Changing the narrative: unlocking potential through Dyslexic thinking
Research from leading charity, Made by Dyslexia and ManPower Group found that by 2025 humans & machines will split work 50:50. The 50% that are ‘human’ skills are also Dyslexic Thinking Skills. This means that if at school and work we’re not all able to succeed, that’s a problem for everyone.
We need to redefine dyslexia for the 21st century by educating workplaces and education systems to understand dyslexia as a strength. In this podcast episode, we’ll be learning from lived experiences. Joining us is Lynsey Redpath, a fellow Texthelper with Dyslexia who is breaking down stigma and shouting about the power of her Dyslexic thinking.
Here's your one thing to do after listening to the episode. Sign up for our Inclusion Festivals for free Professional Development and expert advice. For schools, colleges and universities, visit text.help/education. And for workplace support, go to text.help/workplaces
Download a copy of Lord Holmes' report into the Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA)
Hello everyone, I'm Donna Thomson and welcome to the latest episode of Texthelp Talks podcast. This is where we chat to experts and friends from the education arena and the workplace who share our passion for making our schools, our colleges, and our workplaces much more accessible and inclusive. So if you haven't done so already, subscribe to Texthelp Talks through your preferred podcast player or streaming service so you never miss an episode. This season we're talking all things dyslexia, and today I'm joined by my fellow Texthelper, Lynsey Redpath. Lynsey has dyslexia and she has very kindly agreed to tell us how she uses her dyslexic thinking skills to succeed in work and beyond. So Lynsey will also share some personal insights into some of the ways she breaks down communication barriers. And after our chat, you will leave with one thing to know, one thing to do and one thing to think about. So let's get started. Lynsey, it's great to have you on the podcast today.
Lynsey Redpath (01:09):
Hi Donna, how are you doing?
I'm good, thanks. So strange interviewing somebody that you know.
I know. Exactly.
Well listen, I think probably first of all we should set the scene on dyslexia. So it's reported that approximately 10% of us have some form of dyslexia, but we know that many people go undiagnosed. So this number is probably closer to 15 to 20% of the population. So Lynsey, I know that your parents have been always great supporters and advocates for you, and you received your diagnosis early on in primary school. So can you maybe start by telling us a little bit about how this diagnosis and label made you feel at the time?
Yeah, absolutely. So my parents are both teachers, so they were able to spot the signs of dyslexia pretty young. So I feel very fortunate that they were able to guide me in the right direction and really intervene to get the right support. I probably hated them for it to be honest at the time because I was diagnosed at eight years old in primary four and you were sort of labeled the stupid kid in class. So for me, my confidence was harmed. I was the odd one out in the class. And I was probably in a very academic school and it didn't really suit me, to be honest. So I'm glad to see that things have changed. But at a young age, you were left to feel slightly isolated, I suppose.
Yeah, I can totally understand that. I mean, I think back to when I was at primary school. It was just a few years ago. But all I really wanted to do was fit in so I can really understand how getting that diagnosis at such an early age can often cause anxiety too. It's the unknown, isn't it? When your friends treat you any differently, your teachers, your family even. So it is great to hear that your parents at least were very supportive. So of course, for many, getting the diagnosis is only the first step. Many people are unaware of the support that's available or even where to get it. So Lynsey, how supportive were your teachers and what was your school experience like? You've hinted about that already.
Yeah, I always talk about this. My first memory of having dyslexia, and it was in primary four, and the solutions available to me were yellow overlay that I would put over my work and a pair of bifocals. And I think I used those materials once because I just felt so the odd one out. That was not the right solution for me as it was very, very obvious, not discreet at all. And primary school wasn't a good experience at all for me. And unfortunately I didn't have the support from the teachers.
And I don't know if it's because it was old school, it wasn't a thing back then to provide support to those that had additional learning needs. But for example, I was told in primary six that I would never pass GCSE English or maths. And to be 10 years old, my confidence just went through the floor. And it wasn't until I went to secondary school, I went to a school in Belfast called Hunterhouse, and I met the most amazing English teacher and she just completely turned everything around for me. And actually I'm always very proud that I got an A in GCSE English and-
-I didn't fail. And I got a B in Maths and it was really just finding the right teacher to give you the confidence, the help, the support, without making you feel like a failure to be honest. So two different experiences-
It makes me wonder, Lynsey, I know we hadn't thought about talking about this, but you're old primary school, I wonder what they do now. Do they do anything any different now? You can probably think back yourself.
