Dyslexia and learning: ‘organisations and people do wonderful things to help you’

By John Helmer October 04, 2018

John Helmer talked to Roshan Patel, an account manager at Lumesse Learning, about his dyslexia and how he has managed it at work and in his learning.

Q: When did you first know you had dyslexia?

I was probably around 13 years old. Some of my schoolteachers noticed I was struggling. I had struggled in school a long time before that, but maybe the signs weren’t ever picked up on, in terms of actually diagnosing me. But I had always had support in school at a young age, with extra time, additional tutors, that sort of thing

Q: How did it affect your educational career?

It was hard. It was really difficult. I confess I was probably a difficult young lad. I would become very frustrated, because I was unable to keep up with the other kids in school. Maybe sometimes that came out in anger, frustration, and just not being able to achieve the goals that were set in front of me at a young age.

Q: Do you feel you got appropriate help and support?

I feel that since I was diagnosed, and since that time, I have been able to get the support I needed – and I continue to receive support. Not just with certain software and hardware but also being able to talk to people, which is just as important.

I think dyslexia is recognised more than ever before, and I think it’s celebrated, if you want, especially with Dyslexia Awareness Week in October. I’ve been very lucky in that respect, but it’s important to increase its awareness across industry.

Q: As you moved into your working life, how did your dyslexia affect things?

I’m lucky in that I’m quite a confident chap. I have no problem telling people I’m dyslexic. In fact, like I said earlier, I celebrate it. I think it’s a part of me. But when I was coming into my professional career, there was no support whatsoever. It’s only in the last five years I feel that organisations have really begun to open the doors, allowing people the support they need.

It definitely wasn’t a taboo years and years ago but I feel organisations didn’t really recognise the disability in the workplace. Therefore, they didn’t feel it was appropriate to help someone of that ilk, versus someone who may have had physical disabilities, for example.

Q: What should organisations do to offer appropriate support for dyslexic people in the workforce?

I think that’s a really good question. I think one of the first things to do if someone comes to you and says they’re dyslexic is it’s important to contact, or for HR to contact, a disability institution. Or to have a disability champion within the business, whatever you want to call it.

I think it’s really important for that person to then have an in-place diagnostic. What that helps that individual do, or the organisation do, is put the correct support mechanisms in place to help that individual become better or more effective at their role. I think that’s so important.

Those sorts of tools, and that type of method, I’m not saying it’s new, but it still probably isn’t as common as it should be in the workplace these days.

Certainly at Lumesse I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to tell the right people that, “This is my challenge,” and those building blocks have been put into place to address my need.

Q: Could you give us some examples of the types of tools and services an organisation might need to put in place for people with dyslexia?

There are tools in the market that the Dyslexia Association and other affiliate associations offer, that help you to construct and spellcheck your emails.

There are technologies out in the world now that can write emails for you by dictation, which is fabulous for someone who is dyslexic.

A tool that I used to use quite a lot, fairly basic, obviously it’s evolved since that time, just by using a Word document I used to construct an email, for example, and then render it into a PDF, and there’s a ‘speak out loud’ function on Adobe, and you can listen to your email.

That really helps me, or helped me at that time, to listen to my email, and actually feel confident and comfortable that it was an appropriate email to send and it was grammatically okay. Was it perfect? I don’t know, because I can’t go back in time. But I do know I felt that it was absolutely fine to utilise at the time.

So there are tools out there that aren’t paid for, and don’t cost.

However, the tools you need will depend on the severity of your dyslexia. In my case, I can speak, I can talk and I can articulate well. That’s fine. But when I try to translate that into the written word, that’s when my dyslexia really kicks in.

And actually, I have good and bad days. Some days I’m okay, and some days I’m obviously a little bit worse. Tiredness obviously doesn’t help as well.

Q: Do you think there’s any extra sharpness, or compensatory abilities, you gain from having dyslexia?

