diagrams or write down what it was I could remember so far from the lecture. An ‘exit’ from the room without actually leaving. We didn’t have that chance in the last 3 weeks, which has been very hard!
On my first day I told the trainers that I use software that changes my screen to blue so I can read and write without getting as many headaches/migraines. Right away they passed that message on, but three weeks later I’ve still no idea what’s happening with it. It seems very strange that big companies don’t have software ready for dyslexic workers. If 10% of the population are dyslexic, surely they’ll have quite a number of people who have a variety of difficulties related to dyslexia. They have all the ramps, lifts and special assembly points for those with physical disabilities, so why aren’t they prepared for the 10% of us with an invisible difficulty?
I know that dyslexia presents itself differently in different people. While my spelling isn’t too bad, I struggle with reading and visual stuff. My short term memory and organisation isn’t too great either. If you have issues with spelling, the likes of Word will hint at your spelling and grammar with squiggly lines. There doesn’t seem to be a built in help for changing the screen colour or a line that you can use to make sure you’re not reading the same line over and over by mistake. Or even the computer reading words to you if that makes it easier. Perhaps the likes of Microsoft and Apple et al should look into making their computers dyslexia friendly! Surprising when Steve Jobs was dyslexic the Apple haven’t done more.
Until the day that these companies look to making things more accessible, employers should be doing more (in my opinion) to support the 10% of their staff who have dyslexia. There are plenty of computer programs you can buy like ClaroRead and ClaroView that would benefit a lot of people, so why aren’t companies investing in such software? Dyslexia doesn’t suddenly stop being an issue once you leave education, it’s something you have for life. There really needs to be more done when such a large percentage of dyslexic people are signing on who probably are more than capable if they were given the right support in the workplace!
Posted on October 11, 2014, in Awareness and tagged Accessibility, Adults, Apple, Baroness Walmsley, Debate, Dyslexia, Dyslexia Awareness Month, Education and Training: People with Hidden Disabilities, Employment, House of Lords, Microsoft, Support, Technology, Unemployment, Work. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.