Post FE Dyslexia Support: A comparison between Inclusion of dyslexia in Higher Education (HE) and the workplace

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1 Post FE Dyslexia Support: A comparison between Inclusion of dyslexia in Higher Education (HE) and the workplace Presentation Outline Stimulus behind the investigation Aim and objectives of the investigation Definition of Dyslexia Disability research issues The Research Process Research findings Discussion: analysis of results and investigation process Investigation Stimulus With a raising number of disabled people entering employment and HE, and legal pressure for employers and educational institutions to provide inclusive environments, what in practice is being done to address the needs of dyslexic people? This question was brought to my attention through many informal conversations with dyslexic people and organisations and educational representatives. It seemed that the initial question led to no solutions and many people simply did not know what, if anything was being achieved. Through personal experience of a bumpy transition from HE to employment I decided to carry out research in this area. On early investigation in the topic of dyslexia in the workplace I found that it was a poorly researched area with little published academic work to draw information from. Aims and Objectives The aim of the investigation was to analyse the different approaches to dyslexia in HE and the workplace, to find areas of good practice, that would enhance the services available for dyslexic individuals in both HE and the workplace. Research objectives: to analyse perceptions and methods of recruitment. to analyse the working environment. to analyse support structures and organisational/ company policies. to analyse the impact of recent disability legislation.

2 Definition of Dyslexia It is important to establish early on what we actually mean by dyslexia. This is of course a contentious issue as many definitions of dyslexia exist. It is true to say that practitioners, academics, governments, educational institutions all use varying definitions of dyslexia to meets their needs and requirements, thus perpetuating misunderstandings of dyslexia and a loss of validity of the condition. So exactly how is dyslexia defined? Dyslexic definitions tend to stem from the point of diagnosis, with the majority being established within an educational environment. For this reason most definitions point to dyslexia as a literacy problem. Even the term dyslexia defines itself as a literacy problem, with dys being the Greek word for difficulty with and lexia meaning words. However these definitions do not take into account many key elements of the condition experienced by dyslexic individuals. If these elements are mentioned, they tend to be referred to as secondary, less important elements to that of literacy difficulties. For example the UK s leading dyslexia organisation the British Dyslexia Association (BDA) defines dyslexia as, a combination of abilities and difficulties that affect the learning process in one or more of reading, spelling and writing. The BDA go on to note that, Accompanying weaknesses may be identified in areas of speed of processing, short term memory, sequencing and organisation, auditory and/or visual perception, spoken language and motor skills British Dyslexia Association (BDA), 2003 The Department for Education and Skills (DFES) (2006), defines dyslexia to be a specific difficulty, typically characterised by an unusual balance of skills. Affecting information processing (receiving, holding, retrieving and structuring information) and the speed of processing information. It therefore has an impact on skills such as reading, writing, using symbols and carrying out calculations.

3 Along side this, variations in the theories of dyslexia between scientists and academia lead to further confusion of the condition, particularly related to biological, cognitive and social theories. For me most definitions bring negative images and meanings to dyslexia. Through the use of negative terminology for example the BDA and the DFES use the words weaknesses, difficulties, unusual and affecting. Dyslexic definitions are non-empowering for dyslexic individuals, focusing on literary achievement and describing many important dyslexic traits as secondary elements. Fitzgibon et al (2002) acknowledge that parallels are drawn between literary achievement and overall levels of ability. This negativity, lack of a definitive definition and inappropriate recognition of other elements of dyslexia has far reaching consequences on society s attitude towards dyslexia. Definition used It is also true to say that many definitions offered are not adequate to describe adult dyslexia and more importantly adult dyslexia related to the workplace. Therefore the definition offered by Fitzgibbon et al (2002, pg.3) has been used, where dyslexia is described as an inefficiency in working-memory: the system of storage and processing of information. Fitzgibbon et al offer a broad simple definition looking at visual, spatial and verbal information that is suitable in both education and the workplace. Disability Research Issues In the passed research conducted around disability issues has had little impact on the lives of disabled people, the very people for whom it was meant to help. Researching institutions, researchers and research funding bodies typically pursued their own interests, operating non- inclusive research processes. However in the early 1990 s disability research began to change. Oliver s influence on establishing emancipatory research: to confront disability by changing: the social relations of research production, including the role of funding bodies; the relationship

