Articles & Published blogs:
Dys..... Dsylx.....Dyslexia a personal perspective, disability or gift?
I give you a list of eminent experts in their field; Winston Churchill, Leonardo Da Vinci, Mohammed Ali, Erin Brockovich, Alexander Graham Bell. What do they all have in common? Apart from being famous, they are all known for having learning difficulties or dyslexia. I am happy to have this “disability” in common with these giants of Politics, Science, Sport and Activism. Yes disability in “inverted” comas. Yes it is a disability but only in such as it puts those with learning difficulties to coin a legal phrase, “difficulties in carrying out normal day to day duties”.
We could say this therefore includes adding, spelling, writing, reading, learning, remembering ..... and yes I have these difficulties, and have had these from a young age. At the age of 10 every Friday I used to skip (yes I did skip in those days) to “special classes” In my Primary school in Trafford park, Manchester. It was in a part of the building that others didn’t go. I always thought that was what they meant by “special”. On my way there I would always imagine I was going to a special spy school to be taught skills that others didn’t know. My imagination then and still now does sometime tend to run ahead of itself. There I would sit with other fellow special children and cut shapes and learn to try and form my letters following dot templates. Not very helpful in a international espionage situation I know. To be honest I didn’t know why I was there or what I was learning.
The next case of being special was in Secondary School a place called Lostock in Stretford. There too within the first year I was asked to stay behind after school to improve my handwriting following the same dots to create letters. After which we left Manchester and moved to Gloucester. The rest of my school life there was no mention of me being special. I did get marked down a lot and was usually in lower sets due to my work being unreadable. However one incident does come to mind. For a short period we had a student teacher for English when I was fifteen, having written a poem on war for homework, I was asked where I’d copied it from. I told the teacher that I had written he and he wouldn’t believe me. I followed this up with a short story on spies (here we go again) and he was so impressed he actually said I had a great talent and I was writing to a degree standard. Unfortunately he left soon after and everything went back to normal When I left school, I went to college, where again nothing was mentioned regarding my learning difficulties.
As most of my early jobs involved manual grafting, I got by without it being mentioned too often. Until I was employed by the Local authority where I stayed working for the next 20 years of my life, though moving about across the country for promotion prospects. I often was made to feel that I didn’t have the capacity to be in the same crowd as these other professional people because I just couldn’t write or spell. Here in my role I was required to sit and study some complex papers on Consumer Law. I went back to the methods I used in my school studies and as per my school results these where disastrous. I couldn’t understand why? It wasn’t like I wasn’t bright and I couldn’t learn. In fact at this stage of my life I would be regularly reading four books on different subjects at the same time. Well obviously not all at the same time. I think even Mr Da Vinci would have struggled with that. So what was going wrong? I decided to try and study how the mind works and so for the next six months I read everything I could on how the mind processes information and how brains actually retain information.
Everything I learnt made me question the education system. When were young and before we go to school we learn from seeing things, using our senses and turning these in to memories which fit words. Yet when we go to school we are taught to learn words and fit them in to pictures and remember them, twice as long a process. What I learnt was my brain just wouldn’t learn like that and I had to go back to thinking like I was a child. Learning had to be visual, colourful and imaginative. It seemed like my brain just wasn’t taking the information in the way I was expected to. The most helpful work I found in this field is the works by Tony Buzan on memories, learning and Mind Mapping. Not only did these systems teach me how to retain information, but I was actually enjoying it, creating pictures and diagrams with colour which were so much more stimulating then black and white text. What I was starting to realise was that I didn’t think like everyone else. I was different “special” and that my greatest gift was my imagination. When I used this to the fullest everything else fell in to place. Learning actually became enjoyable. And it was a gift. Now I’m no Learnado or even Churchill. But like them I do think differently and not “normally”. When I was 30 I actually got diagnosed with dyslexia but all the techniques they tried to teach me I already knew and was using successfully.
Now at the age of forty four I still can’t write a sentence without spelling the same word in two different ways and not recognising it. My written work if, I used a pen is still dreadful. But what I have instead is a way of seeing things that other people just don’t see. When I’m in meetings I often come up with radical but simple solutions. I come up with and implement large scale plans that may look daunting to others but to me I see clearly as 1...2....3.... . In fact when people say “ah you think out of the box”! I reply “what box”? There isn’t a box, why restrain your thinking by having a box in the first place.