I hope so. Yeah. I do hope so. Do you know what? I know they do. Because my dad's ... he was a primary school principal. And the teacher that was his special educational needs coordinator is now principal of that primary school. So I have no doubt that it's a completely different era of support available to children. So yes, that teacher I didn't have a good experience with. But it just wasn't ... They probably didn't know what to do with you. Didn't know what to do with me back then in the 90s.
Yeah. It's nice to know things have definitely changed for the better as the years have gone by.
Well listen, I know we've gone off piste a bit already, not surprisingly, but I want to fast forward a little bit into your final year at university. Because despite having your dyslexia diagnosis from a young age, you did progress through your education without really benefiting from and knowing about the support that was available. So I know you discovered in your final year that you could get help through the DSA, the Disabled Students' Allowance. So firstly I'm interested to know how you found out about it but I'm also keen to know what the application process was like for you.
So yes, I went to Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh to study business management and marketing. And it wasn't until, as you say, towards the end of my education that I realised there was actually a lot of support available to myself. And this came about by ... In your final years you get a mentor and I told my mentor that I was dyslexic. And she assumed I had all of this support and I was like, "Nope, don't know anything about that." So she pointed me in the right direction and very quickly I was given the support that I needed.
I got a Disabled Students' Allowance assessor to assess me and give me all of the tools I needed. So that included technology, as in a laptop, a Dictaphone to use in classes. I also got copies of Read&Write, one of the Texthelp products, and Sonocent, another EdTech product. But the other piece you get when you go through the Disabled Students' Allowance is support in exams. So extra time in exams or doing an exam in a quieter room if you're easily distracted. Doing an exam on a laptop or computer if you jumble things around a lot. So this was really, to be honest, I think fundamental to the success. I graduated with a first class honours and a published dissertation.
Which going back to that P six teacher, a published dissertation is something I would never have thought was avail-
Possible for me. But with the right support and tools, anything was possible to be honest.
That's fantastic. So you did get quite a bit of support then from the DSA?
Yeah. A lot.
Yeah. Well, I know you mentioned Read&Write there, so maybe I should just explain for any of our new listeners that Read&Write is inclusive technology that supports people who think, work and learn differently. So it really is a powerful set of reading and writing tools that's used all over the world by over 40 million people now from education right through to the workplace. And it's been supporting students and employees for over 25 years now, which is a long time. So Lynsey, can you share with us how Read&Write specifically, from all the tools that you mentioned there, supported you with your studies?
Yes, absolutely. I remember when I got Read&Write, my friends were so jealous because honestly the tool really did help. In the course that I did, there was a lot of text, a lot of journal articles, a lot of reading, which for someone with dyslexia is quite daunting. And quite a lot of complex language. So some of the tools that I used, I would use text to speech, so I would highlight all the text and I would allow it to read back to me. And I find that helped me concentrate. I didn't jump about or get distracted. The other key element I used was with my dissertation.
So I found the highlighter tool really, really useful where I could highlight different themes throughout the articles and then pull all that together. And that just saved me a lot of time. And I think the way my dyslexic brain or thinking works is that I need to categorise things in different places first before I can then understand the information and put it into my own thoughts or language. So that highlighter tool really, really helped. And to be honest, it just saved me a lot of time. But also just was your little friend to help you through your studies and your essay writing as well.
Yeah, it's funny you mentioned the highlighters because I've often said that I wish I'd known about Read&Write when I was at university. Because the highlights in itself-
-it's so good in that it provides you with a bibliography in the way that you're supposed to write it as well.
So you don't have to think about that formatting and that in itself just saves a lot of time for anybody. Yeah, absolutely. So listen, it's great to hear that you were able to get that support, as we said, through the DSA at university, even though it was in your final year. But I want to mention a recent report into the DSA from Lord Chris Holmes. So it said that just 29% of students with a known disability are receiving DSA. And we can share the link to the report in the show notes. But Lynsey, what difference do you think it would've made to your university life if you had received the DSA support sooner?