I couldn’t talk for others, but I can definitely say I find that I get things quickly. I feel my senses are lot more perceptive. I’m definitely a visual person. If I was to do something with my hands or something in a practical manner, I get it very quickly.

I’m very good at connecting the dots in my head. If I see an opportunity, for example, I get it. I understand technology really well. I believe I’ve got much better clarity than maybe others in that respect. So I feel really confident from that point of view.

Q: What advice would you give to other people who are living and working with dyslexia?

Be open about your dyslexia. I think it’s really important to ask for help. And it’s hard. Don’t feel embarrassed because you have dyslexia, because it’s not your fault. It’s just something that is a part of you.

I believe that you should celebrate every good, bad, ugly thing about yourself, because if you can’t be comfortable with yourself then you can’t be comfortable at all.

So I would say absolutely be open and transparent about it. Organisations and people do wonderful things to help you. If you don’t ask for help, you don’t get it, and I think it’s important that you do ask for that help.

Q: Are there particular problems that dyslexia causes for learning – and how can L&D help support people with dyslexia in their learning?

In my experience, rightly or wrongly, L&D don’t really look at the dyslexic community when they’re creating learning capabilities for vast programmes that span across a global entity.

It’s very difficult, because we’re only a very small percentage, but there are things around text-based initiatives when learning, which for some dyslexic people aren’t going to help.

Being able to support different colour palettes on screen will help. I also think, for the majority of dyslexic individuals, being able to do something or access something in a visual manner is very important. So video first for dyslexic people, our dyslexic members, would be very, very advantageous. Not to mention keeping it short and to the point.

If you’re looking to support them in a slightly more innovative way, things like VR and AR are really going to help dyslexic people.

Obviously, with certain situations and scenarios more visual based learning becomes more appropriate, but that I think would be even more compelling for those learners.

I’ve found that video has been great. Or even just being able to listen to it, like a podcast-type version, is brilliant. I think those two in fact, would be the quickest wins for L&D.

And anything really, really super visual then absolutely I would go down the VR route for appropriate learning requirements.

Q: Certain fonts and colour palettes are harder for dyslexics, I understand. Is that your experience?

Yes. I actually have colour palette issues. I was reading some news this morning actually, and I like to use the black background with white text, because it jumps out at me. So if there’s a white background with black text I find that harder.

I believe there are other colour palettes that other people are better with or struggle with. But accessibility is so important. Being able to allow users to have that flexibility to customise what they’re looking for, or reading, or watching, around the tech that they’re utilising it on.

Q: Is there a particular danger, do you think, in assuming that learning as a default should be text-based? I remember the head of an e-learning company, surprisingly, once saying to me, “Well, really for this they should just read a book.” University education is largely about reading books.

Yes. When I was at university I was told exactly the same thing. I was fortunate enough to be able to access resources online and then use the technology to help me consume that information.

The way that people are accessing information in the wide world now, the importance of mobility, I think the day and age where CEOs, training managers, L&D individuals, corporate entities would say, “Just go and read that,” is not exactly dying, but it’s decreasing over time, and I think it’s because people’s attention spans are changing. People want information now within two clicks.

The way that we consume information, bringing our consumer world into our corporate world, has become more and more relevant. I think learning and development has taken that onboard and have utilised that in how they develop and deliver learning programmes to their population these days.

Gone are the days where a learning programme consisted of just an e-learning programme. There’s context around it now, and it’s broken down into sections, or into micro-objects, etc.

Q: So would you say that the way digital learning is presented nowadays is actually better for people with dyslexia?

Absolutely. I don’t know if this sounds controversial, but there’s never been a better time to be dyslexic and not need to say anything – because there’s so much information out there, and it’s so accessible via Google or YouTube. The information out there is more helpful than ever but the drive for better digital capabilities within organisations is driving better experiences across the board. Clearly, I would implore people to say something if they are having a problem. It’s so important to make sure that you tell people. I couldn’t stress that more.

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