How can brand design agencies support dyslexic employees?
Businesses unwittingly benefit from embracing those who are neurodiverse, specifically the creative industries. People with dyslexia have much value to add if the workplace is adjusted to work with them rather than against – as Albert Einstein once said, “you can’t judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree”.
Being dyslexic myself, I wanted to see how I could grow my own company, Echo. How could we become a fairer and more ethical employer that is well-equipped to help those with different minds? I reached out to Roger Broadbent, Director of Dyslexia Institute UK to discuss how the workplace can best adjust to those with specific learning differences. Roger kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions…
What benefits do you think a dyslexic person can bring to the creative industries, specifically design?
Some people are left or right brained. Those with Dyslexia are right brained, and this is where the creativity happens. There is a mile-long list of dyslexics, many renowned creatives, and each have brought something unique to their chosen art; Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Spike Lee, Salma Hayek, Andy Warhol to name a few. Generally, it’s important to remember that dyslexia is a spectrum and those affected will be different from one another, with varying strengths and weakness. For example, although a common issue, not every person with dyslexia will struggle with spelling. In fact some people with dyslexia can be very good at spelling!
Those with dyslexia bring the ability to see the big picture fast. Prominent leaders such as Winston Churchill, or Barack Obama emphasise the dyslexic ability to achieve this; they tend to be thinking a few steps ahead. They have this unique skill of assimilating lots of information about a subject, bringing it to an overview and then seeing the bigger picture. Onlookers may chuckle at the rapid speaking speeds of a dyslexic person – this tends to be because their brains run a lot faster, and due to their poor functioning short term memories, they will forget their thoughts if they don’t get them out. Alongside an ability to talk for England, dyslexics tend to be very good orators and can effectively communicate their thinking.
What systems and ways of working can employers put in place to support dyslexic employees to help them achieve their potential?
20% of the population are dyslexic, yet only 1% are diagnosed; many suffer in silence trapped in a system that does not cater for them. This situation is still problematic, 80% of dyslexic children are still leaving school without a diagnosis.
Employers can contact the government organisation called ‘Access to Work’. It will cover any costs to help that person be successful in their job. There exists software to help with spelling and grammar, and Dictaphones to record meetings. Claroread is specifically for an office environment and it is free for a new employee, plus 80% of the costs are covered for existing employees. Employers can also organise for their staff to own an ‘Empowerment Passport’, which is essentially a file that is pieced together for HR about the nature of someone’s difficulty. As I’ve already stressed, dyslexia manifests differently in different people, therefore the Empowerment Passport is created to uniquely support each individual.
How could we make the recruitment process more accessible for dyslexic people, from the application stage to the interview process?
Self-confidence can be tricky for people with dyslexia and the traditional interview process could prove difficult for them to navigate. I’m a huge advocate for doing workshops instead of interviews where possible. Interviews need not be a daunting and formal process and seeing how someone would do in the job day to day would ensure their best chance at success. For example, you could ask a dyslexic person to present something to you and give them a chance to prepare what they’re going to say, rather than putting them on the spot and them becoming stressed over “mind blanks” that accompany short term memory issues.
Put things into a practical context e.g., for a design interview: “Client X says they need Y product – what ideas would you come up with to engage the client more?” This really allows a person with dyslexia to showcase their particular skill of lateral thinking, where they tend to thrive.
Make your website welcoming to neurodivergent people. For free, companies can download a website reader, where the user can highlight text and have it read it to you. Yes, we are a dyslexia-friendly organisation and yes, we would like to recruit you.
How can we help to reduce the stigma surrounding dyslexia?
A problem which dyslexic people are not keen to admit, is their slightly weaker organisational skills – they’re worried this will make peers think badly of them. This can lead to a lot of stigma, as people falsely assume that this makes someone with dyslexia “stupid” – hardly the case! When it comes to “thinking outside the box”, people with dyslexia bring lots of quality insights. Organisational skills are easily managed through a series of “coping mechanisms”. In fact, incredibly self-aware individuals can end up being so vigilant in their working structures, that it barely becomes an issue!
How do we help reduce the stigma? We talk about it. We speak openly about it. It’s a fifth of the population here. Consumers buying from brands need to be aware that 20% of their marketplace will be dyslexic, and therefore more needs to be done to cater for it. They need to develop materials that people with dyslexia are going to be able to read and understand the problem. The techniques that brands employ to market themselves on Twitter/Instagram ought to be used generally for neurodiverse people – use bullet points, use images.
Some companies can even buy wristbands to symbolise that they are neurodiverse, or supportive of neurodiversity – they are green with a yellow sunflower! They could become Dyslexia Friendly, and show this badge on their website.
Are there any ‘coping mechanisms’ you could recommend for those in the creative industry trying to navigate a world which has not fully adjusted to their difference?
As I’ve mentioned, the dyslexic brain is quick to become cluttered. Think of the shrapnel off the back of comets acting as the debris from neuropathways in the brain. Having this extra energy burning through your brain is exhausting – a power nap works best for these individuals to rejuvenate. Even taking a run on a cross-trainer is a fabulous way to regulate the brain clutter and restore order!
Offering counselling may also be considered. Dyslexic individuals can experience bullying in school and this trauma can last through adulthood.
What movements/developments have you seen in the creative industries at large towards supporting and celebrating neurodiverse talent?
2021 should be looking to be as inclusive as possible. A good modern thinking, forward company would want to embrace inclusivity for its customers too. Below are a few organisations that are making leaps and bounds in supporting neurodiverse development:
DYSPLA – this is an annual festival around London that develops and produces the work of neurodivergent storymakers.
Creative Briefs – front lined with a fun pair of underpants as the logo, Creative Briefs set design challenges for young people with dyslexia. Their work “centres around young people taking the role of designers, responding to design briefs set by real clients”.
Dyslexia Institute UK – my own company delivers comprehensive bespoke dyslexia training packages to businesses and community organizations. Our aim is to break down the stigma of dyslexia and implement systematic change. We provide Dyslexia Confident training and then develop a company strategy to be implemented thereafter.
Roger’s words resonated with me. Creative companies can really succeed if they employ dyslexic individuals – not only because of the unique perspectives they bring, but also because it puts those companies in a position to best support their clientele. We are always looking for ways to improve our modes of working to suit every individual, as the best creativity happens when the mind is relaxed and unconstrained by conventional work environments.