Related to this, I think one of the reasons I didn't maybe know about it was because of the name as well. So Disabled Students' Allowance. I don't see myself as disabled. I might have seen that and not really related to it. So I think if there was more awareness, or it was called something different, maybe it would've perked up if I had known, if it was a bit more blunt. "Are you dyslexic? This can help you." Or, "Do you have anxiety? There's support there." So yeah, I think it would've made a big difference, especially in those early years. Because I got the support in school and exams for extra time, et cetera, and then I didn't get that in my first couple of years at university. I know the information, it just takes maybe a bit longer to write it down or understand the question. So having that extra time would've really helped. And then of course the digital tools would've really helped with a lot of the planning and essay writing, because when you go to university, you're left to your own devices, you don't have a teacher really.
To have to work out your own schedule
To have to work it all out yourself. Yeah, so to have that technology support earlier would've made a big difference. But-
Yeah, I can definitely see that.
-I'm just glad I got it in the end.
Yeah, great. Okay, well listen, I do want to fast forward again. And jumping ahead throughout your life here Lynsey, but I want to think about your experiences now in the workplace. So let's start with your first job. So once you'd graduated from university, how easy did you find that transition from education into the workplace? And did you find it easy to talk to your employer about your dyslexia?
Yeah, this is a good question and it isn't something that 22 year old Lynsey would've thought about. I'll be honest, I didn't disclose that I was dyslexic to my employers when I was first applying for jobs. And I don't think that's the employer's fault because that's on me. I just didn't feel ... It was almost a bit of a risk. I thought, "Oh no, I don't want to say I'm dyslexic in case they think I'm stupid or I'm not good at writing." Because especially in marketing, you need to be good with text or good with language. So I didn't disclose that I was dyslexic probably due to the stigma that surrounds having dyslexia. And when you're young and you haven't worked or haven't had that experience yet, you don't want to risk it. I didn't want to risk not getting through an interview process or a shortlisting process to be honest.
Yeah, well that's totally understandable. I mean, you say it's on you, but I think honestly it is on organisations too. And I know organisations are changing the way they do things but I think we've got to recruit with inclusivity in mind. And as I say, that maybe just wasn't the case so much ... I say a long time ago, a few years ago.
We'll put it like that. Yeah. Yeah. Well listen, eventually you made it here to Texthelp and we're really glad that you did. But to you it must have felt like a full circle moment coming back to work in the company who created Read&Write, the tool that helped you at university. Because as you know, our mission here at Texthelp is to help everyone to understand and be understood. So I'm interested, Lynsey, to know what that mission statement means to you on a personal level and how it makes you feel?
Yeah. It almost is like, and I am one of those people, but working at Texthelp was meant to be for me. I do remember applying for the job and saw Read&Write and I was like, "Oh, I've seen this before. I know this toolbar." And then realising that it was from university. So yeah, I'm very passionate about obviously what I do in marketing and really promoting and sharing my story with other people that live with dyslexia. But Texthelp makes it all easier. You don't have to worry about asking a silly question. Everyone does have the right to understand and be understood and you're made to feel very comfortable here with that being the mission. And what I love about it is that they almost promote the different types of thinking. So not just dyslexics but if you have a learning difficulty or a neurodiverse condition, they really encourage different styles of thinking, which I think is really important and very forward thinking of them as well.
Yeah, we definitely live and breathe, I think our culture, we don't just talk about it. It is who we are. But Lynsey, we have worked together for a few years now. And I know certainly in my experience you have always been very open about your dyslexia and how you perceive it as your superpower. So would you mind maybe taking a few minutes just to talk a little bit more about your dyslexic strengths or your superpowers, as you like to refer to them, and how they really do benefit your successful career in marketing?
Yeah. One of the main pieces that I think is my superpower or main strength is you have to think differently when you're dyslexic. You don't process information the same way. So I always think outside the box. So I maybe have these crazy ideas that people might think I'm a bit mad, but to me, you process the information because you need to think, "How can I solve this problem not in the same way as everyone else?" I also would say I've had to become very organised and that's due to I can't be a last minute person. And I think that goes all the way back to primary school or studying for exams. I think failing at a young age is the best thing that happened to me because I failed what was then called the 11 plus. But that made me very prepared.
