Challenging stigma: A look at Dyslexia from a Dyslexic mind (or two!)
At least 10% of the UK population is dyslexic, yet many dyslexic’s still experience a lack of understanding and support for Dyslexia in the world of work. Everyone deserves to feel understood, accepted and like they belong.
In this podcast episode, we take a look at Dyslexia through the eyes of Sam, aka Sam the Dyslexic (a British Police Officer), and Andy Nickolls, a Dyslexic Blue Light employee (Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, previously NHS). Together we challenge the misconceptions that exist around Dyslexia. Listen and gain insight to help you better understand and support your Dyslexic employees, colleagues and friends.
We hope you enjoyed this episode. If you'd like to find out more about how Texthelp literacy support software can help support your employees with dyslexia, visit text.help/dyslexia-software. You can also hear more from Sam at samthedyslexic.com, and Andy, over on Twitter @nickolls_andy.
Or, if you'd like to read more on how to understand and help neurodiverse employees, check out our free guide: Neurodiversity in the Workplace: A Guide for HR and DEI Managers.
In here, you'll find more information on supporting employees with dyslexia by creating an inclusive workplace where they can thrive.
Welcome to the Texthelp Talks Podcast. We've got a host of experts covering a range of topics from education, right through into the workplace, so make sure you subscribe through your preferred podcast player or streaming service so you never miss an episode. Today, you're hearing from me, Louise, at Texthelp, and I'm joined by Andy Nicholls, a dyslexic employee from the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, and Sam, known online as Sam the Dyslexic, a British police officer. Today, we're going to be exploring dyslexia through their personal experiences, and challenging the misconceptions that exist around dyslexia. We hope to help our listeners to better understand and support dyslexic employees, colleagues, and friends. First, Andy and Sam, it's great to have you on the podcast with us today.
Lovely. Thanks for having me.
Yeah, brilliant. I guess it's a good place to start by actually talking a bit about what dyslexia is. I suppose you can't really start without giving a definition of dyslexia and its background. The British Dyslexia Association classifies dyslexia as a neurological difference that can have a significant impact during education in the workplace and in everyday life. They go on to say that it primarily affects reading and writing skills, but highlights that it doesn't just affect these skills and is actually about information processing. There's a real misconception of what people often associate dyslexia with, and that they often associate it with just reading and writing. But what would you say to that? I suppose, Sam, we'll go to you first.
Yeah. For me, I guess my reading, writing has always been my core issues, but certainly processing information, I would say is quite a big thing. I could give you some examples really. When I was out on patrol with one of my colleagues and we ended up chasing after this burglar, bit of a nasty guy, and caught up with him about five, 10 minutes later. And then, we were writing our statements and we went back and my colleague read my statement for me and proof-read it. And then, he looked at it and started laughing. I was like, "What's up?" And he said, "Well..." I tried to say that I was pursuing the person but I actually wrote, "I was perusing."
My brain interpreted because the way, I guess, my brain works is it looks at the word and sees a pattern, and that pattern was very similar to perusing. Luckily, it didn't go to court because I think the judge would have had a field day, if I said I was perusing a male, rather than actually pursuing him. Yeah. It's not all about reading itself. It is about that decoding and coding that information that you're given. Yeah.
That's a really interesting point. Actually, you say, essentially you'd spelled the word correctly, but you just used the wrong word in that scenario. Often, the assumption is, for people with dyslexia, that their spelling is going to be terrible. But in your case, it was right, it was just using the wrong context.
Yeah, that's correct. Actually, in Microsoft Word, when you right click on a word, if it comes up red, you get given several options. My brain looked at the option that I thought was right, and I was really not. Yeah. I've had that a few times. It gets me in a bit of trouble sometimes, but generally...
I can imagine so. Andy, what's your experience been on this?
Well, for me, I guess until I knew I was dyslexic, I had the same view. But actually looking at my dyslexia, what I found is it's more about comprehension of what I read. I can read it, I just don't understand it. It takes me a long period of time to understand a document. The longer that document is, the worse it is. The other thing I found, personally, is I also lacked some motor skills, like anything with a bat and ball, I'm absolutely useless. I can't hit a ball if my life depended on it, but I'm really good with problem-solving, like model making and things like that. It really wasn't until I did my dyslexia assessment that I understood how deeper the problem was. It wasn't just about, "Oh, you can't read or write properly." It's actually much deeper than that.
I suppose, really thinking about it, that must have a bit of an emotional impact on you. Sam, actually, in one of your blogs, you've actually said that being dyslexic is not just about being able to spell, but actually it has a real emotional impact. Can you share a little bit more about what that means to you and what you sort of mean by this?
Yeah. I'm sorry. I'm full of examples and [crosstalk 00:05:11].
No, that's great.
