My first love was never technology – and certainly not digital technology.
I am writing this piece and an older dyslexia consultant, well past the usual retirement age, and am a latter-day digital migrant to the form, as opposed to a digital native. I lack the unbridled curiosity and undiminished confidence to engage with technology in the same manner that my children and grandchildren display.
However, I write as a practitioner who has observed the transformational changes that happen to people of all ages when they harness the full power that assistive technologies can provide for them.
Dyslexia is a condition can heavily impact on reading, writing and spelling and there is no single item of technology that represents a ‘complete solution’ or ‘silver bullet’ that solves all the challenges that people with dyslexia might face. Yet we can actually go a fair way— modern assistive technologies are an integral part of the response to the challenge to ensure that people with dyslexia can continue to engage with text and engage with the written word. I have witnessed the transformational changes that the assistive technologies can and do provide.
In short… I am a convert.
The Task at Hand
Many people with dyslexia experience a loss of self-esteem and confidence. How is it that they struggle with a skill that most people find relatively straightforward? Without real interventions to reengage with the written word many people with dyslexia may find themselves on a pathway to a lower level of success in education. This can lead to disengagement, and the outlook for people with disengage with the education process is worrying— lower grades mean a loss of life chances, and choices narrow post-education. The workplace of the future for people without the ability to engage with text is getting smaller by the day as we shift towards a digital age with an increasing reliance on text-based communication— even manual jobs have a lot of reading, qualifications and paperwork in 2023.
The most exciting feature of assistive technology for me is that it enables people to engage with text and step over hurdles that might have arisen due to low literacy and reading stress. Text-to-speech devices, reading supports and other reading game-changers create a gateway to reconnect with the written word. In short, assistive technologies can give the learner the ability to be independent, confident and feel on an equal footing to their colleagues, classmates and peers— and it’s our job as specialists and advocates to facilitate people stepping through that gateway.
A challenge for schools and workplaces is to fully explore the full range of features that assistive technologies provide, and how they can support people.
The ensuing mission should then be to make assistive technologies centre stage and mainstream: tech for all means breaking down the stigma, and more and more people will feel comfortable seeking the tech support they need in order to thrive.
Assistive Tech and How it Works
It is well known that many, if not all dyslexic and other neurodivergent individuals suffer anxiety on some level when they engage with literacy tasks. Naturally, they often struggle with much of the processes of mastering literacy and written English – but that’s without the support of assistive technologies.
Assistive Technology applied in the three-step process:
The written word is a process that can be roughly divided into three distinct parts—
- The uptake or transference of written text from the page or the screen into the brain.
- The second step is the comprehension, analysis, sense-making of the passage of text.
- The third step is the process of conveying your thoughts, findings and decisions back onto paper – or onto screen again.
The exciting thing is that Steps 1 and 3 can very easily be carried out by assistive tech, via physical support or digital means.
With the right assistive tech support at Step 1 and the building of confidence, Step 2 often becomes as simple as any neurotypical person might find it. If the text is read to them, either by a person or by piece of technology, their level of understanding is no longer compromised, and dyslexic individuals can create and respond accordingly. Step 3 – the ‘answer’ part, where we expect the response, can then be supported via speech-to-text or a number of assistive writing aids, both human and digital.
In short, if we apply assistive tech to the equation, we can change outcomes for so many people who have literacy differences.
Our goal should be to make assistive technologies as mainstream as possible. Anything less is not equitable for dyslexic and other people with neurodiverse differences, and it’s our duty to ensure that those who need assistive tech support feel comfortable and confident in asking for the help they need— in education, at work, and everywhere else in their lives. This means normalising it, and making sure that we’re talking about dyslexia at every level, as well as advocating for support and understanding every day.
About the Author:
Mike Styles is a self-employed consultant, researcher and trainer focusing on dyslexia in adults. He has had 25 years working with literacy and numeracy issues in adults and in dyslexia and neurodiversity for tertiary education learners and adults. He has led several national research projects exploring how best to support adults with dyslexia in tertiary education and the workplace. In 2018 he screened a large sample on prison inmates to determine the rate of dyslexia in the New Zealand prison population.
Mike also spearheaded an initiative to develop and implement a Dyslexia Friendly Quality Mark for tertiary education institutions in Aotearoa New Zealand. launched in September 2021 to great acclaim.
He spends much of his time delivering workshops and webinars to upskill educators on best practices for educating learners with dyslexia. He has also just launched his self-published book – entitled “Congratulations – you have dyslexia! Great minds think differently” – you can find out more and purchase a copy via the website homepage.