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!

With so many photos taken on graduation day, I started pulling silly faces.

With so many photos taken on graduation day, I started pulling silly faces.

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.

My hats help to shield my eyes from artificial lighting that triggers headaches/migraines

My hats help to shield my eyes from artificial lighting that triggers headaches/migraines

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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. As I see it there is a deluge of information out there about dyslexia which is, in the main, quite negative, untrue and misleading to say the least. I am a dyslexic person and I am also a disabled person but that does not mean I am unable to work or be good and positive asset to any employer. I am just going to focus on dyslexia from now on in the response. But I would say the same can be applied to disability as well.

    I know I bang on about the social model of dyslexia and that it is society that disable us. Society can also enable us. A good employer can create and inclusive working environment and reap tremendous benefits from doing so. But I would say they are very few and far between.

    I am not going to say there are a lot of bad employers out there I am just going to say many just do not know how to create an inclusive working environment and many just have a misinformed negative impression of dyslexia and have little to no idea of what a positive skills and abilities a prospective dyslexic employee can bring to their organisation.

    I believe we have to look at the negativity surrounding the medical and charity models of dyslexia that effectively shackle us to a very negative stereotype. We cant spell, our short term memory is crap our brains do not work properly, somehow we are not normal sigh. This does not promote a positive image of dyslexia nor does in talk about celebrating diversity or difference.

    Education has to take some responsibility for the fact that many very bright and capable dyslexics fail at school because the education system fails them. As a result many leave school with few or no qualifications and as a result struggle to find work. Why is it the 35% of entrepreneurs are dyslexic? Yet over 50% of people in our prisons are dyslexic?

    But the dyslexia industry also has to shoulder some of the responsibility for this situation. I was looking to update my Dyslexia Pathways CIC website a couple of months ago and was looking at a couple of dyslexic screening tests I had put up. It got me thinking about these tests.

    Many of there screening tests focus on negatives and what we struggle with. In the end I decided against putting up the screening test. Now this seems like a bit chicken or the egg situation here. I can hear you all asking, “you must take a screening test to find out if you need a dyslexia assessment?”

    But go take a look at these screening tests, put yourself in the eyes of a prospective employer, what do these screening tests say to any employer about dyslexics? What do they say to many of us dyslexics taking them?

    Moreover, what do these screening tests say to the dyslexic that takes them? Maybe we need to be looking at more positive ways of screening? I know of good screening tool out there called Quickscan which I have used for a number of years but that’s all.

    Now back to the dyslexia industry which sells assistive technology which promotes itself as accessible technology. Have you looked at the prices they sell these things for? Over £300 for one particular text to speech software package, around £100 for a speech to text package. Not very accessible in terms of costs for the average dyslexic in the street? Also this technology is sold as a panacea for all dyslexics but quite clearly they do not work for all dyslexics. No doubt these software packages can be very liberating for some dyslexics but not for all.

    On the positive front in around 30 to 50 years writing by hand will be being lamented as a lost art. Maybe even the keyboard will be lauded as an outmoded and out bit of technology. Its a slow and laborious was of communicating and in business time is money. Speech to text will become the main way we communicate in writing. It will become everyday life, it will be seriously much better than it is today but more importantly this technology will be cheaper as it becomes more mainstream

    Books will slowly start to die out to be replaced by screens that are light and easy to carry and store and can change the background colour, or the size and font or use text to speech technology. Just look at MP3 players. Maybe 8 years ago I would have to carry around my music on CDs and I could carry maybe 10 CDs around with me in a bag. Now I can carry my whole collection of music in a very small MP3 player in my pocket. The same will happen, is already happening, with books.

    Give me 10 dyslexic is a room and oh the problems we could solve together with our unique dyslexic minds with our dyslexic think tank.

    Excellent original and though provoking blog by the way

    Liked by 1 person

    • I totally agree with you, which is why I try to put as much positive stuff into my blog too. It’s why I started blogging about going to university knowing that I was going to walk away with a good degree to the same standard as people without dyslexia.

      The reason I went on a rant about it was because the company I’m working for are wanting to get a screen for me, where I think it would be far more productive if they had the software there for people coming in so they don’t have to keep buying screens that in a few months time won’t be of any use to them (since it’s only a temping job).

      I keep complaining about white rooms because I seen people painting rooms bright white in so many situations and for me it’s a trigger for headaches. I can’t understand the thinking of white walls and artificial lights when people without my visual issues also complain about the same (though perhaps without the headache side).

      I think the software people have to put onto computers to make things easier are at shocking prices! I’m surprised that Microsoft and Apple haven’t done more to make their computers more accessible themselves rather than waiting for other developers to come along and charge a fortune for their apps and software. A lot of it should be built into computers such as screen colour change or speech to text.

      The other thing I found interesting was when I said that I have dyslexia and they instantly assumed I can’t spell. My spelling is fine. I think that we need to raise more awareness of the differences in dyslexia both the things that hold us back and the positives that we have as individuals. I agree though that there is far too much negativity and that really needs to change. I really just wanted to highlight that there needs to be more accessibility in the workplace for dyslexics so there aren’t 40% or so stuck collecting the dole.


  2. I agree with the comments as person over 40 that is dyslexic. I have seen many changes both good and bad. Assisted technology is not the panacea helpful in many case but doesn’t solve everything . Employers still see the medical model and I agree employers shld be anticipate that dyslexic will be a part of their work force. Also the Equality Act is their for use to enable rights but in most cases many employers resent it as they feel that dyslexia is a low intellectual issue. I have been asked by an employer at an interview if I can read. They had rec my CV which stated I had a Masters so this is the level of understanding.
    Things are changing because the adult dyslexic community is demanding more support.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh no, I don’t think assisted technology is the be all and end all but I can’t understand why companies don’t have it in place in the same way they have ramps just incase they have a worker who needs to use a wheelchair.

      I think assessing children at school and supporting them through education would help to dismiss this ‘low intellect’ stereotype, but for those of us who have already snuck through that net, there really needs to be more done in the workplace now!

      Asking you if you can read is insulting, in the same way as assuming that I can’t spell. I’m wanting to go back to university to study a Master’s but I have a first for my undergraduate dissertation that I am more than happy to point out.

      I think the more adult dyslexics speaking out and demanding more support the faster change will happen. I’ve been told schools have changed since I left, though from the number of friends at uni who were only diagnosed while we were there (I just graduated this year and they’re all late teens/early twenties) I’m not entirely convinced.


  3. I am 55 and found out I had dyslexia when I was 50. I have discovered most of my problems are now due to the fact that most people do not understand dyslexia. I also get bouts of depression. but on the positive side I have a NVQ level 3 in health and social care.
    I feel there is a lack of support for the adult with dyslexia.


    • There is a lack of support. I’ve realised just how many people feel this way since I started blogging. Think we really need to start making our voices heard in a positive way 🙂


  4. For future info part of Microsoft Windows general settings is the ability to change this ‘window colour’. This applies to email, Word, a whole lot of things and certainly a lot that you read from. Doesn’t come with all the helpful accessories that specialist software does but definitely a helpful stop gap. It’s in the advanced appearance settings, I’ll try and find a guide to post.

    Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: Dyslexia and Me: Dyslexia at Work | NYC Dyslexia Research

  2. Pingback: Dyslexia and Me: Dyslexia at Work « Dyslexia and Me | dyslexiaplus+

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