Over the last seven years I have moved away from Consumer Law and moved in to Equality and here working with a wide group of people. I have been lucky to meet a number of people with learning difficulties. In each case after talking to them it becomes evident to me and after a little persuasion to them, that they too have a gift. Yes they are disabled in the context of normality, but that’s the medical model of thinking. Socially they are in fact gifted all they need to do is recognise their strengths whatever it may be whether musical, writing, painting, sport, science and then use their individual abilities to strive in that direction.
Now a lot of what I’m talking about works for “normal” people without learning difficulties too. My children do not have any learning difficulties and are all bright in their own way. However when we used to go shopping to the supermarket when they where toddlers we had a little game we’d play. We’d, make a ridiculous story out of the shopping list. It would go something like this;
There was a giant purple cow that had a tiny udder; this cow would sit on pink eggs every morning whilst nibbling on dainty triangular cut pieces of toast. His favourite toppings where blue bananas and Green cheese. One day whilst eating his breakfast he saw ......
The list would be something like forty items and from the above story we could go round and remember exactly what we needed. The kids got it right every time. Funny thing is when my daughter was getting ready for her GCSE’s the school brought in a specialist teacher to help them learn things. This expert recited a list of fifteen things and asked who could remember it? Yep my daughter was the only one who could and she did it exactly by making up such a story. The expert was impressed; my daughter just thought it was something silly we used to do.
Anyway enough of my ramblings got to go and save the world and rescue a damsel in distress, My Aston Martins waiting, I know, I know, I should stop, but seriously why!!! Recognise if you have a learning difficulty in my case my imagination, embrace it, do not be put off by the labels you are given. Believe, and find your gift and share it with the world. If you don’t have learning difficulties, still try and use some of the methods I’ve talked about here. I can guarantee your life will be brighter and you’ll have fun.Wheelie Fashionable.........
So you want to go out at night to that fancy restaurant, or you have that all important interview, or are invited to a friend’s wedding and like me you’re a bit large and in wheelchair, you know that the jogging suit bottoms and the T shirt and jumper which is just so comfortable, just won’t do! Humh so you think about turning down the invite, or make some plausible excuse, or better still go wearing that suit you brought from the high street and sit there being all uncomfortable with the trousers all pinching in the wrong places, riding up your legs. Your suit jacket riding up your middle crumpled up around your waist and causing you discomfort?
Well there is another option! Just recently having been made redundant from a long term position in Diversity & Equality within Local Government, I have taken a big step and decided to go it alone and set myself up as a consultant. I know the markets tough out there and I needed to show myself up in the best light, is decided to look at was actually available out there.
Having been up and down the high street finding suits that just didn’t fit for my size or due to being in a wheel chair, or shirts that I found which did accommodate my “slim” 20 inch neck but then looked like I was wearing a tent with the arms dragging along the floor I was getting quite demoralised. Are there people who are really that size, they must be at least eight feet tall!! I finally thought I know I’ll try my hand at that modern internet thing. So After much searching and finding only very few websites, which seem to cater mostly for females in wheelchairs, or one site which seemed to think I was made of money, I decided to try a different tact. My searches had come across a couple of web sites, which seem to make suits or and shirts made to measure. These companies had web pages which indicated that they were based in Northern Europe. However further investigations revealed that these suits would actually be made in the Far East. I contacted these companies via email and explained my needs; I drew up a design of the suit and explained exactly what I wanted. The companies hadn’t made such suits for disabled people but were happy to give it a go. My design included a short waist length jacket, with appropriate pockets and extra material around the shoulders to assist in wheeling myself in the chair. Trousers where designed slightly elasticised around the waste, shorter at the front and larger at the back around the waist to accommodate being sat all day in a chair. The trousers also had a slightly larger zip for ease of use for going to the bathroom and easy clip for fastening around the waist. I even thought that if i needed I could have got a zip put in the side of my ankle or thigh, which could accommodate emptying of a bag and easy access for emptying. Or even have my trouser pockets half way down my thighs for easy access. As a bonus on the suit I got to choose the material from hundreds of different styles and colours and even got my name specially embroided in to the inside of the jacket. All this for under £200 pounds delivered.
I waited for about six weeks for the suit to arrive and when it did, and I tried it on, it was the most comfortable suit id ever worn and fitted so beautifully I was really pleased.
For the shirt I used a different company, again I put in my size requirements on their easy to use web site, and yes they could accommodate my trunk like neck, and my size. The choice of different cloths, colours, collars, cuffs and accompaniments was dazzling. When the shirt arrived it looked and felt amazing, again it fitted beautifully and all for under £25.00 delivered.