I'm a very prepared person, very organised, and I think that bodes well in a marketing role. My other strengths as a dyslexic, I think I'm a visual thinker and I think that's really important. I think especially in what we do, we shouldn't be creating really text heavy or things that aren't written in plain English. Everything should be very simple and easy to understand. I think that comes across in some of the campaigns that I run. I like to create formats that anyone can understand depending on how they want to process information. And I think that's something that's really important going forward is how we can simplify the message and simplify what we're trying to achieve in our marketing materials that goes out to the audiences.
Yeah. I like it. And get the most out of the way that we think. If we all thought the same way-
It would be boring.
-we would all come up with the same answers, and it would be boring, but it wouldn't be very innovative either I don't think. We'd run out of ideas very quickly, wouldn't we? So I think it is fair to say that not everyone with dyslexia will perceive their differences as superpowers. Often there are many hurdles and challenges to overcome even in working environments that have a real focus on inclusivity. So Lynsey, can you talk us through some of the challenges that you have faced in your day to day because of your dyslexia? And also maybe give us some insights into how you've overcome these.
Yeah. Especially working in marketing and leading a team, and I have a great team, but you're usually left to be the leader as such. So even simple things, like writing on a whiteboard, I get spelling ... I make spelling mistakes all the time or grammar. And that can be a wee bit embarrassing and especially if people ... Some people pick up on it and would mention it, but I'm probably confident enough now that it doesn't really bother me and I would almost make light of it. I will make a disclaimer at the start, "By the way, I'll probably spell a lot of these words wrong, but you know what I mean. It's not completely ... You must be able to understand some of it." So that's one thing. Reading out loud as well. I've had to ... I work with a lot of charismatic salespeople that are very good at just off the cuff.
I would still need to be a bit more prepared in what I do, but I am getting better the more I do it. But presentations or reading out loud in front of people or reading text or copy out in front of people, I still find challenging. And probably you get that little bit of anxiety from childhood where you're asked to read aloud in class. But to be honest, I think one thing I would love to encourage the kids or children in their education is just to be more ... just own it and it is your superpower. And don't be afraid to say, "I might spell this wrong." Or, "I actually don't want to read out loud." And just be honest and open about how you're feeling. But I think as you get older you get wiser and you maybe don't worry as much about making a fool of yourself in a way.
Yeah, I think you're right. As you get older you become more comfortable in your own skin really, isn't that right?
So as you say, you're owning it and you're not afraid to say, "I might mess up some of these things, but the general feel you'll get and let's focus on the ideas rather than how they're written down."
Yeah. So, look, outside of work, I know that you have also been championing the dyslexic thinking campaign that was launched a few months ago from the charity Made By Dyslexia and Sir Richard Branson. So anyone certainly that follows you on LinkedIn will have noticed that you've added dyslexic thinking as a skill to your profile. And so have many more. And it's really great to see that people are proudly adding this new skill to their profiles. So Lynsey, as somebody with dyslexia, what did this campaign mean to you?
Yeah, that was ... I think kudos to Kate Griggs and the charity Made By Dyslexia. That was an incredible campaign. And to get Richard Branson and Virgin Media collaborating with her on that was really, really powerful. That meant ... I think that movement that she created, it wasn't just like a campaign. It's almost like she's ... the dyslexic thinking is now a movement that hundreds of people that day were posting and I posted. And it made you feel very proud and it made you feel part of a bigger community of people. And to see such big organisations as well get involved, like Virgin, Richard Branson's company, was incredible. And what I love now is I have that on my LinkedIn and I would encourage anyone ... And if I saw someone apply for a job in Texthelp and they had a skill as dyslexic thinking, I think that would be amazing if people started to actually put it on their CVSsas well and really talk about it as one of their key strengths. It's definitely-
Be proud of it. Yeah, so I'm excited to see the work that Kate Griggs will continue to do. But she really has made a huge impact in the last couple of years on everyone that lives with dyslexia.
Absolutely. Certainly raising awareness and getting people talking about it as well. But I noticed you also took part in the dyslexia awareness week earlier this month where you shared your lived experiences with your LinkedIn followers. So can I ask you why it's so important for you to share your story?
