Inclusive technology: Supporting dyslexia from education to the workplace
As many as 15% of people globally are dyslexic. Dyslexic individuals will thrive in environments that support different ways of thinking and doing. In this podcast episode, we’ll be taking a look at how inclusive technology can support Dyslexic individuals from university right through to the workplace. Joining us is Crystal Rose, a Public Sector employee with Dyslexia.
We hope you enjoyed this episode of Texthelp Talks. If you'd like to find out more about inclusive technology, Read&Write, visit text.help/dyslexia-support.
Donna Thomson (00:15):
Hello, everyone, and welcome to the latest episode of Texthelp Talks Podcast. And this is where we'll be chatting to experts from the education arena and the workplace on a host of topics around breaking down barriers, unlocking potential, and creating equality for all. 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.
So, today you're hearing from me, Donna Thomson, at Texthelp, and I'm joined by Crystal Rose, a public sector employee. Crystal has dyslexia, and today we will be talking about how inclusive technology has offered a key support from university right through to the workplace. And after our chat, you'll leave with one thing to know, one thing do, and one thing to think about. So, let's get started. Crystal, it's great to have you on the podcast today.
Crystal Rose (01:04):
Thank you. It's good to be here.
Donna Thomson (01:06):
Good. So listen, I think first of all, for those of you who are not quite sure what dyslexia is, I guess we should start with a brief introduction. So, dyslexia is a learning difference, which primarily affects the skills and processes involved in reading and spelling, but it can also cause difficulty with processing and remembering information.
So, dyslexia is known as a form of neurodiversity. Others include ADHD and autism, to name a few. And dyslexia is one of the most common, affecting as many as 15% of people worldwide. Now, dyslexia in itself can take many forms. No two people's dyslexia is the same. Crystal, could you start by telling us a little bit about your experience with dyslexia?
Crystal Rose (01:48):
So, my dyslexia takes the form of slower processing. So, when I'm particularly stressed or if I'm having a bad dyslexic day, or whatever. Whereas most people, when you say something to them, they will be able to acknowledge what's been said and deal with it. Whereas for me, both in audible and in text and actually in life generally, it can take me a lot longer to actually grasp what's been said.
Donna Thomson (02:35):
Yeah. I think, a common challenge as well, Crystal, that I know we'll probably touch on later, is that many people don't get a diagnosis until they reach university or certainly adulthood.
Crystal Rose (02:45):
No, I didn't.
Donna Thomson (02:47):
Yeah, you were the same. So, a lot of people then have spent many school years wondering why they approach things differently to their friends or their peers, and possibly even thinking that something was wrong with them. So, look, alongside the challenges, dyslexia can also come with many strengths. So, for example, dyslexic minds process information visually, and that means they often are able to recognize patterns and see trends in data. And these strengths really do lend themselves to good problem solving abilities. So, Crystal, many people refer to their dyslexic strengths as superpowers. And what would you say to this?
Crystal Rose (03:22):
I totally agree, absolutely. It used to be that the people with dyslexia were seen as thick, or slow, or whatever. And what we actually know is that a lot of them are really intelligent people. It's all about how that information is given to them in terms of for learning purposes. So, one of my favorite people ... Am I allowed to mention my favorite people?
Donna Thomson (03:51):
Crystal Rose (03:52):
One of my favorite person is the Theo Paphitis. He came over from Cyprus. I don't know what language they speak in Cyprus, but he came over and has made multiple fantastic businesses and he's heavily dyslexic, or he's dyslexic anyway.
Donna Thomson (04:16):
Yeah. Yeah, he's a little superstar, isn't he?
Crystal Rose (04:19):
Donna Thomson (04:19):
I did watch him on a Sunday night. He's so good. Yeah, absolutely. I think seeing the strengths as superstars does seem to divide the nation a little bit. I describe it a little bit like Marmite, you either love it or hate it. I think there's no doubt that a person that has experienced considerable challenges or marginalization because of the way they think and act, it would be difficult to get into that mindset of seeing their neurodiversity as a strength, to be celebrated and hailed as a superpower.
