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Dyslexia and my profession

Daniel Atubo, Ground Maintenance Supervisor at Epsom and Ewell Borough Council (EEBC), discusses how dyslexia has affected his career.

I was diagnosed with dyslexia during my final year at university. At school my dyslexia had gone undiagnosed mainly because I had developed coping strategies such as memorising a passage at home if I knew I had to read from a book, substituting difficult words for easier ones in an essay, or getting someone to proof read my work. After graduating, I was offered a job at Epsom and Ewell Borough Council as a Ground Maintenance Supervisor where I am now responsible for 19 members of staff and manage the fine turf sports pitches, highway verges and hedge and grass cutting.

My dyslexia means that I have difficulty with spelling, grammar and numbers as well as making basic mistakes such as mixing up homophones like  ‘their’, ‘there’ and ‘they’re’. When I first joined the council I had difficulty gauging the tone of emails and the speed of my work was affected as I had to check my work three or four times before submitting. At times, I would avoid sending emails or ask someone else to do it which would also adversely affect my productivity. I find following instructions difficult, so I always had to make sure I clarified all details before starting a task. When I got tired, I was more likely to make mistakes. Before I worked at EEBC I was conscious of the stigma attached to dyslexia but because it is a hidden disability, people often could not tell.

When I was promoted to the position of supervisor, I wanted to ensure I didn’t make mistakes in my work especially when sending emails. After having a conversation with my manager, who is also dyslexic, he suggested that I may be a visual learner and I should try to visualise how words are spelt. He also mentioned he was using Texthelp’s Read&Write Gold text-to-speech literacy support software. After seeing him use it I had it installed on my computer and it has made a big difference. EEBC has a site licence for Read&Write Gold which means it is available on all computers within the organisation. When we moved to the cloud in 2012, I tested the software to make sure it worked and I am really happy with it. It helps improve productivity throughout the council, even for those without dyslexia.

There are so many benefits to using Read&Write Gold. At university, I was given a grant for a laptop and software which read my text aloud and helped me scan in books. Read&Write Gold is high quality and has all those features in one, which means I do not have to load different CDs onto the computer as I did before. I can change the colour of the screen, scan the text in books and highlight words that I want to listen to, which is especially helpful towards the end of the day when I get tired. The Spell Checker feature is more efficient to use than a standard one as it gives more options and a definition as well as cross referencing with Microsoft Word and the internet.

Read&Write Gold has improved my confidence and I am now corresponding with suppliers and residents directly as I can highlight text, listen to it being read aloud, ensure the tone is appropriate and use the correct punctuation. I can manage my emails successfully and rarely have to double check with a colleague, which has increased my productivity and independence. Using Read&Write Gold is a good way to improve efficiency without openly publicising that you have a learning difficulty as you can use it discreetly on screen and check when you are unsure of something. It makes a difference every day.

The software has made a very significant difference for me and other employees as it is a discreet way to increase productivity and confidence. Read&Write Gold can make a huge difference for all staff especially if they have been reluctant to ask for help in the past. It is important that employers recognise that there are people with learning difficulties and help them to have a successful day and manage their own workloads. My managers Ian Dyer and Samantha Whitehead and Sara Webster from HR have ensured I am supported and have helped raise awareness about learning difficulties in the organisation.

Dyslexia should not stop people from succeeding in life; if employers provide the tools and train employees in the best way to use them it can be very beneficial. Dyslexic people are generally more creative, can think outside the box and have a great long-term memory. There are many famous and highly successful people with dyslexia, including Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney and Eddie Izzard so it should not hold anyone back.

Nicholas Parr, Detective at Devon and Cornwall Constabulary, discusses how dyslexia and Meares-Irlen Syndrome have affected his career. I have been a police officer for just over 23 years and was diagnosed in 1997 with dyslexia and Meares-Irlen Scotopic syndrome1 which affects my reading and writing. It took me three years to get accepted into the Police Force because I repeatedly failed the entrance exams on spelling. I was given 45 minutes extra time during my police exams by way of a reasonable adjustment. However, this was not enough as misunderstanding just one word could stop me progressing and answering the questions correctly. By using assistive technology and my own coping mechanisms I have gained the confidence and ability to excel in my career.

Before the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) organisations did not understand that dyslexic people needed support. The Devon and Cornwall Constabulary has 3000 police officers and as an assistive technology trainer I know of 80 people in the force that have dyslexia. 10 per cent of the population has dyslexia so at least 220 people within our organisation either do not know they are dyslexic or are afraid to speak out. I have moderate dyslexia and I am good with numbers and retaining information. I have coping mechanisms for the Meares-Irlen Scotopic syndrome, a form of visual stress which leads to difficulties with fine vision tasks such as reading, however, I do not need to wear blue glasses all the time only when dealing with large volumes of text.

In 2000 I received a laptop with Texthelp’s Read&Write Gold text-to-speech literacy support software on a dongle which I keep on my key ring. Other software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking speech recognition software works alongside Read&Write Gold. It is password protected and on an encrypted key which is important for security purposes within the organisation. Meares-Irlen syndrome affects my eyesight and Read&Write Gold allows me to see black and white text and understand information much better. I also find the phonetic Spell Checker, Talking Dictionary and Text-to-Speech features really useful – particularly when I have a large and complex report to write. The Text-to-Speech feature reads the text out to me. I also use the screen colour masking program which changes all the text on any computer. I can also add my own key words such as ‘officer’ which I always spell with the ‘c’ and the ‘i’ around the wrong way. The police service uses the American dictionary but Read&Write Gold can correct this into British English alongside Microsoft Word.

My colleagues are very supportive but it takes time for people to understand the differences in learning and working for people with dyslexia. For example, if someone asks me to write a report, it is much easier for me to provide a verbal report. It takes me longer to do things but as colleagues get to know more about dyslexia we can all find ways to work around it together.

There is more awareness in organisations now but every person has different needs so it is important to understand that a solution that works for one person may not work for another. Assistive technology such as Read&Write Gold has been great and it can be used by anyone as long as they are given the time to get to know their way around it. The cost is minimal when compared with the confidence it brings and the stress and pressure it relieves.

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