But day one out a police school, you're out on your own and stuff like that, if you can picture that scenario. I have to go to see, we call it, the lady Mrs. Miggins, for example. I went to see this lady and she had a fence broken down by some kids and she was very upset and I was very serious because it was my first job. I was going to write a statement to the effect of all the damage, and I wrote it all out with the intention of her reading it back. She read it and then she started getting a red pen out, and I was like, "Oh, God. What's going on?" She literally... Like teachers get their pen and they correct everything.
Marked your work.
She did that, made me rewrite it. Turns out she was an ex-head school teacher. In relation to that, the emotions there at the time, I was brand new police officer. I was really trying to impress, and someone's corrected everything you've done and it makes you feel that you... And then, I almost questioned, "Am I good enough to do this job? Am I good enough to be a police officer, because I can't do the core, the basics? I can't write a statement without someone spell checking it." It really was quite emotional-type thing to start. It took a little while of, me making loads more mistakes to actually think, "Do you know what? No. Actually, it doesn't matter." It's not about the spelling. I've been to court for multiple trials now, and I've had to stand up and they read my evidence. And yeah, there are spelling mistakes, but it's never lost the case. But at that time, being brand new, it was horrible. Yeah. It wasn't very nice. Like I say, it's funny now.
Yeah. I suppose if you take that in any scenario, the first day on the job, or even the first week or month, you really want to sort of impress. It's very easy to see why those little things would sort of make you maybe anxious or nervous or think that your employers might be looking at you in a different way. Andy, is there any experiences that you wanted to share, maybe how that has impacted on your sort of emotional impact, maybe perhaps when you were younger or even now as you're older?
I'm taking us back to the 1970s when the world and dyslexia wasn't fully understood and education was very different. I didn't fit into mainstream primary schools at all. I was a loner. I withdrew a lot. I didn't really understand why. I was too young. Luckily, my mother, because she went to church, they had a local convent that offered me a place for nothing. It was a private school, but they decided to give me a free place because I was struggling. At that school, there was a nun who understood or recognized there was a problem with my reading and writing. It wasn't just because it couldn't do it, it was something to do with the function of it. I'm not sure if she understood I was dyslexic, but she knew there was an issue, so I was given one-to-one tutoring. It's down to her that I can probably read and write now, because up until seven, I couldn't.
She got me into reading. But of course, once I broke away from primary school and that protection, because I was protected, I went into secondary education and fell apart, basically, in terms of... I was just stigmatized by being thick or, "Why don't you understand?" Even my parents, to a degree, didn't really get it. They thought I was either wasn't working or just, "What's wrong with you? Why don't you understand it?" My self-esteem was pretty low, really. Got bullied quite heavily because of that, and hated school. My latter years at school, probably till I was 14, were pretty awful. Then, we moved home. Lucky enough, I fell into an ex-grammar school that only had about 200 children. And again, a couple of teachers there recognized there was an issue, maybe not quite the issue was. Gave me a one-to-one. Actually boosted my confidence, at least when I left at 16, or something to go into the employment world with.
I guess, really, it wasn't till I was diagnosed. I look back on the last 30, 40 years and think, "Now, I understand all those hiccups that happened along the way and how..." When I was 16, I was very, very lacking in self-confidence completely. That changed considerably once I joined the ambulance service because you had to come forward. I think I only really joined because, again, the people that selected me understood that while I wasn't academic, I had an ability in communication, verbally communicating, connecting with people, that would assist me and enabled me to deal with patients. Because, obviously, that's not really an academic skill. Again, it was a series of events that... People really having an understanding that something was wrong, but not really, but doing something positive about it, for me, that enabled me to be where I am now, really, and I thank them for that. Otherwise, wouldn't be here, that thing.
That's amazing just to hear how the influence of one person or a teacher at school can change your whole experience, just by giving you that little bit of understanding and, I suppose, time and just letting you kind of express yourself in, probably, a little bit of a different way.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it's good to see now, schools are much more special needs-based. Certainly, when I moved into the employment world, it was only after I was diagnosed that my own employer, the NHS, had to jump through hoops to help me. Not because I really think they wanted to, but because they were signed up to the Two Ticks disability scheme as it was then, and they felt they had to, rather than... But again, it was down to one particular manager and a series of other managers picked up there was a problem, and got the assessment done. If that hadn't happened, I'd still be struggling as I... Or not struggling, but not understanding why I couldn't do the things I wanted to do, I guess.
Yeah. I suppose it is true. You touched on that there, that the awareness of dyslexia and education now is so much higher, and children can get assessed as young as five or six. It's very early that the students are getting that support. But for yourself, you were diagnosed much later. I think that's a story that a lot of people will relate to. What was the turning point that actually led to your diagnosis, for you to go, "I definitely need to look at this"?