But I can also see how this notion of having a superpower can energize and empower somebody and really help them to make sense of the way they do things and recognize the achievements that they've made. I think one thing is definitely for sure, it gets us talking about it, and recognizing that we are all different and that's okay.
Crystal Rose (05:06):
Absolutely. I think I like the idea of having this superpower and when I've been asked before about what my strengths are, problem solving is one of my strengths, because as you said, people with dyslexia, they don't necessarily think the same way that somebody that isn't dyslexic thinks. And so, they can see it from a slightly different perspective. And I guess that's how teams work, isn't it? That different people based on their experience or on their knowledge, or whatever, can see something from a different perspective. And then when you put it all in the pot, you've then got a richer source of information than-
Donna Thomson (05:55):
Definitely. Definitely. I mean, if we all thought the same, then we would all come up with the same ideas and we wouldn't get very far, I don't think.
Crystal Rose (06:02):
Life would be boring.
Donna Thomson (06:03):
It would be very boring as well. Absolutely. We would all be the same. Could you imagine? But look, we've seen a movement recently with the Dyslexic Thinking campaign from Sir Richard Branson, in partnership with the charity, Made By Dyslexia. So, as part of this campaign, dyslexic thinking was added as a new skill on LinkedIn. So, I'm not sure if you're familiar with the campaign, Crystal, but lots of people have been very proudly adding this new skill, dyslexic thinking, to their profiles. So, as someone with dyslexia, do you have any thoughts on this campaign and the new skill that people can now add to their profile?
Crystal Rose (06:36):
So, I must confess to your listeners that I only discovered this campaign this morning when I was rereading the questions. It isn't a campaign I know anything about, but I do think actually, that there's no reason why you shouldn't shout about having dyslexia. Firstly, because it allows people to know that the information they're going to give you needs to be maybe in a slightly different format or maybe you need to take some extra time to read it, because that's one of my symptoms, that my reading speed is abysmally slow.
And so using text-to-speech, which I know we're going to get onto, it's almost like seeing the light after being in a dark room for such a long time. It's so empowering. And so, there's no reason why we shouldn't shout about having this slightly different way of thinking. And I would certainly challenge anyone who feels it's appropriate to be negative about somebody that's dyslexic, although, I haven't come across that.
Donna Thomson (07:56):
Yeah, that's good. I mean, I thought it was a very powerful campaign actually. I noticed within a very short space of time that dyslexic thinking was appearing on more and more profiles as a skill. But not only that, conversations about dyslexia were taking place on LinkedIn, people were sharing their experiences with one another, and often for the first time. So, I think it did really help create that space for people to speak openly about their dyslexia.
Crystal Rose (08:19):
Donna Thomson (08:23):
Yeah. So, we know that dyslexic individuals really bring many benefits to the workplace, and this Dyslexic Thinking campaign has been a great way to express that. So, as we look to the future of inclusivity at work, it is important that organizations create a working environment where all people can thrive.
So, in education, for example, students sit side by side, but they're given the tools that they need to flexibly meet their learning goals. And this flexibility really should continue into the workplace, but as we all know too well, that's not always the case. So, Crystal, let's talk a little bit about your experience from university and into the workplace, if that's okay?
Crystal Rose (09:01):
Yeah. That's fine.
Donna Thomson (09:01):
So, you were diagnosed with dyslexia at university, isn't that correct?
Crystal Rose (09:05):
I was, yeah.
Donna Thomson (09:06):
Yeah. And what was the motivation then for you, for going through that diagnostic process?
