Dyslexia, the workplace and me


In today’s episode of Texthelp Talks we chat with Colin Moloney, Governance Manager in the UK Civil Service, about his experiences of Dyslexia in the workplace.

Colin will chat about some of the challenges he has faced throughout his career as well as some of the strengths he brings to his job as a result of his neurodiversity. We will also discuss the ways in which technology has supported Colin and some tips for creating a more inclusive workplace for all. 

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With Dyslexia affecting around one in 10 people in the UK workforce, it’s more important than ever that we create workplaces which bring out the best in all our team members. To learn more about how best to support neurodiversity in the workplace, check out our free resources: text.help/neurodiversity-resources

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Transcript

Louise:

Welcome to the Texthelp Talks podcast. We will be bringing you 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.

Louise:

On today's podcast you'll be hearing from me. My name is Louise and I am the workplace solutions manager at Texthelp. And I'm delighted to have with me today Colin Maloney, who is governance manager at UK Civil Service. Today, Colin will be talking to us about his personal experience of dyslexia in the workplace. So thank you very much for joining us today, Colin.

Colin:

No problem. No problem.

Louise:

So Colin, for our listeners who perhaps don't know much about dyslexia, could you tell us a little bit about dyslexia?

Colin:

Yeah. From my experience.

Louise:

Yeah.

Colin:

Most people, when they hear dyslexia think it's reading and writing, but it's several other bits and pieces. Like I have a terrible short-term memory, which is common among dyslexics. I also have problems or had problems organizing. I'm not very or I wasn't very good. I had to train myself to organize work and stuff like that so I met targets.

Colin:

So I have strategies to deal with my dyslexia. And one of the most important ones is Texthelp Read&Write to be brutal. It helps me when I'm drafting emails. It helps me when I'm drafting any work-related papers, it picks up spelling mistakes, homophones, all the things that dyslexics have problems with. And I've been using it for about 20 years.

Louise:

Brilliant. So technology has really played a big part. And then the support that you have used for dyslexia.

Colin:

Yeah. Yeah, I'm not a young chicken, shall we say? I did have a workplace occupational health assessment done nearly six years ago from a specialist team. And they emphasized the use of Texthelp because I was using it and I showed them how I used it. And they gave me other areas that I could develop and understand a bit more with my dyslexia. But ultimately one of the keys has always been Texthelp Read&Write, just to be sure that I don't say anything in emails that I shouldn't.

Colin:

I mean, I could give you a really good example of where I was writing shoot and it came out of something rather different, shall we say?

Louise:

I can imagine yeah.

Colin:

And that was picked up by Texthelp Read&Write which was good.

Louise:

Brilliant.

Colin:

That it didn't go off. And that was to a supplier. So it was even better that it was picked up by Texthelp Read&Write before I sent it. So, that's one of the uses for Texthelp Read&Write.

Louise:

So that's great to hear about the support you have now but at what stage did you realize that you had dyslexia or where did it become apparent that you maybe needed a bit more support?

Colin:

Well, that is a very long story.

Louise:

Okay.

Colin:

It goes back to two weeks before I set my A levels, which was in the early eighties, a teacher who said I may have some literacy problems got me to go to another school that was specialist in dyslexia for an assessment. So I was 18 and had that assessment two weeks before my A levels. And it made no difference at all because I didn't get any extra time or anything because in those days it wasn't considered. I then went to university and just dived. Couldn't cope with it. There was too much written work, too much everything. So I left university and then I went to work in an unemployment benefit office in the early eighties where you didn't need any writing skills, frankly, because all I was mainly doing was interviewing people as they came in. Then I took a big step and went to another government department where it turns out there was an awful lot of reading and writing.

Colin:

And I was having a really bad time, almost sacked because of that. And basically because it wasn't really recognized in those days. So what happened then, I ended up with a really good line manager who put me in for my first occupational health assessment in late 2000. And in that assessment, one of the key recommendations was more time for writing, but also Texthelp Read&Write. And that's why I've been using it for 20 years. And it's been such an eye opener for me. It helped me take effective notes at meetings that I could then type up, check, recheck and get them done. So the issue of my writing ability went out the window because I had the important adjustment of having the software.

Louise:

And you had mentioned, obviously, there was a particular role that you had worked in, where there was a lot of reading and writing. There was that fear of actually losing your job.

Colin:

Yeah.