Sure. When I joined the ambulance service in 1980s, I would say it wasn't university-based, it wasn't academic-led. It was a more practical vocation that you learned as you went along. As technology, and we, advanced into paramedics and all that sort of stuff, the assessments became harder. The documentation became harder. In about, I don't know, the early 2010 onwards, we were having to see much more clinical documentation than we'd ever done before. We used to have a patient report form that you wrote into, and it was always on a bus sheet. And overnight, they decided, because it was cheaper, they'd do it on a white one with black writing. The first day that happened, I just found myself struggling to fill this form in to the point where I got reported for being at the hospital. If you were at hospital too long doing documentation, you used to get your times recorded and reported to your manager for being at the hospital too long.
Yeah. They probably thought you were mucking around, having tea. Consequently, I went before him for an informal disciplinary. And out of that, I said, "Look, I can't fill this form in. This is my part, and I'm really struggling. It frustrates me. I don't understand." He just said to me, "Have you got dyslexia?" And I said, "I don't know. How would I know that?" He said, "Because it seems to me there's an issue around this form, and I've had another person in the other side of the counter with a different issue about reading writing so I've just got him assessed. I'm wondering if I should get you assessed. Because apparently, there's a pot of money we can use." That's how the ball got rolling, really. I think that it was only when that manager said, "Look, I think you should have the assessment," that things started to move forward for me personally, and and physically, I guess.
But it's crazy to think that just a small kind of internal change in a form was enough to kind of alert that there was an assessment need there. Obviously, we've talked a lot about the barriers that you faced and some of the challenges that you faced, but I want to talk about some of the strengths that are really associated with dyslexia too. Sam, what would you say some of the challenges are for those who think dyslexia is a disability?
In the police, it's one of these things. I think that most police officers who have dyslexia, a lot of them will try and hide it in a sense. I can't say that for everyone, but the majority of people that I spoke to in my force, they tend to hide it. I think one of the challenges that you would have is for that person to actually almost admit that they need help, because multiple people that I know have got down that rabbit hole, where they've got to a point where it's almost like they've gone too far, like they're almost feeling like they need to leave the job and stuff, when maybe it could have been intervened a little bit earlier. To me, that's a personal challenge. But then, you've also got the challenge of supervisors. Supervisors can either be pro or they can be quite negative depending on their attitudes, which then affect your attitude, so it goes round in circles. That's my initial obvious ones, I would say, in relation to that.
It's quite interesting. We've done a lot of work, actually, with police forces. It's probably one of the industries or career paths that we would actually say is probably the most aware of dyslexia. Is there something happening in police forces? Is there more of an awareness that you think is maybe happening? Is there still a lot more to do, and it just so happens that the staff are a little bit more, maybe, open to chat about things?
For me, it all started with e-learning. It used to always be like Wednesdays was training day and you used to have, I guess, a teacher that would come in and give you all the learning updates. But now, it's all online, so that you can do it in your own time, which has its benefits, I guess, because it can be done at any time. But with e-learning, that was always my problems. I used to struggle with that because, one, the time of day that you had to do it was generally at night, because most times you'd be out on patrol or there'd be 999 calls coming in. So, nighttime was always a little bit quieter. For me, I was like, "Where do I go with this?" I felt like, at the time, there wasn't much support in the police force for it. But what the police, certainly in the force that I work for, have developed the things called culture boards.
That is basically a forum where people can take issues and problems. Senior management listens to that, and they sit there. They chair it effectively. I took it to our local division one and spoke to someone. That actually, then, sort of set off a bit of a chain reaction in my force for support workshops. They started doing some workshops in relation for supervisors so that they would have, maybe, a better understanding of how to manage people with dyslexia. Because a lot of the time, it's not that I don't want to work, I really want to work. But as a manager, if you're going to overload me with work, I'm probably going to fail because my brain is not able to process the same amount as, maybe, someone else.
I think in the sense of that, that has really shaped it, and I think with social media and stuff like that. Hopefully people like myself... I quite like talking about my mistakes. I quite like talking about my experiences. Because like I said earlier, a lot of police officers don't want to talk about being dyslexic, so my goal is to try and encourage people, say, Actually, it's all right." If you talk about it, then that's the only way that people can drive change if they know about it. I think outlets like the culture board are really good things, and I think that may help and pave the way forward to get more support to people.
That's really great insight. Really appreciate that, Sam. Andy, I know you're a strong advocate for saying dyslexia as a gift and not as a disability. What are your thoughts around this, and what would you say to challenge those who see dyslexia as a disability?
Okay. I would say to them, "I understand." Because when I was 14, 15, it felt like that to me until I understood, actually, whilst I couldn't maybe transfer what I was saying in pen or paper, I could do it in a different way. Verbally, I could stand up in group. I remember a day when I... I got into training within the ambulance service for a while, and they asked me to go to an event and give a lecture about our current practice for patients suffering a heart attack, what we did to them. A group of, I think it was WWI women or something, but what I didn't know there was 150 of them there. I, without warning, entered into this room with 10 minutes to go and thought, Oh my goodness, it's 150 people there and I'm going to have to get up on that stage."