Crystal Rose (09:12):
So, when I was at school, I was quite often told I was thick and stupid and given negative comments almost constantly and daily. So, I left school with not really feeling like I'd achieved very much, but fortunately, for me anyway, I have a strong will and knew what I wanted to do. So, I persevered with it, but I didn't get as far as I could have done had I been diagnosed at school or even at college. So, I spent some time in the workplace where I did okay. I mean, I didn't do fantastically, but I did okay. And then I wanted to go and do my law degree and it occurred to me, I can't remember how, but it occurred to me that I might have a specific learning disability, namely dyslexic, being dyslexic.
So, before I even started my degree, I arranged to be tested, but they couldn't do that until I'd actually started. So, I started and then it took about two or three months for the whole process to take place. So, pretty much you could write off the first term of my degree. And then, I got a whole load of packages and Read&Write was fortunately one of them. And that's when I found Emily. I love Emily. And I would make audio recordings and listen to them whilst reading the text, and that worked.
Donna Thomson (11:11):
Great. So, Read&Write was one of the support tools that were really offered to you then after the diagnostic process. What was that process like then, you were diagnosed, or was there an assessment? What did that look like?
Crystal Rose (11:24):
It was really challenging actually, because the interview, it's essentially an interview with a psychologist and they do a load of checks and tests and ask you loads of questions, and it was really quite draining. And then you have to wait for the report to be done, then that report, you have to submit evidence to, I think it was Student Finance England.
Well, anyway, you have to submit evidence to the appropriate body. Then they send you for a needs assessment. Then that needs assessment report gets written and the equipment is arranged, and then all the documentation has to be put through, and then you get your equipment. So, you could see how I lost the first term of my degree.
Donna Thomson (12:37):
Yeah. It took a little bit of time then, before all of that came through? Yeah.
Crystal Rose (12:39):
Donna Thomson (12:43):
Yeah. So, once you got all your equipment then and you got Read&Write, that you've mentioned already. I should probably just explain to our listeners what Read&Write is before we maybe go on. But Read&Write is inclusive technology that supports people who think, work and learn differently. It really is a powerful set of reading and writing tools that is used all over the world by more than 40 million people. And this is from education right through to the workplace and beyond. So, it's been supporting students and employees for over 25 years now. So, Crystal, let's talk a little bit about Read&Write then. So, can you share with us how it supported you with your studies then?
Crystal Rose (13:21):
So, with my studies, I've changed the process now, but what I would do is I would scan the chapter in my textbook and then I would use the scanning feature within Read&Write to turn that scan into editable text. I'd check it all gone through properly. That takes some time, I can tell you. And then edit it and then make an audio file of it, print it, and listen to it. That's how I used to do it.
Donna Thomson (14:03):
Crystal Rose (14:05):
That isn't how I would do it today, because that's very long-winded, and between you and me and your listeners, obviously that feeds into my perfectionist tendencies. Which I think is probably, I don't know, but it's probably also a symptom of the dyslexia, that you want things ... I don't know, I might be wrong.
Donna Thomson (14:35):
You just want everything to be absolutely perfect.
Crystal Rose (14:37):
Donna Thomson (14:38):
So, you've changed the process a little bit to how you use-
Crystal Rose (14:40):
I have. Yes, I have.
Donna Thomson (14:42):
To make it a wee bit more seamless or faster for you?
Crystal Rose (14:45):
Yeah, absolutely. So, rather than scanning all the pages, I would skim through, using my eyes, the titles and stuff and the things that I specifically think I need to read. And then I'd take a picture of it and then in one folder, in one file, I would OCR it, which is when you turn the image into editable text and then listen to it.
Donna Thomson (15:21):
Sure. Sounds a bit quicker then for you.
Crystal Rose (15:22):
Donna Thomson (15:24):
It's great that we can offer all those things within the one tool then, isn't it, really, as well?
Crystal Rose (15:28):
Donna Thomson (15:29):
So look, heading off to university can be a pretty overwhelming experience for anybody. It often involves navigating a new city, certainly meeting new friends, and managing our own study plan for the first time with no parental guidance. So, can you tell us a little bit about what impact Read&Write had on your time at university?