Louise:

Was there any discussion at that time around that fear of was there any support you needed. It was just basically that was-

Colin:

Yeah. You're stuffed. But then this new line manager was really great, really supportive. He basically tapped me on the shoulder, he said, "I've got a vacancy."

Colin:

I didn't actually know him very well then. He said, "I've got a vacancy. Do you want to come over to me?" And his role, the role that he gave me meant that I would be out visiting certain schools and I would have to take notes of governor's meetings, have to take notes of other meetings, supply them to the rest of the team to review. And at no point did I end up being told that the written work wasn't adequate or wasn't up to par and over about two years, it really built my confidence in my own abilities, which then led me to get a promotion.

Louise:

Brilliant.

Colin:

And the new team I was in, I explained to them. The line manager, gave him a copy of my occupational health assessment that was done.

Colin:

And he said, "No problem. We'll do whatever we can for you." And the reasonable adjustments came from that assessment with me into this new job. And I was in that job for five years. And then I got promoted again into my current post. And I brought the reasonable adjustments with me. And the line manager then was really good as well. He said, "Fine, not a problem. We want you for this job. You know what you're doing. You're the perfect candidate and reasonable adjustments are there."

Colin:

So that was 2007. I then got promoted again in 2009. There was a shaky point in 2014, 15 where the issue of my written ability came up again. Well, not my written ability because they couldn't really do that. It was organizational ability. And that then led to that assessment I was talking about earlier in 2015, which reemphasized the use of Texthelp Read&Write and other stuff like time management, how to organize my work and prioritize the work. So, yeah, I just feel that Texthelp Read&Write has been, how can I put this nicely, a substantial part of me making my promotions to where I am today.

Louise:

That's great to hear, the impact that it's been able to have on you. And we're so happy to continue supporting so many people just like yourself through that journey. So that's really positive to hear.

Colin:

Yeah. The current version is the best version I've ever come across. I have to say that. And I do as much as I can to encourage staff to consider using it. And I've shown them how I use it. I do my best within my current department to make sure staff get access to it so they can use it as much as possible. I've used a lot of your publicity materials as well that you've sent through. I'm also part of the Civil Service dyslexia dyspraxia network. And I keep trying to jump through hurdles there with some departments who won't change from, I think, one department is still using your version 10, which is nowhere near as good as your version 12.5. The subscription license. And I've been saying, "Well, why not? Why don't you the best version for your staff possible?"

Colin:

And it is the best version. And there's no two ways about it. And it's a lot easier as it's a subscription license to get the updates, because what I've noticed and what I've been told as well, you're working with Microsoft to ensure that it works well across the Microsoft products, which is the main, should I say, product that Civil Service government departments use, whether it's Excel, Word or Outlook. And Texthelp Read&Write, the new version, works brilliantly with all of them.

Louise:

Yeah, no, definitely makes sense as well. because we know systems are constantly updating, which is why we are constantly trying to update, Read&Write to complement that as well and give end users the best experience that they can possibly have, which is great.

Louise:

So again, Colin, you had mentioned there, obviously when you went to different rules that you had brought up that you needed workplace accommodations.

Colin:

Yeah.

Louise:

How do you find that across the civil service? Are other people open to talk about? Do you think there's still a bit of a stigma or what's the attitude towards workplace accomodations that you find now.

Colin:

Well I think that now there is a central civil service team that manage reasonable adjustments or support reasonable adjustments. They're based in Cabinet Office. They are really good. If there's an issue, you can go to them and they will support the individual, the line manager in the issues. I think nine times out of 10, the usual issue is the individual accepting that they need some help. And that's the key point with reasonable adjustments. You have to accept that you need that help. You have to accept. And it's sometimes a really big step. And then the next question is, if you accept it, and sometimes it does take courage to say, "I need help. What can be done to help me?" And obviously there are various avenues in the civil service, like most employment areas. The access to work, which is one option.

Colin:

Most government departments will have access to a work occupational assessment, which I think is usually the best avenue for someone with dyslexia or dyspraxia or even autism because then you have someone who knows about that to advise you on the best steps forward. But it's important that you, as an individual, feel confident to take that step. And that's what we're trying to do in the Civil Service is give an environment that allows someone to say, "Look, I've got an issue. What can you do to help?"

Colin:

It is a difficult step to take. And it depends on your relationships with your line manager, but I would always say take that step.

Louise:

Yeah.

Colin:

Ultimately, the ultimate factor is if you have a disability, you are protected by the Equality And Human Rights Act. And dyslexia is mentioned in the Equality And Human Rights Act. But like most hidden disabilities, people aren't going to know that you have that disability.