I got up there and did it, and I thought, "Wow, I did that. I didn't actually feel very stressful. I actually enjoyed it." And I thought, "Okay. This is a skill I have. This is the gift. I may not have this gift, but I've got that one, and that one is enabling me to talk to people on a one-to-one or as a group." Once I understood that, I decided that rather than let the dyslexia have negative impact on me, it have a positive. So once I crossed that bridge, I suddenly thought, "Actually, I'm not ashamed of it anymore." I see that lack of diversity has given me this type of diversity now.
I suppose, again, in that situation, it's so daunting and you do wonder whether you'd be able. But as I say, that's where you actually find your strength. That's great. I suppose, really moving on then, in terms of getting in to the rule. In terms of the application process, interview process, we know that about 52% of dyslexic applicants experienced discrimination during interview or selection process. Sam, how did you find that process? Were there barriers in place? Was it harder or were there sort of some ways that you find it was quite easy to apply? What was your application process really like?
I've written this in my blog actually because I feel quite passionate about it. My first experience was I got through the paper sifts. I wrote that I was dyslexic and then I went to like a pre-interview briefing assessment center. The pre-briefing was basically, you turned up and they gave you an insight to what the exam and the assessment was going to be like. But what they did do, was they showed you this amazing video with helicopters, boats, police officers chasing everyone. It was awesome. You sit there and if you want to be a police officer, you're actually like, "Oh, yeah. This is quite good. I'm really enjoying this." And then, they gave me the details of the exam. There was 200 people. They gave everyone.
And then, there was the person who was leading it, called out saying, "Okay. Everyone, see you next, blah, blah," what the date was. But, "Is there a Sam here? Can you stay behind?" I was like, "Oh, yeah. Okay," looking around." Everyone's trying to look to see who this person is and I'm thinking, "Oh dear, okay. This is not good." I went to see that person at the end. He said, "Are you Sam? I said, "Yes." They said, "Look, just so you know, we can't discriminate in relation to the exam." I thought, "Oh, that's good." That's a positive thing. And they said, "Against everyone else..." I was like, "Oh, okay. That's interesting." And they said, "Well, there's a five spelling sort of limit. If you basically go over that, then you automatically fail the test no matter how well you've done."
That threw me back. And I was like, "How can I get by this?" I can't, unless I memorize the whole diction, or try and change everything I've done since I was a child, it's not going to happen. What they said was, "Well, maybe you should use simpler words," and I kind of bit a little bit and said, "Okay. Do you want me to bring my crayons as well?" That didn't go down well, and I wouldn't advise anyone to say that. But yeah, I did the exam. I did really hard. Yeah, I failed it. They offered me a different role so I did that. And then later on, I came back. Barrier-wise, that, for me, is a huge barrier. It did make me wonder if I'm good enough to do one role, why you frank some barriers in front of me for this one? Yeah, it's interesting.
Yeah. It's interesting, even when you mentioned about the cap on the spelling mistake. I think, probably, neurotypical individuals may struggle even to have, perhaps, less than five. That in itself is a huge kind of barrier to be faced, I suppose, even be faced with before you even get to the next stage, to know that that's coming, I suppose, psychologically, that probably gets in your head a little bit too.
Yeah. Going back to what you said earlier about the emotional sides, I went home thinking I've just watched that amazing video with everything that was going on. And then, that had literally just been taken away from me, and from one person making that comment. It was just like, "Well, what's the point? Should I do this? If I can't do this, what job am I going to be able to get?" Yeah, it did. It really had an effect on your state of mind because you then doubted yourself as being a capable person.
Mm-hmm (affirmative). I have to say, I'm really intrigued to see this. What I'm imagining is some Marvel-type movie of sort of an induction into the role. It sounds pretty impressive. But I suppose, moving on, Andy, what's your experience been on this?
Yeah, I guess for me, personally, it was internally. If I went for lots of internal promotions and a couple of those were academically-based, certainly your paramedic training, you had to do a refresher every year where you get put under pressure and different things. I found some people's view or their inability to be flexible was discouraging, especially working within a health provider. Working for an NHS body, you think you'd have a really good understanding of disabilities and diversity. They did, for the label, but not actually did they, say, functioning. A classic I remember is not being able to calculate a drug dosage for a... I was doing an assessment for a three-and-a-half year-old child, and I had to calculate a series of drugs. The more pressure the instructor put me under, the worse it got, of course.
I just had to say, "Look, I cannot do this. You're putting me under..." The irony is you don't actually have to calculate those doses. You shouldn't. The best practice is you should have an algorithm to work through. I just felt he was in a position where he had the power, and he was exerting that power, probably didn't realize it. Just nearly maybe cave in half, and it was only because I guess I'm quite a pragmatic person that I felt, "Well, that's just one person, isn't it, a series of people?" I appreciate that some people may have tremendous problems when they go for assessment, especially when you're in a room of 50 people or doing a paper exercise. Most employers just want to get somebody into the system. They're not really focused on, "Do I need to give that person more time?" But of course, in doing that, they missed the very person that would be such an asset to their company, I think.