4 between researchers and those being researched, and the links between research and policy initiatives. Barnes et al (1997, pg. 5). Saw disability research going beyond the notion of impairment and establishing itself within the social model of disability. Barnes et al (1997, pg. 5) states that research, should be about changing the world not simply describing it. Therefore the following key factors have to be considered when carrying out disability research. The political agenda attached to disability research, by funding bodies, through the research topic and the researcher. The power balances between those being researched and the researcher. Involvement of those being researched in the research process: design, implementation, analysis and dissemination. The power struggles created by funding bodies and researchers, in determining the research pathway. disabled peoples call for no participation without representation (Cited Finklestein, 1985, barnes et al pg 6). The presence of disabled researchers and disabled people being researched. The debate about non-disabled people carrying out disability research. There is a thought that non-disabled researchers compromise there research through the absence of personal experience. Barnes et al (1997, pg.7) Emancipatory research needs to be reflexive, self critical and should not be used as propaganda. The Research Process A qualitative research process, design and implementation, was used. The research took place in Sheffield South Yorkshire, concentrating on a small sample. In total 4 people were contacted for the study who were between the ages of The gender make up of the sample was 2 female and 2 male. Qualitative questionnaires followed up by telephone interviews, were used to gather the research information. The questionnaires were sent to the sample via . The 4 individuals in the sample were specifically targeted to ensure that all areas of research were covered. The sample participant makeup was as follows:

5 1. A university dyslexic support worker. 2. A human resource manager for a multi- national commercial company. 3. A dyslexic individual who had graduated from university and had experience of the workplace. NB now working within the university and still studying part time. This individual was a substitute for a previous participant who did not complete the research process. 4. A dyslexic individual who had graduated from university, had experience of the workplace as company director and also of employing dyslexic individuals. Though the research process was initiated by the researcher all individuals were given the opportunity to state the best technique for interviewing. Therefore one of the questionnaires was adapted into a power point presentation as requested. The questionnaires all followed a set format and covered the following areas: Perceptions and Recruitment: Understanding of the term dyslexia. Perceptions of a dyslexic person. Active recruitment of dyslexic people. Changes made to the application process to cater for dyslexic people. The Working Environment: The environment provided for dyslexic people. Designated quiet areas. Technical support/ aids offered. Company Support Structure/ Policies: Assessment and regular re-assessment of need. Policies for production of literature. Training policies for all staff. Basic skills training for dyslexic individuals. Ongoing support and programmes for developing skills for employment. Disability Legislation Understanding of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) for education and employment law. Organisational changes made to address DDA law. Partnership working with external dyslexic organisations.

6 Future plans for policy development. Research Findings The research process though in theory seemed the best course of action, in reality problems were experienced. Over half of the sample did not respond to the questionnaire or to the follow up s and telephone calls. This has therefore had an impact on the results. However two of the sample did completed the questionnaire and follow up telephone interview. The results from the two participants can be found in Appendix 1. Analysis: Perceptions and Recruitment: understanding and perception. The understanding of the term dyslexia has very specific meanings to participant 3. Here they describe dyslexia from a personal perspective, where dyslexia affects their literacy skills as well as concentration and ability to transfer information. It is interesting to look at the terminology that they have used, noting that there dyslexia has numerous affects. Participant 3, groups all of these affects together not adding an order of importance, unlike the previous definitions where this has been the case. Bv doing this participant 3 removes the power struggle between these elements which is created in the previous definitions. Participant 1 in contrast offers a text book definition of dyslexia. Here the participant focuses on literacy and the brain functions needed for organisation, processing and sequencing. However they also go on to note that difficulties in these areas have no direct link to the dyslexic individuals intelligence and highlight the potential strengths offered by dyslexic people. It is interesting to note that the participant 3 does not recognise these two areas and focuses on the difficulties that they experience. Participant 3 has a very strong identity and view of how other people perceive dyslexia. Here they show a frustration over the lack of empowerment that they are given around their dyslexia noting that people, don t realise that I know that I m dyslexic and the sort of mistakes I tend to make.

7 Interestingly participant 3 makes us aware that they are irritated by people thinking of them as lazy and stupid. However they failed to recognise their own intelligent when describing the term dyslexia in the previous question. Perceptions and Recruitment: recruitment. It is clear from both participants that universities and organisations do not actively recruit dyslexic individuals. However dyslexic individuals do still enter universities and organisations. These individuals still have to go through main stream application processes which are not always suitable. The Working Environment: It is clear that within the university environment comprehensive support structures and work space is available. This comprises of designated quiet areas, 1-1 support sessions and a range of assistive technology. However this necessary support network soon seems to disappear when dyslexic individuals make the transition into the workplace. Interestingly participant 3 now works within a university where good support structures are available but it seems only for students. Universities do rely heavily on local governments to supply funding to support these structures. Perhaps a lack of funding to support dyslexia in the work place is to blame for the cut of in support offered. Company Support Structure/ Policies: Universities benefit from in-house dyslexia assessment skills where students requirements for study are consider. However in order for a student to access these assessments, they must first go through yet again a poorly structured and inappropriate application process, to attain grant funding from their local authority to pay for the support. Once funding has been agreed students are then entitled to receive technological, academic and study skills support. However the student will only receive one assessment of need throughout their time at university. These services are not available to dyslexic individuals within the work place. It is appears that no policies are in place for the way that information is produced by both universities and workplace organisations. For many dyslexic individuals large amounts of text often full of jargon with large amounts of unnecessary language and written in an inaccessible font style and size mean information becomes inaccessible.