Crystal Rose (15:51):
It had a massive impact on me because it meant I could read text after text, after text. The downside was that the method I was using was taking up too much time, and I did use it a lot. So, if we had journal articles that were online or when I was writing essays or articles, or whatever, and I still use it for that purpose today, that I made sure that it read correctly, both as I wanted it to, but both grammatically and Grammarly [inaudible 00:16:41]. So, to make sure that it all made sense, basically.
Donna Thomson (16:44):
Yeah, I think hearing it out loud, you can spot mistakes, can't you, a little bit easier than just trying to find them on the page in a wall of text? So, a lot of people actually-
Crystal Rose (16:53):
Well, it doesn't read it the same way I do. So, in my head I'm going, "Dah, dah, dah." And I've got the tone of whatever mood I'm in, but it doesn't read it like that. It reads it completely naturally. So, you can hear if you think, "That's a bit harsh."
Donna Thomson (17:13):
Yeah, "Emily didn't say that very well." Yeah, you can blame Emily, can't you? One of the voices.
Crystal Rose (17:22):
Oh, I love Emily. I've got so used to her voice.
Donna Thomson (17:25):
Very smooth, isn't it?
Crystal Rose (17:26):
Donna Thomson (17:27):
Yeah. Yeah, she's so friendly. Well, look, getting back, it is great to hear that you were able to get support through the DSA at university. So, just thinking from your own experiences, Crystal, do you think it is important that more students get access to support before they transition into the workplace?
Crystal Rose (17:46):
Yeah, absolutely. If you know what you need to succeed in the workplace, in my experience, it's not that difficult to get the appropriate support. If you don't know, then it's almost near impossible, because nobody else is going to know. And I have a tendency to think, I self-reflect really quite well. And so for that reason, it's a little bit easier for me. But if you then know what you need ... So, when I started with my current employer, I knew that I needed Read&Write, and because the reading is so heavy, because of the nature of what I do, I have to be able to read in-depth reports and notes and not case studies, but overviews of the customer's experiences and what we need to do next.
So, some of the language in that is actually quite difficult to follow. So, having Read&Write, using the screen reader function, it means I can read in-depth things and I can pull out what I need from listening to it and it makes sense, rather than having to go through it and going, "Ugh." What I used to do.
Donna Thomson (19:32):
Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean, you mentioned that you're using Read&Write in work, which is great. So, I just want to touch on that. Was it offered whenever you went into your workplace or was it something that you had to request? How did that happen?
Crystal Rose (19:45):
No. This is why I said, I think you need to know what you need before you start. So, I negotiated with the managers and they agreed to purchase Read&Write for me, to make sure that I'm doing my job to the best of my ability, but also because my employer is a fantastic place to work and it's one of the best places I think I've ever worked, and I don't say that lightly.
Donna Thomson (20:23):
Wow. Okay. So, I'm sure it felt great then to know that they were going to make the inclusive technology available to you.
Crystal Rose (20:31):
Donna Thomson (20:31):
Yeah. Great. Okay, well look, I should mention that Read&Write can be used by students in school and college and by staff in organizations all over the world. The workplace toolbar just looks a little bit different to the education toolbar, and we like to think of it, or some of us do, that it's a graduated version.
But both versions offer all the same support, but we just felt only last year, that it was time to launch a new look and feel, really that's designed to suit the more modern and evolving workplace. And we called it, wait for it, Read&Write for Work. So, it is nice and simple, but it's just the way we like it. Crystal, you use Read&Write for Work, as you've just talked about, in your current job. What do you think of the workplace version?
Crystal Rose (21:16):
I like it. I think it looks nice and clean. You can modify what features, what buttons are on the bar. So, for me, for example, I don't generally use the highlighters, but I do use the scanning features and I do use the reading features. I also use the screen reading features, as opposed to just reading it. I like it. I think it's a fantastic tool.
Donna Thomson (21:58):
Great. Yeah. It's nice that you can customize the toolbar because there are features there that you can personalize it to suit you. There's features that you won't use, so there's no point in looking at them and complicating the toolbar for yourself.