Yeah. I mean, we've done a lot of work around the strengths that individuals with dyslexia have in terms of problem solving, creative thinking. Actually, are there processes in place to stop you from getting those people that are the exact type of people that you want in your organization?
Definitely. The thing for me about diversity is diverse people bring you a different outlook on whatever your services, delivering... Well, I'll say, emergency service or business. And not oddly enough, a lot of people within the emergency services have dyslexia because we're really good at communicating with people, and quite often. Whether you're a police officer or whatever, you're communicating with people, either the crew you're working with or people under extreme stress and pressure that you need to gain control of and help. I would say to employers, if they're listening to this, is embrace it. Don't think it's a nuisance. Don't think you have to do it or, "I have to do this because I've signed up to this, that and the other." Do it because you may actually attract somebody with a creative, diverse thinking that will provide you with something that is unique, and you will not be able to see that on an application form. That's the problem, I think. If you're looking at application forms, you don't see people. You just see bits of paper with writing on.
Yeah. Sam, in terms within your actual work now, you finally got the role, then, that you wanted in the place. When you got there, what supports did you have at work? Were you able to get those easily? What was the kind of process when you were in place?
Starting from... I was on the general 999 calls and stuff like that. I did really struggle with the paperwork side and the case files, but I was quite lucky in a sense that I was very good at the practical sides of actually going out and stopping people and getting some jobs in. If I hadn't had done that, then I think I would have been on a bit of a downward spiral. But because I had that, I was then able to progress into more of like a sort of tactically area. Now, I'm on the Marine unit within my force. But to get there, with the support I needed, I needed things like laptops and stuff like that, and even, sometimes, just a supportive supervisor. Sometimes, it's just really simple things that enable you to get on and... I had a really good supervisor, and she enabled me then to move on to some monitoring jobs, by not doing my work for me at all, but actually spending maybe a tiny little bit more time and just explaining a few things and helping tweak things. And then, that enabled me really to fly into the role I am now and doing all right. I'm still in the job, so I'm doing okay.
But yeah, it's technology. Such things as the Texthelp actually really helped me. I'll go back to the, me, reading the wrong word when you right-click. One of the good things about Texthelp, for me, that was the main thing that's helped me, and has probably helped my statements by a hundred percent is when you right-click on that word, rather than just giving you that word, it actually puts it into a context. For me, I look at that words and go, "Okay. Peruse, that's not the right word so I'm not looking at that." Yeah, for me, that really helped and it helped me get where I am. My statements are amazing now because there are hardly any spelling mistakes.
Yeah. I think that's something. Obviously, assistive technology is designed there to really do what it says in the tin, and that provides that assistive support when you're using digital resources in the workplace. And obviously, the Read&Write software, which you mentioned there, is really designed to support individuals with neurodiversity such as dyslexia. I think it's really interesting there just to hear how, in particular, one tool can really help you look at the different options of wording and hearing that support. That's really valuable, really appreciate that, Sam. In terms then of what difference Read&Write has really made your working day... I mean, you'd mentioned there, obviously, about our feature of allowing you to select different words, to add the correct word and go above and beyond, really, what Microsoft did. But as I say, is there any other tools that you would use, maybe, every day or particular tools that really help you during the working day?
Yeah. For me, it's a bit of a cliche-type thing. I guess, that color filter papers and stuff like that, and like I say about the glasses, that actually does help generally, I think for everyone. I speak to my wife and say, when she's reading, black on white is quite difficult way of reading anyway. And if anyone puts a slight tint of color over, it actually really, really helps. For me, it helps massively. With Texthelp that we had at work, because everyone had access to it, sometimes when you try and change the color in certain screens, some programs didn't actually work with. But with Texthelp, it actually did, or most of the police applications here. It enabled the boxes that wouldn't... For me, only words that I could make it orange or purple text. I was able to fill in the boxes that I couldn't do. That really helped. There's part of it I use, the read back part, as well. Yeah, there's loads and little bits, but the spelling one was always the big one for me and that hugely helped me. Yeah.
Yeah. It's interesting actually that you mentioned the color because, obviously, with COVID and everybody having to work from home for so long, it was actually one of the features that we were finding there was a lot of interest in. Because all of a sudden, people were working from their kitchen table or their dining room or a box room where the lighting was totally off from what they were used to in the office, and people were getting real sort of visual stress, fatigue, because they were looking at the bright screen in a different colored room. Whereas, a lot of people were then looking at those options of color filters to put over their screen, so it's interesting then, just how the tool can really adapt to the different needs of individuals. Andy, what supports, if any, did you have in work to help you to do your day-to-day work?
