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Does the IT industry think diversity and Dyslexia Awareness is just for one week in October?

Amazon, the Prince’s Trust and Nuance all do their bit to make the IT industry more accessible. But is there really a diversity dividend wonders Nick Booth

Did you know that dyslexics have a special talent for IT security?

No, this isn’t a joke. Dyslexic people see things differently from the majority. So they spot patterns that most people won’t.  Which is why GCHQ employs at least a hundred dyslexics and dyspraxics. Their neuro-diversity gives them a special talent for processing and analysing complex data.

The government’s greatest ever code breaker - Alan Turing - ticked quite a few diversity tick boxes so it’s logical that our civil service has learned to harness the talents of the unconventional.

What about the rest of the IT industry? Weirdly, the private sector is way behind the public on this creative management of human resources. Aren’t we free market capitalists supposed to be the progressive, creative ones?

If Einstein, Gandhi or Winston Churchill were around today, none of them would have a chance of getting a job. Einstein would end up shelf stacking, Gandhi might just wing it as one of those corporate empathy chancers on the speaker’s circuit and Churchill would be working in a call centre.

One of the companies whose technology seeks to address the tragic wastes of talent, is Nuance Communications, just through the simple tactic of bringing dyslexics into mainstream employment through speech recognition technology. (They can’t all be spooks at GCHQ). For two decades, Nuance’s Dragon family has been converting dictated speech into text, while also enabling a computer to then read your work back to you. This gets around the word blindness that currently downgrades and excludes a huge swathe of the population.

It’s worth pointing out that offering Dragon could be a great vehicle for any company that needs to meet corporate social responsibility targets.

There are 6.3 million dyslexics in Britain, according to the organisers of Dyslexia Awareness Week starting on 1October.

One example is Norwich-based law graduate Will Foley, who was only diagnosed with dyslexia in his second year at university because he exhibited the less recognisable symptoms, like bad handwriting, disorganisation and poor spatial awareness.

Thanks to Nuance’s Dragon speech to text technology, he’s now been able to train as a solicitor, a career which requires a lot of writing, which would have been pretty much impossible for him using the conventional keyboard and mouse.

Foley says dyslexia gave him a different way of looking things which enabled him to crack a problem that had confounded others. “Before I became a solicitor, I worked in human resources for a government department. We had a lot of lengthy, complicated and time-consuming calls arranging holiday for the staff. I noticed how unnecessary some of it was, and suggested an alternative method of organising and logging holiday to cut these calls down from 15 minutes to 3,” says Foley, “I believe my dyslexia was the reason that I was the first and only person in years to pick up on this and make a change."

Another dyslexic, Joseph Rennisson, was ranked in the bottom 2 per cent for spelling and the bottom 0.3 per cent for both reading and comprehension by a special needs assessor as he prepared for further education. Luckily, before he gave up in despair, they also discovered he is in the top 90 per cent of the population for perceptual reasoning. He’s now graduated with a first class degree in business from Bournemouth University and develops educational games.

So perhaps technology firms need to widen their terms of assessment. The old attributes of a firm handshake and predictable banter are only good if you are looking for a yes man for middle management.

Dyslexia, like many other disabilities, needn’t be a barrier to success. It’s a rare gift, if you handle it right, which can open you up to insights and achievements.

This was last published in September 2018

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