8 The universities have been proactive in raising awareness of dyslexia amongst staff and students and this seems to be backed up by participant 3 who states that colleagues do have a good understanding of dyslexia and will offer support to carry out work based tasks. Students support sessions are offered at half an hour once a week where students are shown efficient ways of working. Participant 3 acknowledges that these support sessions were vital in helping them to learn coping mechanisms. However yet again there seems to be a lack of support in the workplace. Participant 1 states that the university support sessions are not specifically designed to help the student to prepare for the working environment. Participant 1 believes not enough financial support could be to blame. Workplace prejudices hamper the level of support, if available, that dyslexic individuals will ask for. As noted by participant 3 fear of losing there job is a reality for many dyslexic individuals. Disability Legislation Both participants note that they have an understanding of the Disability Discrimination Act for education and employment, though participant 3 feels that unless this legislation is used to in a court of law support through the DDA offers little assistance. It is clear though that organisations and universities need to change overall polices to meet the requirements of the DDA, particularly regarding recruitment, raising awareness of dyslexia, creating cultures of equality of opportunity, providing training, making reasonable adjustments to the working environment and producing accessible materials. It will become increasingly more important that universities and organisations are proactive in there approach to dyslexia particularly with new disability legislation coming into force, the Disability Equality Duty, the UN Convention on the rights of disabled people and the re-working of the definition of disability. Both participants acknowledged that they had had no or little contact with dyslexic organisations. This is a common trait as most dyslexic organisations are perceived to be for children and do not cater for adults.

9 Problems with the Research process With a poor response rate by the sample participants, the research would have benefited by involving the research sample in the design of the research process. Time constraints placed on the researcher through full time employment also contributed to the poor response rate. Due to a poor sample size I feel that there was a lot of researcher bias, this is due to the researchers own experience of dyslexia particularly related to dyslexia in the workplace and higher education. Discussion Overall the research has shown that there are significant differences in providing inclusive resources, policies and practices for dyslexic individuals within the workplace and universities. Universities have made huge steps forward in the services that they offer to their dyslexic students but this has not been mirrored within the workplace. Partnerships should be formed between universities, workplace and national dyslexic organisations to build a solid programme of transitional support for dyslexic individuals, and to share good practice and expertise between organisations. Transitional support programmes should include preparing students for entering the workplace, this do not mean solely focusing on preparing CV s, covering letters etc. It should look at: how to empower dyslexic individuals to take control within the work place. give dyslexic individuals the skills to identify there strengths and weakness and how to communicate these to potential employers. Teach dyslexic individuals organisation skills: managing time and tasks. Work out daily planning including a timetable of daily tasks. Help dyslexic individuals realise and understand employment law particularly through taking appropriate breaks, understanding discrimination etc. Inform individuals of support organisations that are available and people to turn to if harassment, bulling and discrimination are experienced. Develop communication skills and ways to deal with conflict. Active recruitment of dyslexic people with inclusive application processes. This will help to positively bring dyslexia into mainstream culture by encouraging people not to hide their dyslexia.

10 More support from dyslexic organisations should be made available where companies can tap into specific support programmes for their employees, like the universities this may be one half hour session per week. Participant 4, in an informal telephone conversation noted they employ a dyslexic support worker for two hours a week to help with structuring work tasks, organisation, writing general correspondence and planning for the week ahead etc. On top of this support structure much work is needed to break down the poor perceptions and misunderstanding of dyslexia. This should be led by setting a firm definition where all elements of dyslexia are treated with equal status and can be applied to adult (university and workplace) dyslexia. With the reworking of DDA definition of disability this is a good time address this issue and move away from dyslexia as a mental impairment. Cited Elliot (1990) states that, What is needed in Britain is an agreed definition of specific learning difficulties which carries some legal force. Especially if we are to legally achieve the inclusion of dyslexic people. Awareness programmes for all employees and students would help to break down the myths of dyslexia. A united way forward throughout the community involved in dyslexia is needed those including government, researchers, dyslexia organisations and dyslexic individuals. With a united message been given out about dyslexia misunderstanding in the general population will not occur. More research is needed to look at dyslexia in the workplace and how the education sector can share years of experience in this area and expertise.

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