Guest blog: Sal McKeown explores role of smartphones as Dyslexia Week kicks off

Sal McKeown

Dyslexia Week is upon us. This year it runs from 3 November to 9 November. Acres of newsprint are dedicated to the issue of dyslexia in schools but there are many people – some undiagnosed – who have left school and are struggling in the workplace.

Whether we are talking about a student or a worker, one of the key survival strategies is to make the very best use of all the facilities offered by a smartphone. They can make impromptu voice notes to act as reminders, take photos of screens or PowerPoint slides and video demonstrations so they have a record of sequences. Then there is more specialist technology such as Reading Pens where you can scan text and have it read aloud, as well as clever technology which lets you take a photograph on your phone and then the software converts text elements to a sound file.

Modern smartphones usually come preloaded with voice recognition so you can dictate ideas or information and email it to yourself. While it is not 100 per cent accurate, at least every word is correctly spelt and for most people with dyslexia it is easier to edit than to compose.

Many people with dyslexia come into their own as adults. I discovered, courtesy of Cass Business School, that in the field of self-employment, dyslexic entrepreneurs start up more businessesthan non-dyslexic entrepreneurs.

A couple of years ago I interviewed a number of young people and adults for my book How to Help your Dyslexic and Dyspraxic Child. Helen was one of the stars of the book. She felt she really only got to grips with her dyslexia when she left home and the constant well-meaning help from her family.

Technology has been a lifeline for her. She uses a password manager so she is never shut out of important sites because of faulty memory or poor typing skills. Helen also has checklists to keep track of what to pack for an overnight trip, as well as processes she needs to remember to do her job effectively. These are stored in DropBox so she can access them any time she needs them.

These days I meet an increasing number of teachers who have dyslexia. Once upon a time it was a real barrier to entry to the profession but times have changed. I interviewed Joe Beech who wrote The Little Book of Dyslexia: Both Sides of the Classroom when he was at the University of Chichester training to be a secondary school PE teacher.

His mobile phone has proved to be a lifeline. In the past, each item of technology tended to serve just one purpose and he needed a laptop, special software, a voice recorder and sat nav. These days he uses predictive text to make notes, his calendar to keep track of events and keeps an eye out for apps which will help him work smarter. He has found that if he has a problem, it is highly likely that someone will already have created an app to fill the gap. Far from being the person who struggles to keep up, he is showing others the way forward.

Dyslexia Week is a great time to look out for people with dyslexia at school and at work and think about how everyday technology can be used to help them to communicate more effectively but also how it can raise the bar for all of us.

Sal McKeown is author of How to Help your Dyslexic and Dyspraxic Child published by Crimson Publishing
The Little Book of Dyslexia: Both Sides of the Classroom by Joe Beech is published by Independent Thinking Press. Both books are available from Amazon