Dyslexia is something that affects approximately 10% of the world’s population, yet there is still a gap in our digital world that prevents those with additional needs from accessing information and services in a way that works best for them.
We caught up with Kerry Pocock, Wellbeing Champions Lead at Dorset HealthCare NHS Foundation Trust and Personal Development Coach, to discuss her own dyslexia and how it has affected her throughout her childhood and into her career.
How did you find out you were dyslexic?
My A level Geography teacher questioned it after I handed in another half finished essay. My English teacher through my whole senior school education (who had also been my form teacher for a couple of years) did not pick it up nor did any other teacher in the school. My parents paid for a private assessment as my school did not think it was worth it. I was 17 and just about to sit my A Level exams. This was in 1997 so I hope things have changed a bit since then for other students.
How does dyslexia affect you?
In lots of ways. My spelling is terrible. It’s been a source of embarrassment for a lot of my life, but I have learnt to live with it, and just let it go. I found reading a real challenge through school. It took me forever to get through text that took other people 5 minutes, and I often (and still do) read what I think things say rather than what it actually says, I’ll see the beginning and end of a word and make assumptions.
The time taken is still an issue if I have long papers or articles to read for my work, but I have also learned to enjoy reading for pleasure – but audio books are definitely my friend! I think if my dyslexia had been picked up when I was younger, I would have been able to get the right learning tools that would have impacted my education and decisions that I made in my working life. Though I try not to let it stop me doing what I want to do.
Some people really don’t get it. Which I understand, if this stuff comes easily to you it would be hard to work out why people can’t just ‘practice more’ or just be quicker. I think it’s a bit like if you need to wear glasses – you can’t just practice more at seeing clearly. You need things that help you. That said it is not always easy to articulate what is helpful. Verbal meetings over emails, and proofreading can be useful, but I have found that it’s important to have a good and trusting relationship with the person for that to be possible. It can be a real confident destroyer otherwise. Mostly it’s time. Being given longer to complete tasks that require reading or writing. But in today’s world that is often not easy to provide.
I remember once being told by a university lecturer that I was ‘doing really well considering I had dyslexia’ which I think was supposed to be supportive, but I just thought, I might not find academic studies, reading, writing and grammar easy, but the benefits of my dyslexia to me are that I am very creative, I am able to see and understand things in different ways to other people. Things like my special awareness is very high, I can solve puzzles and untangle things that others would just get frustrated with – and that is both practically – untying knots and also in the world of thought too! As a coach, people often say the work we do together helps them to become unstuck.
What led you to adding ‘certified dyslexic’ to your email signature?
A big part of my work is around supporting staff wellbeing in organisations, and as part of this, I work closely with the EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) leads. As I have worked hard to find techniques to help me with my dyslexia over the years it is something that people are often surprised by when I mention it (or at least they politely act surprised!).
As part of an Inclusive wellbeing project we have worked with Recite Me to be able to include the accessibility toolbar to our staff wellbeing website in the coming months. I noticed one of the Recite Me team had a note on their email signature saying (VI – visual impairment, prone to typos) which I thought was a great idea. I often make errors in emails – where I type something that is not the word I mean to put, for example ‘form instead of from’ spell check would not pick up and I just don’t see it when I read it back. It takes me longer than a non dyslexic person to check things and sometimes there just isn’t the time. This is also true when I use dictation software as again I still have to check it back.
So I thought I would give it a go at adding something to my own email signature. It gives people the opportunity to understand my condition (if we call it that!) and also to ask me what I mean if things aren’t clear.
Why is it important to Dorset ICS – Staff Wellbeing Service to provide online accessibility tools?
Inclusivity for all of our staff is really important. Be that if English is not their first language (staff might have a good understanding of the vocabulary that their work requires but health and wellbeing might not be something that they speak in English about so being able to translate is important) or if they have challenges with reading or writing, learning disabilities or visual challenges. It is vital that the information is accessible to as many people as possible.
Has the Recite Me toolbar helped you and if so how?
I find the Recite Me toolbar really useful. It gives so many different options and is easy to navigate. The read aloud option is great. I find it quite tiring to read on screen, particularly longer text – I like that you can change the voice to Male or Female and also change the speed. The font change option – partially the ‘Open-Dyslexic’ font and the ability to edit the character spacing helps the characters to be clearer and ‘stay more still’ on the screen as with many other fonts they vibrate, or change depth which can make it really hard to keep your place – the ruler and the screen mask is really helpful for this! Also changing the background colours is useful too – again especially if my eyes are tired. So pretty much all of it.