I was diagnosed as dyslexic at the age 18 after years of empty promises of support dating back to primary school. As someone who has been let down by the system, time and time again, it has left me bitter and resentful; but, there is support out there, if you know how to access it. Most recently, I became eligible for Access to Work. A government based scheme set up to support disabled people in the workplace.
Growing up and studying in the UK, I had extensive experience of british disability based funding support and admitley it was okay, not amazing. However, I decided to approach the Access to Work scheme with a positive mentality. Eight weeks after submitting my application and chasing them up for the fourth time, I was referred for a needs assessment the following week. In preparation I had been told to write a list of support that could be beneficial to the demands of my job, assured they take a unique approach and listen to the individual. And so I did.
My list consisted of two points:
- A subscription to grammarly (I had been using it for years but the price became unsustainable)
- A screen extender for my iPad (I write blog posts and struggle to track information from different tabs)
Armed with my notes, I joined the zoom meeting and was met by a lovely smiley accessor. An hour goes by and we have finished the interview stage of the assessment. This step seeks to extract how your disability/ disabilities affects your day to day work activities.
The first red flag was upon stating my three recognised disabilities: dyslexia, dyspraxia and OCD, the accessors response was “unfortunately we can’t help you with dyspraxia or OCD as that’s a life-long condition but we can help you with the dyslexia”. The accessor began listing pre-rehearsed assistive, expensive yet clunky technology that I already had access to and was only valuable as initial support when I was a newly diagnosed university student. However, since being in the workplace, I require a more nuanced approach as every role is different. No matter what way I phrased it, the accessor seemed admitment in giving me the dated tech I already previously used and completely ignored any suggestions regarding my own experience of dyslexia in relation to my job.
The assistive tech I was asking for – which was ⅕ of the price of the tech they were suggesting – was denied as it could not be proven that it helps my disability, even though I have used these before and found them extremely helpful. To add insult to injury, she signed me up for eight functional skills lessons in managing my dyslexia… and while this might be helpful to someone who is newly diagnosed, I already had this support… twice…
We need to stop thinking that dyslexia can be magically fixed with tech, and that tech should be the only type of support provided. Personally, I would have liked to ask for help to pay someone to help me with scheduling and timekeeping. Something that no tech can help me with. And before you say it, yes, I use alarms and reminders for everything. What I need is to be able to talk it out with someone and have them double check that I did not confuse Tuesday and Thursday, ams and pms, or write 5 after 10 as 10 after 5. This is something that tech currently just can not do.
I know Chantal, the founder of Socolo, would love to have a scribe. An actual person instead of dictaphone tech. Chantal struggles with her speech and finds that she spends more time fixing her vocal errors that the assistive tech picks up on than typing herself.
Or how about the countless dyslexic writers, creatives, freelancers, entrepreneurs who have admitted to hiring assistance to help them with their disability, not because they could afford them, but they could not afford to not hire them. Do they not deserve a little compensation, a little relief help to slightly subsidies how much their aids are costing them when tech is not doing the trick?
Don't get me wrong, some tech can be really helpful and I can be really dependent on some, like Audible and Kindle and their WhisperSync technology. For anyone who does not know what whisper sync is, kindle highlights the words in the ebook in time with the audio recorded version that audible plays the recording to you. Technically not officially assistive tech, but a lot of people use it that way. On the other hand, I have not met a single dyslexic person who likes brain mapping software, yet this has been something that is constantly being suggested to us dyslexics as a kind of fix all. Or really old and expensive tech that was designed before user experience design was a thing.
Why are younger tech companies never suggested as valid tech? Go onto any dyslexic forum, and you will see raving reviews of Grammarly, and how it is life changing and a joy to use. People who were really struggling at work have found Grammarly to be a major game changer for them, and has taken away a lot of the stress they had when writing. Yet, it is one of the first technologies that we are denied as it is not classified as official assistive tech.
But it’s not all doom and gloom, there is a place for assistive technology but support needs to shift and go beyond it – tech is nor a fix all band aid for dyslexia. So, how do we curate our own support? We do have ideas to support you on your journey.
Firstly, apps are your best-friend. I know I just spoke about how tech isn’t the only answer but hear me out. I’m not talking dyslexia-focused apps but apps that provide well being support; nutrition apps, yoga apps, meditation and relaxation apps, anything that contributes to your overall well being because all of these things help you handle the dyslexic experience.
Secondly, see if your workplace has any disability focused support groups and if not, set one up! A safe place where people can share their wins, concerns, experiences, advice and tools and even share work for checking. Remember, the voice of many can be louder than the voice of one. Together you can support each other in creating positive change in your place of work.
Lastly, use your voice. Dyslexia is not linear – depending on other factors such as workload, stress, sleep, overall well being, etc. you might need to have regular check-ins with your employer. See if your place of work would consider things like flexible hours so you can work at your optimal times or swerve traffic hour stress. Maybe they are more open to people working remotely after the pandemic, and you can create your perfect work environment. If you are self employed, have the check-in with yourself and or a conversation with clients – there is no situation where you don’t deserve to be heard!
We encourage you to contact your local politicians and let them know the type of support you would like to receive and what changes you would like to see. Let them know how dyslexia affects you in your day to day life, what works and does not work for you in terms of support and how a more custom and flexible approach is needed!
In terms of support beyond our community, rest assured research is ongoing. The sector is made up of thousands of practitioners, many of them are dyslexic themselves, and we believe change is on the horizon.
If you have any ideas you think should be added to the list or want to share your experience with getting support or your thoughts on assistive technology, please share with us in the comments below