Okay. Well, pretty much anything I need to [inaudible 00:32:26] because there's a vast range obviously, of what you may need or don't need. I think personally, it's an understanding of the problem and that, "Andy's one of the team. He has this specific diversity. So-and-so has this one, but we all come together to deliver this." I'm not labeled as the disabled lad in the corner anymore, or the disability lad or the dyslexic lad. I'm just part of the team, but there are people within the organization. Every month, they have a dyslexia group that meet online at the moment, where they can share stories or whatever about their... It's encouraged to tell when something's not going right. This is how it shows how it can go to the top. I won't bore you too much.
Every fire rescue service has to have an inspection by an inspector from the government to make sure they're fulfilling lots of criteria to do the response targets and training, but also about diversity and what they're doing with HR and stuff. I sent that group of people, when they were doing inspection, just say, "Look, I think actually, it's pretty much the gold standard in terms of where I've been before and how they embrace diversity within the organization." Unbeknown to me, is the chief fire officer gets a copy of every single comment that somebody puts in. Obviously, I sent it to a series of people by mistake. I didn't realize I'd hit... When you hit an email and it goes to the world by mistake. Well, I'd done that and it arrived on his desk. Very shortly, got a phone call asking to meet me. And from that point, we had coffee and he wants to know more and we was happy that... Because his thought was, "As a leader, I want people within managers, within the organization to embrace this and take it on board." It's all very well saying mission statements, but do they mean anything if the people are middle management and not telling anything about it?
I was quite pleased that with all the other things he's got to think about, diversity and the disability and dyslexia was actively on his mind. I think that shows because it's trickled down through the organization.
We've heard that many times from different organizations, where they've tried to speak to management or in fact their boss and ask for help. And often, they're kind of sent away or said, "No, it can't be that." Do you think there's enough done to actually enable managers to provide that type of support or to be aware at least of that type of support?
Probably not. If I was to look at my fire service employment... When I left the ambulance service, I joined the fire rescue service. Their approach has been completely different because I've been very open and transparent about it. And what they've done is embrace that disability or diversity, really, I think. Rather than throw hurdles in the way, they've helped me get over the hurdles, whatever they may be. Even when they didn't know me and I went for the interview and I declared that I had dyslexia, I got rung by the HR department the next to see what they could do to make my life easier in terms of the actual interview procedure and to relay me that there wasn't an exam. If there was, they'd give me as much time. They were very flexible. They had a diversity and inclusion officer within the organization. Within the NHS, within the ambulance service, we didn't even have that at that time. We had nobody that was specifically designed or tasked towards looking at diversity and inclusion within the organization, and I think that's another thing within organizations they could do to enable managers to get, not just an afternoon session within a management meeting, but a more functional day-to-day understanding of what dyslexia is all about because every individual is slightly different, of course. My particular dysfunction won't be somebody else's, et cetera.
I mean, that's amazing for you to go into a workplace now that, from the get-go, was fully embracing and offering the support that you needed just to do the job that you wanted to do.
Absolutely. Bearing in mind, I hadn't had an interview, a proper formal interview from another organization for 31 years. It was quite daunting. I didn't really know anyone. I knew lots about the role and the job but, initially, I was panicked. I thought, Oh, if they put me in front of a piece of paper with 20 questions and I've got half an hour, that's going to put me under..." I almost felt myself welling out pressure. That one call from HR... It wasn't just because she rung me, the young girl who spoke to me, I actually had an understanding what it was about. She didn't just say, "Okay, you have dyslexia. This is what we'll do for you." She said, "What do you need from us? What problems do you have," et cetera. I thought that was an embracing moment for me. Because the minute that happened, I thought, "Actually, I quite like to work for these people because they seem to have an idea of what my particular disability is about," because there's a whole range of different other things as well, but they seem to have a good understanding of that.
Yeah. I suppose you've seen both sides of it really. For you, I mean, definitely the benefits are working with an organization who wants to help and provide support.
Yeah, definitely. Definitely. They get more out of me, of course, as well. That's other thing, so it's a win-win, really.
I think at this point, it's worth noting that supporting and normalizing support for employees is so important. Not everyone knows that they are dyslexic. And of course, you have people that don't always feel comfortable to actually disclose that they are dyslexic. Sam, any thoughts on how organizations can try to normalize the support?
I think, for me, some organizations need to look into their staff a little bit more, as in make themselves more approachable in a sense, really. I basically chucked an email out a while ago, to give my experiences, to see if anyone else was in the same boat. From that email, I just threw myself under the bus and gave them all these stories that I had, stories that people will probably be a bit embarrassed about and would not want sent to thousands of offices. That can get loads of replies. There was a whole mixture of people, from people that thought they were dyslexic, to people... One guy said he was days away from leaving the job because he was meant to have a laptop and he didn't get given it, and the organization wasn't doing this.
