In the UK, the government has made great strides in improving the lives of the disabled from an early age. The government’s Disabled Students’ Allowances and Access to Work schemes ensure that those with dyslexia continue to be supported throughout their life.

On the downside, those with dyslexia can often fail to self-identify, meaning they can go undiagnosed for many years, potentially struggling in silence with the condition.

To underline the consequences of this situation, research by the World Literacy Foundation found that illiteracy costs the UK economy more than £81 billion each year. Employers must therefore begin to encourage an open culture in which workers can unashamedly declare their dyslexia – if only for the benefit of the wider UK economy.

In fact, the longer it takes to intervene to diagnose literacy difficulties, the greater the cost, not just financially, but socially as well. Analysis by the Department for Education showed that pupils who entered secondary school with very low literacy skills had an exclusion rate five times that of pupils who were more able to read and write, while studies by Dyslexia Action have demonstrated that there is an over-representation within the UK prison population of those with literacy difficulties and dyslexia.

If you add to these alarming figures the unfortunate number of students who leave education with poor results and poorer self-esteem because of their dyslexia, it’s clear that those with literacy difficulties risk being pigeonholed and led to believe they are inferior from an early age. We must act now to intervene early and ensure literacy difficulties are identified and acted upon swiftly, so as to save the development of more pernicious issues further down the road.

Encouraging or helping an individual to self-identify can be a catalyst for change in a person’s life and bring about a huge benefit psychologically as they begin to navigate issues they had perhaps struggled with before. Every provider of assistive technology knows the transformative effect it can have on a person with dyslexia, a SEN student, a struggling reader or writer, a person with low literacy levels or an EAL learner, helping them to be more independent and engaged learners, whilst allowing them to better reach their potential.

Tools such as text-to-speech can benefit struggling readers with comprehension and understanding. Mind mapping software can assist with brainstorming and the management of complex information for those who struggle with organisation. Screen masking features can tint the screen to make it easier to read for those with Irlens syndrome or simply provide contrast for ease of reading and audio making tools allow for greater independence to learn on the go.

Assistive technology is just one enabler for those who suffer from literacy difficulties, but it’s certainly the most cost-effective method by saving the cost of additional teachers. Most importantly, students should never feel they are a ‘special’ or ‘unusual’ case. In aid of this, assistive technology equals the playing field by allowing students to participate in class at their own pace, whilst playing to their strengths.

Above all, assistive technology makes for more confident and happier individuals, emotionally happy and more ready to grip life’s chances. BATA is a key organisation to provide support and information for those looking for suitable AT resources to suit individual needs.

Like Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and Jamie Oliver, who have dyslexia, there is an innovator in each of us – and identifying the right AT support may just be the first step in unleashing true potential.

Elaine Crawford

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