Colin:

Until you go and get an assessment, like I was talking about when I was at school, one teacher, just the day before I took my levels, came up to me and said, "I hear you've been assessed as being dyslexic."

Colin:

Now, I had known this teacher for six years. He said, "I always knew there was a problem, Colin, but I didn't know what it was." So that's the kind of example in those days in the early eighties, even up to the nineties there was. That it wasn't recognized in education, but hey ho. We all where we are.

Louise:

Yeah. I mean, that's something we hear quite a lot from a lot of the organizations that we work with that they're aware of conditions. They may be aware that people are maybe struggling, but sometimes they don't want to either ask in case of saying the wrong thing. In that sort of case, what sort of advice would you give? Do you think they should ask? How do you think they should best approach it?

Colin:

Ultimately it is up to the individual. But I would always say it's better to ask. It's better to take that step into the deep end, because if you take that step, you may find something that opens your eyes. Like me. I mean, for 18 years at school world, well whatever period I was at school for. The comments that I used to get in my school reports were saying, "Colin is intelligent, but doesn't show it on paper." That was one of the ones. And I remember, the ultimate memory I have of primary, and this is one of my only memories of primary school was a teacher slapping my right hand and calling me, "You'll know this term because you're Irish, bone idle." And that's one of my memories from primary school. And ultimately I'm glad that that attitude has changed in education.

Colin:

It is acceptable for it. My youngest daughter, she's 23 now. We thought that there was an issue with her. So we actually went and got her tested at the Dyslexia Action or British Dyslexia Association when she was seven. So we then took that to the school and all the way through her education, she got additional time for exams, additional support. And she graduated with a degree in Creative Writing from Greenwich University two years ago. Yeah. And she got a 1:1 in it and I couldn't be more proud of her.

Colin:

But we managed to secure that when she was very young, because dyslexia is for life. It doesn't disappear. Even with reasonable adjustments, it doesn't disappear. It's there.

Louise:

Totally. And that's a perfect example of when somebody is given the right support-

Colin:

Yes.

Louise:

The right tool, what they can do and the abilities that they can have. Because as you say, just because you can't write it in perhaps the way or communicate it in the way doesn't mean you don't know that information. So it is just allowing that sort of flexibility, whether it is more time or having digital tools, that they can make the world of difference. And do you see that-

Colin:

Well that's an interesting part of Read&Write.

Louise:

Yeah.

Colin:

Because if you have the extra time, you really use that software to its best. Sorry I interrupted you. You were going to give me a question.

Louise:

No, no, that was great. Because that actually brings us on to another question. Is there any key features within Read&Write. Obviously there's different feature sets that we have, but is there any key features that work particularly for you and the way that you work?

Colin:

Well, I can't remember what the name of it is. But on the toolbar there's the one at the end that learns from what you've written and then knows where your mistakes are and can adjust it straightaway. I love that feature on the new license, on the 12.5. It is brilliant. I just love it. It is so good that it then can hit on things that I keep doing wrong and just change them straight away.

Colin:

It's brilliant.

Louise:

Yeah.

Colin:

But I do like the way it reads back everything to you, and then it does a spell check before it starts to read it and lets you know that what you've done may have been wrong. I like how it picks up technical questions. You may have used something that it's not aware of and then it learns on that. So if you use it again, it doesn't question it. Just think it is all around a really good piece of software for dyslexics and anyone else for that matter, you don't need to have dyslexic to use this software. If you're writing stuff quick, you will inevitably make mistakes, but then Texthelp Read&Write can pick it up.

Louise:

Definitely. And I mean, I suppose we can't really go with go through the podcast without mentioning the dreaded COVID word. But particularly what we have found since lockdown, we've seen a lot of organizations starting to think about, as you had mentioned, they're here to help all staff, not just those staff with particular needs. At the start there was definitely a lot of organizations who, and particularly around sort of diversity inclusion as well, became nearly a bit of a hot topic during the past six months where neurodiversity, which we would talk about, which dyslexia obviously falls under was becoming quite a big topic because as well, people were starting to see... As you say, everything was written communication. Now you couldn't just pop over to somebody's desk and say, "Can I grab you for 10 minutes?" Or you're helping [crosstalk 00:17:48].

Colin:

Yeah.

Louise:

On emails or live chats, where you were chatting more. I think people started to see maybe or heightened awareness of maybe some of those neuro-diverse conditions such as dyslexia, autism, some of those conditions.