I think, sometimes, it's about how the organization manages... It's difficult to say... manages how to help people or identify that people need help. If they made themselves more approachable to any organization, then a person like me or you, or whoever, may feel more comfortable to go and speak to them. But if that organization is more closed, and it's something we don't talk about, then that person who needs the laptop, for example, is going to fail and they are going to leave because they've got no outlet or no way of being able to help. I think for organizations, if they have that sort of chain of how they can help people, or at least find out if people need help, then that's got to be a key point, really hold the fort.
Yeah, I suppose that really having the processes in place and making everybody aware that there is support there and the processes X, Y, Z, this is the person, this is the team. Because I think for a lot of people as well, as you had mentioned, they don't want to be seen to sort of be causing a fuss or bothering anybody, trying to get the support. But actually, it's the support they need to do their job, and they're well within their rights to ask for that support to do the job that they were hired to do.
Yeah. Sometimes processes are amazing, but I found a lot of people opened up to me because I was just a PC. The person who was the SPOC for the area was like an inspector, and really nice person, but people opened up to me because they knew I was just a PC. I had people of rank also messaging me in relation to them, thinking they were dyslexic. I think I put it across as a very informal way of how I was. Sometimes, formalities are good. But, actually, to be that personalized, to have that connection between people and for someone to actually feel comfortable to say, "I'm having problems," you almost need a... I was like an unofficial SPOC, I guess, for my work. It's having that balance of someone having a process that it gets identified, but also having that approachable side where it doesn't feel like it's very corporate and very official, just to make that person feel a little bit more comfortable in actually saying, "I need help."
Yeah. I really liked that, the point you're making about making, almost, the process of it, human, where it's not very clinical and you don't have to fill out a form and it's stamped. It's just having somebody to talk to, get advice from. I suppose, you hear the example of that ripple effect. If one person stands up and says they need help, or they've got help, you'll start to see other people slowly, but surely step in forward, trying to either come forward or be that mentor, if you like, or support for somebody who may need it.
Yeah, definitely. That was one organization that I put out an email to. If you think how many organizations there are, not just the police, but private, public, there's probably multiple people that are out there that just do not feel competent in actually saying, "I need help." Whose responsibility is that? Is that the person needing to force that, or is it the organization, to step up and say, "Actually, do you know what? We actually need to try and support people. We may not know the person needs support, but we should actually offer a bit of an outlet so that they can speak to us"?
Yeah. I think that's a really interesting point. We hear time and time again from organizations, "Oh, we don't have anybody who's dyslexic in the organization," or, "We don't have anybody who needs that support." We would always ask, "Well, how do you know? Do you have organized chats? Do you have champion teams? Do you have networks?" And says, "Oh, no. Just nobody's come forward." It's almost that little bit of naivety to think that, "Okay. Well, just because you haven't asked, doesn't necessarily mean there's nobody there." It is probably that starting the entire process, but starting that kind of awareness of different conditions and making people feel that they can come forward and ask. I suppose, it's a really big thing. Anything you would want to add at this point, Andy?
Again, it's about talking about it and being open. I think this podcast is a good example of that. Because if you're an employer listening to this today, if you post this on your workplace Facebook page, or whatever you got, internal communication, people can learn, and encourage people to listen to it. Listen to it in the course of their work to get a better understanding of how it impacts the individual, rather than the stereotypical individual, because we're all going to be different. Again, it's not about, "Oh, let's spend a half an hour on dyslexia on a management away day. Let's actually bring somebody in or a team of experts that can actually show us the tools we can use to tell our employees, 'Look, we understand some of you may have this problem, that don't won't share it or feel uncomfortable,' treat it in confidentiality. This is what we can do for you. Have nominated people within the organization that are appointed people. You can go and speak to your peer, support group of workers."
Certainly within fire and safety, we have an online workplace that is heavily loaded with different people sharing their experiences in different forums. Part of that work group, every month, is to share stories. Those stories are shared by the communications team to embrace and say, "Look, if you're out there, struggling, and you're not sure, come to us." Now, if you're not dyslexic, that's fine. You don't have to. But at least you'll know, won't you? You'll have a better understanding of maybe what's going on.
Yeah. It's something we have talked about in previous podcasts and some of our resources that we provide as well. Actually, tools that may have been developed for individuals with dyslexia do have benefits for everybody.
Definitely. I think, looking back on the last 18 months, everyone has been under a degree of stress. If you're homeschooling as well, that's another challenge added to the basket, probably the biggest challenge of ever. Also, the other thing, it gives you a breathing space. If a document is being read to you over a PC, it just gives your eyes a bit of a rest. You can just sit back and have a cup of tea and listen to the document. Actually information that's read to you is often received... I've received that much better, and I guess most people do, than actually reading it off a white piece of paper and you've got trolls and trolls of stuff to get through. I would say any tool can help anyone, really. It's not about labeling dyslexics, but enabling anyone to use it, maybe. It's the way forward.
Yeah, definitely. I mean, that's great. Suppose, probably then, the next question would be, what would be your key piece of advice, Sam, to any organization on how they could make staff feel secure enough to open up about their challenge?