I know some people may be wary of using these sites due to internet fraud. Both companies however offer payment by Credit Card and pay pall. Both of these payment methods offer internet fraud protection so there’s little to worry about from that end. Both companies also seem to have excellent customer services. Having emailed the companies with questions I got prompt replies, in English and nothing seemed to be too much problem. If you do have specific requirements I would recommend that you email them first and ask, and discuss your requirements, they’ll be more than happy to help.
For readers of this magazine I have even managed to secure a 5% - discount on the suits. Simply put in the code “Halo” in to their on line coupon code to get this offer.
Suit available from; http://www.suitopia.com/en/
Shirt & tie from; http://www.itailor.com/designshirts.php
If you want further help or advice in designing your suit, feel free to contact Iggy Patel on firstname.lastname@example.org
A view of Lincolnshire’s Adult Social Care decision with regards to eligibility criteria and consultation;
Disability and Customer Services
Dealing with people with disabilities is no different to dealing with non-disabled customers. Both expect, and should, receive excellent customer services when they use our services.
Disabilities appear in many different forms, some more evident than others. Being a wheelchair user myself, when I approach a Customer Service representative, either in a shop, restaurant, or behind a counter I often find the look on the other Customer service representative face, faintly amusing. It is often a look of concern and fear, which I presume is there due to the lack of knowledge of how to deal with the person or situation.
There is nothing really to fear, a few simple steps can make the experience for both parties undaunting.
Before I go in to the fine details, the first point to remember if you’re unsure of what to do is not to presume but always to ask the customer!
First impressions count, and thus entrance to premises, and waiting rooms should always be considered. Are they clutter free? Can a person with visual Impairments or in a wheelchair or other mobility problems approach the desk without having to go through an obstacle course? Are hearing loop signs easily noticeable and not buried under other posters and leaflets?
Once at the desk or counter is there a low counter that a person in a wheelchair can use? If not then the customer service representative should always walk round the counter and face the customer in a wheelchair, rather than have the customer having to strain to look up at them. When with the customer, if you need to discuss anything in detail, sit down at the customer’s level so again you are sat at the same height as the customer. It is also useful to have a clipboard and a pen with you, many wheelchair users including myself often find it difficult to write on forms and badges due to the shape and levels of counters. The clipboard can then be passed to the customer for any necessary signatures or forms. Where you are approached by people with hearing difficulties, the clip board can also be used to communicate with the person in writing.
One of the things discussed regularly by people with disabilities, and one of my pet hates, is lack of communication with disabled customers. Regardless of the disability, whether hearing impairments, customers who use a wheelchair or people with cognitive difficulties, even if they have an assistant with them to help them communicate or get around; always, always talk to the actual customer and not the helper.
When talking to deaf people in particular staff should look directly at the customer, and not turn away from them whilst talking. Speak, slowly and clearly. It also helps to use facial expression, body language and gestures where appropriate. Consider positioning of bright lights behind you and ensure there is sufficient light on your face so the deaf person can easily read your lips and facial expressions. Remember to take the time to communicate and don’t give up! Frontline staff may find it useful to be provided with basic sign language skills.
If the customer is asked to wait, in a seating area, you may wish to consider seating arrangements: Is there adequate space where the person can park their wheelchair? Are there high seats available with arm rests that a person with mobility issues can easily get in to and out of? Whilst the customer is waiting if waiting if you offer them drinks, make sure they can get hold of the drink as most coffee tables in waiting rooms are too low and can cause issues for wheelchair users and people with mobility problems. Think about having a separate portable, adjustable table which can be height adjusted.
When dealing with customers over the phone, if you are aware that the person has disabilities, or are made aware of this, then be prepared to give the customer extra time to answer the phone and to respond to any questions. If the person does have mobility problems or is in a wheelchair, it may be difficult for them to talk to you, whilst trying to get hold of letters or documents to refer to. As a practical solution, you could always ask the person for the information you want and offer to call them back when they have the documents in hand and can take the call comfortably. When receiving calls from people with hearing impairments are you aware of the facilities such as talk type and how they work? Information regarding this service with practical advice can be found on the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) talk type web site http://www.typetalk.org/
I haven’t touched on the legal implications under the Equalities Act in relation to providing services without discriminating against people, as I presume most people should be aware of their responsibilities under this legislation, further information on the act can be found at http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/DisabledPeople/RightsAndObligations/DisabilityRights/DG_4001068
This article was written only to give some basic practical guidance how to treat customers with disabilities, it will not cover all circumstances, I must therefore reiterate if your unsure please ask, this will make it easier for the customer and allow the customer service representative to offer an excellent service.