This guest blog has been written for HEPI by Mark Geremia, Vice President and General Manager for Dragon Professional and Consumer.

Studies have found that, on average, three children in every classroom are dyslexic which causes them to struggle with literacy. This equates to around 1.2 million children that find reading and writing in lessons a challenge.

Dyslexia is not a new problem, but it is a condition that is often met with old preconceptions as well as old solutions for addressing it. We know dyslexia as something that hinders students from being able to read and write at the same level as their peers. But the lesser-known effects, like spatial awareness and organisation issues put a spotlight on one key point – which is that people with dyslexia see things differently.

William Foley, a Law Graduate from the University of East Anglia, explains more:

I wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until my second year at university, mostly because I exhibited the less recognisable symptoms, like bad handwriting, disorganisation and poor spatial awareness. Sometimes I think schools look for bad spelling and difficulty reading but forget the various other effects it has. Once I realised that I saw things differently, I realised this made me different in a good way and is something that makes me more employable now.

While this way of perceiving things in different and new ways can be a bonus – especially to future employers – it can be an issue when going through the education system and grappling with classes, coursework and homework tasks at school, college and university. So it is important that educational institutions provide the right support and assistance, based on a solid understanding of the condition in all its forms, to provide students with a level playing field through their time in the education system.

Additionally, the psychological wellbeing of students is of paramount importance to teachers and parents alike, and while the pressures of school are a point of contention for most students, the potentially damaging impact of the wrong approach to students with learning difficulties should be taken into consideration. If we pigeon-hole these individuals because of outdated ideas of what dyslexia means, we could be doing them a major disservice when it comes to helping them discover their potential and succeed in tapping into and utilising their strengths.

This is a point echoed by Nellie Owens, currently a university student at Bath Spa:

I would say that my school might have been accused of providing me with blanketed and outdated solutions, while the effort was made to assist me, the patronising and exclusive treatment tended to alienate me further by making me so obviously different to my peers. This alienation gave me anxiety issues and fuelled the self-doubt that I wasn’t as intelligent as my peers.

Of course, many assistive aids have been developed to help people with dyslexia. One that has had a positive impact is speech recognition software, something that in 2018 we find in various forms in our phones, cars and virtual assistants. The desktop equivalent of this technology – in the form of Dragon from Nuance Communications – is offered to dyslexic students by the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA).

For many dyslexic students, this technology presents a major turning point, as it negates the need for them to use the keyboard and mouse, which is often the barrier between their thoughts, knowledge and ideas being captured and shared via a PC or laptop. By simply dictating to a PC, they can cut their essay time by half and get their thoughts onto paper efficiently – without the daunting and frustrating prospect of words swimming around a page in front of them as they type. It can even aid the editing process by dictating work back to you, making it easier to spot errors without the stress of proofreading. Evie Bruton, a student from Wales said that the speech recognition software she received from the Welsh Government ‘changed the way she worked’ and she ‘wished that this technology was available earlier on in [her] time in education’.

For others, they are not able to get access to this software even at University level, as Linnea, an English Literature Graduate, explains: 

The DSA testing process is tough, there is a lot of paper work, which is daunting for someone with dyslexia and anxiety so I think others might struggle with it too. I was never able to access to the recommended software due to many complications in the process, I know that speech recognition technology could have aided me immensely and could still be helping now in my search for a career.

This technology is something that many students with dyslexia feel needs to be more readily embraced and available in all educational institutions. Because ultimately, students with dyslexia are like all other students; they just need the appropriate support to aid their reading and writing. With a myriad of differing ways in which dyslexia can rear its head, technology like speech recognition can play a key role in helping to address the core challenges that many dyslexic students face with their reading and writing.

Not only will embracing technology be beneficial in potentially boosting long term confidence, but it will provide individuals with the tools they need to tap into their strengths and abilities, and to be more assured about their academic potential.