Listen. Simply, really listen. And like I talked about the culture boards, make yourself more approachable. Because at the end of the day, a business is in it for either money or some kind of aim or objective, and they're not going to achieve that. If their staff, feeling that they're not being supported because they're not going to... They're not being able to be productive because there's probably a reason why they're not being productive. I think sometimes organizations can be very much, "Right, okay. This person's not performing so we're going to performance manage them." Well, actually let's look at it. What is the issue? Is it dyslexia? And if it is dyslexia, how can we fix this? Sometimes, it needs only tiny little tweaks that need to change to make the bigger thing, like me and the spell check. Huge, isn't it?
Yeah, listen. That's the best thing I'd advice, I'd say, to organizations.
No. That's really great. Andy, what's your thoughts on this?
I think it's be open and start the conversation. Enable that employee to go and speak to somebody, and make your frontline managers aware of the problem. Not just your executive team or your board members or all these little people that are going to get little ticks in their boxes for covering all of these things, but actually the people on the ground, the people who are working face-to-face with people. Like me, when somebody comes with a problem, I can't do this. Somebody is thinking, "Okay. Maybe this person has got a problem, like dyslexia, that we need to look into. We can support them, help them, pay for the test," because the actual assessment is very expensive and I didn't have to pay for that. Then from there, I think they get so much more. It also starts the conversation in the workplace with people talking about their family, because that's the other thing. We all got families with problems. Actually sometimes, you as an employee, having a problem with a loved one who's got dyslexia, or a child, you can actually talk to somebody or say, "Well, yeah. I've got dyslexia." And it's like, "Oh, I'm really worried about my son." And that, again, opens, I guess, your business. It's more than just a business. It's a family business about other people.
As you say, it's that personal side of somebody will know somebody who either has, or is maybe aware that there might be challenges. Again, you'll always find somebody to kind of bounce off and have that conversation with.
I suppose that really leads on again to another point of... Your passion for dyslexia really has been shining through, through our conversation. But what is it that really drives you then to talk about it and to be open about it?
I don't think I want anyone to suffer what I suffered in terms of humiliation, guilt. If I look at my childhood years, there were some happy moments, but they were when I was dealing with people that understood what was going on or had an understanding that something was wrong. If I'd have been embraced earlier on in education, I think I would have become much more confident when I left school and through my early adult hood, and would have enabled me to... My parents would have had a better understanding, more support. And also, humiliation. I carried this weight of, "There's something wrong, but I don't know what it is. Why can't I do what they want me to do?" I think that's what I want, is other people to maybe listen to this. If they are unsure to go and get help or speak to somebody or talk to you guys or talk to an organization, that may give them advice as to what to do next, because I appreciate not all employers are going to be as supportive as the one I've got now.
No. That's really great. It's so clear to say that your passion kind of really shines out in what you're trying to do. I suppose, really, I know that both of you are very open about your experiences on social media. Sam, was it an easy thing for you to do, to open up to that wider challenge, actually looking outside of your organization, speaking out to, perhaps, a broader audience about some of the challenges that you faced?
Yeah. I suppose, yeah. I know you've read some of my blogs. And if you look at my first, probably, four blogs, none of them were about the Old Bill. My mindset was, "I'm never going to write about this." And then, when I started thinking, "Actually, there are people out there that, probably, in the police that probably could benefit from this," I decided, "Do you know what?" This might be a good idea." I didn't want to just go and write it and then get in trouble at work because the job... Or I was trying to upset them or whatever. I really tried to work with them, and it did take a good six months for us to both agree on what I could and couldn't write about.
Following that now, they're pretty much okay about it because they know it's not a negative and it's actually positive. Yeah, it was a bit of a challenge for me because of, one, thinking, "Oh, I'm going to have to say what I do and show..." Does it undermine your credibility or anything like that? But no, it doesn't. Two, now the organization's happy, I can talk a little bit more and work with them and talk about the positives. It's not all about negatives. It's not all about saying, "Oh, this organization's not doing this. It's not doing that." It's actually saying, "Look at actually what they're doing. They are actually trying." By doing this, you can actually focus their attention of where they should be looking so it actually helps.
Yeah. Yeah. No. I think, as I say, it's really great to see your passion around this and I'm sure there's many, many people have probably looked to your blogs for support or advice, or help them on how they can do, so keep up the good work. I think that's all we have time for today. It's been really great to have you here, to shed some light on your own personal experiences, so thank you both for joining us today. To our listeners, thanks for listening. If you'd like to find out more about how Texthelp literacy support software can help support your employees with dyslexia, visit text.help/dyslexia-software. You can also hear more from Sam at samthedyslexic.com, and Andy, over on Twitter @nickolls_andy. Don't forget to subscribe to Texthelp Talks on your preferred podcast player or streaming service to catch the next episode. Thanks again. Bye.