Crystal Rose (22:10):
Donna Thomson (22:10):
You've already mentioned a little bit about how you use Read&Write. Thinking about your day-to-day tasks, can you talk us through some of the tools then that you use and how they help you basically through your day-to-day?
Crystal Rose (22:23):
Okay. So, if I'm sending an email, I don't know, to my boss or as a newsletter or whatever, I used to have to go through the email time and time and time again, so that I made sure that the tone is right, that I haven't misspelled any words. I've had a few embarrassing examples. But now what I do is I write the email as I want it, and then I run it through the reading feature within Texthelp, just to make sure that the words are right.
And it sounds really weird, but I can hear if there's a word that is off. It might take me a couple of minutes to find it, but I can hear it, and I think that's incredible. As I said earlier, when I'm reading the customer's profiles on the system, I use the screenshot feature, which is quite helpful. I didn't necessarily like it at the beginning, it took me a little bit of time to get used to it, but now I love it, because as I said, I can pull out what I need in order to best help the customer, which is after all, what we're all there for.
Donna Thomson (24:07):
Crystal Rose (24:09):
I think that's it for the features that I tend to use it for. I do use the scanner, but that's usually to convert a scanned picture into editable text, so OCR. Yeah, I think that's all I use it for.
Donna Thomson (24:28):
Yeah. It's funny that you mentioned using the text-to-speech and hearing any errors that you've made. A lot of people, once they get used to the tool, we've heard over and over again, they can listen to the voice at a faster rate than they're able to read it themselves. So, they're able to proofread their documents a little bit faster than they would do if they were using just their natural eye to proofread. So, that's maybe your next level, Crystal.
Crystal Rose (24:49):
Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. I'm all for increasing my development.
Donna Thomson (24:53):
Yeah. Cool. Well, listen, since you're using Read&Write in work, what difference does it make to your working day overall?
Crystal Rose (25:02):
It has a massive impact. It means I'm spending less time writing documents. I mean, I can touch type, so the actual writing itself is not a problem, it's always the editing and the, "Does it sound right?" Because I always write my profiles as though if the customer was to read what I wrote or for whatever reason it ended up in court or something, I always want to make sure that I'm completely thorough in what I write. So, it always took me a bit of time to do it, but as I said, using the reading function, I can get through that much quicker.
Donna Thomson (25:59):
That's good. We're so busy, aren't we? And we've got so many things to do in our working day, so anything at all that helps us work a little bit quicker or a little bit smarter is always a good thing, isn't it?
Crystal Rose (26:09):
Yeah, I think so. Absolutely. And I would strongly encourage everyone to download the trial, or bug your boss for it, or whatever.
Donna Thomson (26:20):
You've led me nicely into my next question, actually. What would you say to organizations that don't have inclusive technology available for their employees?
Crystal Rose (26:30):
Well, if you don't have inclusive technology, it's dangerous water, because with the Equality Act and the big drive that I think government and various organizations are driving, you've got to give your employees the best possible chance of succeeding. And if you're not providing assisted technology, then you're not getting the most out of your staff. And if you're not getting the most out of your staff ... I don't know, and whether that's the military, or police, or NHS, or private businesses, or whatever, you're not getting the most out of your team, which means you're not getting the most out of the business, which means you could potentially be losing money.
So, although it does involve an investment, that's an investment in keeping your staff. And if you keep your staff happy and content and give them a reason to want to be there every day, they're going to be loyal to you, generally speaking. I know that's a stereotype, but you get the most out of people when you invest in people. And not having assisted technology for the people that need it ... I mean, I'm not even just talking about dyslexia. If there's assisted technology that can help with mental health or emotional difficulties, or ADHD, or whatever, it's worth investing in.
Donna Thomson (28:31):
Yeah, I think happy employees make happy customers, happy customers make a happy business. It's a nice universal circle of the working life, isn't it?