Yeah. I've always wanted to talk more about it, and to be honest, it's really to inspire other people to share their story and mainly to inspire children or kids that are living with dyslexia. So I broke it up into a four-part series and I started from my education right through to the workplace where I am today. And I do endeavor to keep sharing that story. But another part that I didn't post on LinkedIn that I actually did that week was I went back to my school and I spoke to the year ... the sixth forms. And I had six girls and their parents after come up and talk to me about how they have dyslexia and that they were really inspired and that almost ... I ended up having a bit of a careers conversation with them because they told me their strengths.
And I think it's better now but back then you were encouraged to just do medicine or accountancy or something very generic. But I was very strong minded that I wanted to do marketing, but I was able to sort of guide them in where their skills lie and what sort of courses they might apply for. But that was really the goal, that children or kids that are studying at the minute would see my story and see that you're not a failure and you're not stupid and there's lots of great opportunities out there for you. It's just finding the thing that you're good at, to be honest.
Yeah. And connecting those dots.
Yeah, and I-
What you're good at, what you enjoy doing and then what opportunities are out there that you can avail of.
Exactly. I remember actually my brother giving me a great bit of advice when I was choosing my A levels. He said, "Lynsey, like you don't need to do maths and science and difficult subjects. Choose the subjects that you enjoy." And it was clear I wanted to do business and marketing, so I just chose the subjects I'd enjoyed and I ended up doing really well. So that's what I would encourage younger people to do. Pick what you enjoy.
Anybody even. Not even-
-just people with dyslexia. Anybody would benefit from that advice. If you're choosing subjects for the wrong reasons, you're really going to struggle. If the interest level is not there, you're not going to retain the information, you're not going to enjoy that career. But listen, I do think you're a great role model for kids and adults, Lynsey, by sharing your experiences. I do believe that you help open up that conversation and remove some of the stigma that still exists. But how important do you think role models are?
Yeah, they're really, really important and I think that's why I do it and that's why I would like to connect with more people that are dyslexic to understand. Actually I did the webinar a couple of weeks ago with Lexxic and that was with another panel of people that live with dyslexia. And when you start talking in the community, you are like, "Oh, I do that too." Or, "Oh yes, that's something ... The way I learn." But I think it's really important and I would just encourage not just people that have dyslexia, but any sort of learning difficulty or neurodiverse condition, to speak up because likely is there's a lot of people that would benefit from hearing from your experiences and your story as well. And I think that in this 21st century, there's a great platform now for us to share that information on the likes of LinkedIn or social media or just with your peers. So yeah, I think it's really important for people in the workplace and kids throughout their education.
I like it. Speak up. I think that's a great message-
Yeah. Speak up.
-to end today, Lynsey. Absolutely. Well listen, it has been an absolute pleasure to chat with you and learn a little bit more about your experiences with dyslexia through school and into the workplace and beyond. And as I said already, I think you're a great advocate for dyslexic thinking and I do hope you continue to share your experiences across your networks to educate and de-stigmatise dyslexia. So look, I promised to share some insights and a takeaway before we finished up today. So here they are. One thing to know, dyslexia isn't just about reading and spelling, it can also impact rote learning such as remembering timetables. So as well as concentration, like following a sequence of instructions. And in Lynsey's case, I'm not sure we talked about it during this session, Lynsey, but you've talked before about you've got techniques to remember your left from your right. And so support should be provided ultimately to meet all of these needs.
And one thing to think about, what are your perceptions of dyslexia? Do you view it as a disability or a superpower? Dyslexic thinking skills are really critical for the future of our workplaces that don't get left behind. And one thing to do, so together, we need to make sure that everyone gets consistent support from school to university and into the workplace. And the first person that it starts with is yourself. So we can help you with that. So do sign up to our inclusion festivals for free personal development and expert advice. So for schools and colleges, you can visit this link, it's text.help/education. And for workplace support you can go to text.help/workplaces. So as I said earlier, we will provide all the links in the show notes. But I think that's us for today, folks. If you found today's session interesting, why not subscribe to the show so you can catch the next episode. Search for Texthelp Talks on your preferred podcast player or streaming service and subscribe from there. But thanks for listening and have a great day. Thanks, Lindsay.