I grew up on a farm in a small community in rural Northern Ireland with my parents, three siblings and a lot of animals. Our farmhouse was just 200 meters from my primary school. My parents implanted a strong work ethic in me at a young age. Around a farm there is always plenty to do. Aged ten, I started working a Saturday job at a local horticulture farm.
In 1981, my father had a serious stroke and lost the ability to speak. He also found it difficult to read and communicate. He still does. He also lost the use of his right arm and leg. I got my first real exposure to serious cognitive and physical impairment when it happened.
As you can imagine, at that formative age, it impacted us all deeply. But it also led to a lot of personal growth. That is when I learned first hand about some of the barriers that can exist in the world for people with different sets of abilities.
At that time assistive technology was not broadly available. Most people were unaware of assistive technology at all! In those days, most written communication was on paper. My dad couldn’t communicate or access information or services without help. Until then he was a very driven and independent man. He remained driven, but lost a lot of independence. I know he did not enjoy having to depend on others for communication, and often people were making assumptions about what he wanted to say. I believe that we all deserve to live and communicate with as much independence as possible. I decided to work hard to make a change, and I knew that technology held a possible answer. He remains a huge inspiration to me today, and has taught me not to complain when things get tough or you get knocked off your stride. Sometimes we compare him to the terminator!
Understanding and being understood is vital for all of us. Whether at school or work, when we understand, we are more confident. Opportunities open up, and we can achieve more than we thought. It means we’re more likely to succeed.
Everyone’s brain works differently. We don’t all read, write and think in the same way. The average reading age is lower than you’d expect. In the UK it’s nine, and in the US it’s around thirteen. Some people need help - and with a little help they can really be themselves.
Millions of us have dyslexia. My daughter has dyslexia and she is successfully learning to be a dentist. Around 10% of us in the UK, and between 5 and 15% in the US, likely more. Huge numbers struggle with text in some way. That includes reading, writing and math. If we are not able to reach our full potential, that’s a problem for everyone..
In 1996, I founded Texthelp trying to help one person - my dad - and my vision came to life. But I knew I could help more. Fast forward 25 years. Today, I’m proud to say that Texthelp is helping millions of people to understand and be understood. Over 200 million people have used our products and technology so far. We want to keep growing so we can help as many people as possible.
Texthelp products have already helped millions of people. And we’re ready to help millions more.
*Martin is pictured above with his dad Willie - William James McKay.