Crystal Rose (28:42):
Absolutely. I agree entirely.
Donna Thomson (28:43):
Well, Crystal, I have one last question for you. Can you believe we're nearly over already? So, the question is, would you recommend Read&Write? And if it's a yes, what would be your main reason for recommending it?
Crystal Rose (28:56):
You can mind read, can't you, Donna? I would recommend Read&Write. I have used other software that I am quite happy to be highly critical of, because it doesn't have the same functionality, it doesn't work the same way. It seemed clunky. It's just not as smooth, I think, as Texthelp, and even though there may be some resistance in wanting to spend any money on it, I think it will be worth it.
And I think for me, I've gone from being labeled as being thick and stupid at school, to actually, most people recognizing that I'm not thick and that I am intelligent. And I'm not for a minute suggesting that that's completely down to Read&Write, but it has to be that Read&Write has helped with the whole thing.
Donna Thomson (30:08):
It's helped unlock your skills that were before hidden and not being able to be recognized and celebrated.
Crystal Rose (30:14):
And learning information too, learning something ... So, for me, I've got a thing about scammers, okay? And I want to know how the scam works, and that's not because I want to do anything I shouldn't be doing, it's because if I know how the scam works, I'm less likely to be caught out, because I will recognize it. So, reading about how the scams work and scamming stories and crime generally, because I quite like crime, I should say reading about crime, right? But even something as simple and as in my own time, Read&Write is still really helpful, because it allows you to read a lot more information in real-time.
Donna Thomson (31:16):
Yeah, educate and explore areas independently. So, you're empowered to do that, which is great.
Crystal Rose (31:21):
Well, that's one of the things that are strongly encouraged at university. You are supposed to go and develop your own areas of interest. And so quite often, so they might send you off on topic one and as you're researching topic one, you discover topic two, and then you discover topic three. And topic three actually becomes your life's work, because that's what sparks your interest. So, you can see how, albeit indirectly, you can see how something like Read&Write can be so important.
Donna Thomson (32:10):
Yeah. Lifelong learners, that's what we really should be, isn't that right? Continuing to learn-
Crystal Rose (32:14):
Yeah, I agree. I think that's exactly what we should be.
Donna Thomson (32:17):
Yeah. Well, listen, I think that is a great way to finish. Thank you so much, Crystal. It's been an absolute pleasure to chat with you today. I'm really glad that you joined us.
Crystal Rose (32:29):
Donna Thomson (32:30):
And I really enjoyed learning about your experiences with dyslexia too, and I'm sure our audience did too. But look, folks, before we leave, we're almost out of time, I just want to recap on the promise that I made at the top of the show. If you remember, I said you would leave today with one thing to know, one thing to do, and one thing to think about. So, here is a quick recap of some of the things that we discussed.
So, one thing to know, dyslexia is about more than just reading and writing. Everyone will experience dyslexia differently. So, when you're thinking about how to support dyslexic individuals, it's best to check in and ask if and what you can do to make their individual experience better.
One thing to think about, there are many strengths that come from dyslexic thinking, but for dyslexic individuals to thrive and harness these strengths, they really must be empowered to think and learn in their own way across all stages of life. So, that's your one thing to think about.
And lastly, one thing to do, as we've mentioned in this podcast, inclusive technology offers support to neurodivergent individuals from education right through to the workplace. It provides tools that allow people to understand and work in a way that suits them best. So, look, if you'd like to learn more about inclusive technology, you can visit this link. It's text.help/dyslexia-support. So, that's text.help/dyslexia-support.
And look, that's a wrap. If you find today's session interesting, why not subscribe to the show? And so you can catch the next episode, search for Texthelp Talks on your preferred podcast player or streaming service and subscribe from there. But that's all from us today, so it's bye, from me.
Crystal Rose (34:09):
And it's bye, from me.
Donna Thomson (34:12):
Thank you, Crystal. All the best. Thanks for listening, everyone, and have a great day.