I am dyslexic. Just like 10 per cent of the UK population, according to the British Dyslexia Association.
I’ve spoken to many local schools, universities and businesses, and it’s clear to me that perceptions and attitudes towards dyslexia are outdated. It’s vital that we work together to overturn the perception of dyslexia and other learning disabilities, embrace our differences and unlock the younger generation’s hidden talents. The change needs to come from the education system and businesses alike, working together to make a difference
Dyslexia is classed as a disability which automatically generates preconceived notions of the person suffering from it – “you’re so thick”, as I was told many times at school. It took me a long time to realise that the perceived ‘barriers’ of dyslexia were ones that I put in my own way, and that the strength to overcome them came from me, from valuing myself and my own ideas. I honestly believe that my success is because of, not despite, dyslexia. That’s why I’m passionate about celebrating and valuing differences, changing perceptions of ‘normal’ and encouraging schools and organisations to collaborate to embrace the ‘different’ skills of young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEN).
Unearthing the hidden talents of dyslexic pupils can also contribute to closing the skills gap – most notably in STEM careers. There are far too few pupils taking up the subjects that are required to pursue careers in science, technology and engineering. The real point for me, though, is that we’ve got to not only encourage these subjects at school, we need to inspire people about them, to get out there to show how exciting and rewarding these jobs are, and that they are absolutely achievable for pupils who see and do things differently.
Making a difference needs to start with an education process. I’d like to see business owners and entrepreneurs forge better links with boys and girls with dyslexia by going into schools and mentoring them – to show them what they can achieve. Through our Dyslexia Talent Showcase I want to create an army of people who have overcome their own challenges to capture the imaginations of young people. At the moment people with dyslexia may be sitting at the front of the class thinking, like I did, ‘I wouldn’t be able to run a company…there’s no way I could spearhead groundbreaking innovations…people like me can’t be successful in business’. Except, we can and we can be great at it. Schools need to nurture the different skill sets of these young people and adopt less traditional learning patterns to identify their special talents. We mustn’t pigeonhole pupils based on ‘traditional’ perceptions of their ability – there is always a hunger beneath that we need to help release.
And what has been done so far? I was pleased when The Department for Education introduced a draft Bill in 2012 with some key measures to improve the SEN system, but today I think it’s a wider issue than transparency and good practice, while those are important. There are too many young people with dyslexia and other special educational needs out of education, training and employment at 18. The reason for this is the education system’s continued focus on the disability label rather than actually meeting the individual’s specific needs and aspirations. The fact that many teachers feel they lack the confidence to teach SEN pupils effectively for me is enough to suggest a change is needed – we need local businesses visiting pupils at school on a regular basis, offering mentoring sessions and helping them see the real world – away from the stigma of disability.
Just as young people with learning disabilities do things differently, so should we when helping them. The education system should work together with businesses to encourage anyone with a learning disability to wear the label with confidence. It’s not a negative. It’s a positive. A positive difference. It gives you a rare perspective. Together we can help these young people flourish, embrace their different perspectives and valuable talents and harness these to make a meaningful contribution to society.
About the Author
Debra Charles is founder and CEO of Novacroft. The Northampton-based smart technology and software solution company is appealing for people across the UK to get involved in a campaign to showcase the positives of dyslexia, to launch in time for Dyslexia Awareness Week, which runs from 3rd – 9th October 2016. People from all walks of life are encouraged to upload short film clips to the Novacroft website, talking about how dyslexia has been a positive attribute in their life. Visit www.novacroft.com/showcase for more information, or to take part in their Talent Showcase.
Please submit films before 18th September 2016.