Colin:

Yeah. Well I think you're right. I think because people are working from home, those issues do come to the fore and it depends again if the individual then wants to take that step. And I think that's what's vital that staff are able to take that step and don't feel that they would be penalized by taking that step.

Colin:

So, that's the important. If the environment is right, then you can have that conversation and take it forward. So that's what I would say. Again, it depends on the environment where you work. If you feel you can take that step. Because it is a big step with neurodiversity, as you've said, autism is one of the big ones that's really hidden. And dyslexia, although is not a visible disability, is a difficult one to call. I mean, what we're doing at the moment is the National Disability Day in December, which you're probably aware of.

Colin:

What we're doing is a sort of podcast ourselves.

Louise:

Brilliant.

Colin:

Four members of staff with four different hidden disabilities. Because I believe that was the theme it was going to be. So we have four different people discussing their hidden disabilities. And of course my arm has been twisted severely so I'm doing that as well, for my sins.

Louise:

Yeah. I suppose that awareness piece, even having those days, talking about hidden disabilities. Obviously the result is that the awareness will increase. People will feel more confident to talk about those organizations. We always use the example of, when you're creating a building, you create your building for people with physical disabilities. You'll create that ramp into the building. You'll have lifts, the accessible doorframes, accessible bathrooms. So we always ask the question, are you prepared for those hidden disabilities? At which organizations always go, "But we don't know. We're not sure." And it's sort of, "Where do we start? What we do?"

Louise:

Is there any advice or information you could give on maybe where organizations start if they haven't already?

Colin:

Well in the Civil Service, there are disability networks under different names across all teams. And we would suggest that you start talking to those networks to get ideas from them about what it could be.

Colin:

Now, it could be, we moved into a new office in my current department about three years ago and the old one used to have significant problems with the lighting because I'm guessing you were aware that that can cause problems. Migraines, not being able to see the screens when they flicker. But that was then taken into account when we moved into the new building. So that was a positive thing. But ultimately it's talk to your staff.

Louise:

Yeah.

Colin:

See what they can tell you and see what you can do to accommodate them. And it's ultimately in that conversation that you can either take it forward and if you don't take it forward, explain why you can't take it forward, but you have to have that conversation in the first place. I would always say, don't assume.

Louise:

Yeah.

Colin:

It's important not to assume. You may have put the ramp in, but is that ramp accessible in its own right. It's an interesting point, but it's a valid one.

Louise:

It's always the rationale of you're being accessible for accessible's sake.

Colin:

Yes.

Louise:

Just because you're doing something it doesn't necessary mean it's accessible. Actually, and as you say, talking to those users, those with, again, physical or hidden disabilities, involving them in that process, I think, is really key.

Colin:

Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. It could be that, I've mentioned the lighting, but it could be the normal lighting through windows. If that's blocked off and you're in a dark area, I would hate to be in that environment because I wouldn't be able to do any piece of work. So, you've really got to talk to people to find out what their needs are.

Colin:

Someone who suffers from migraines, the lighting could be terrible on them.

Louise:

Yeah.

Colin:

But unless you've talk to someone, you're not going to know that.

Louise:

Yeah, exactly. So that's been really, really informative. I know I've asked about advice you would give to organizations, but if there was one piece or one takeaway, you would want organizations to think of, whether it's employers, managers to help their team, what would that be?

Colin:

Well, in my experience, it's not sort of policies or anything that make the difference, it's managers and people that make the difference. So I would say if you train managers to understand this, then you are doing a huge step in making it easy for the individual to declare particularly hidden disabilities.

Louise:

Yeah.

Colin:

It's a really big step in making it a comfortable environment for it to be declared and taken forward. So the individual won't feel that they're in an awkward position declaring it or discussing it. The environment has to be there for them to talk. So that will be the first step. The other step would be, if you do have a disability network, talk to them, let them help you when you're doing stuff.

Louise:

Yeah.

Louise:

No, well, Colin, that's been really informative. I've really enjoyed chatting to you today. And I'm sure all of our listeners will have learned a lot from your experiences as well. So thank you very much for joining us today. So thank you.

Colin:

No problem. My pleasure.

Louise:

Yep. If anybody wants to find out any more information about any of the support that Texthelp offers, particularly around neuro-diversity, you can find them at text.help/neurodiversity-resources. So thanks for listening and be sure to subscribe to Texthelp Talks on your preferred podcast player or streaming service for your next episode. Thanks again. Bye.

Colin:

Cheers.