Sal McKeown meets a dyslexic educator with no time to waste – Sean Douglas
I have just come across a brilliant site for adults with dyslexia. A Google alert flagged up that a site called The Codpast was reviewing and giving away some copies of one of my favourite apps, ClaroSpeak Plus.
"Assistive technology is game changing," says the site's director Sean Douglas. "Speed is of the essence. I am a very fast touch typist and I don't want anything to hold me back." He set up The Codpast (Podcast for the non dyslexic among you), an online resource with videos, podcasts and articles for students and adults with dyslexia.
Sean has dyslexia and faces many of the same problems experienced by others and so is well placed to offer advice: :I spell things wrong, miss words out. I can’t imagine life without text-to-speech. I now use my iPad more and more, so jumped at the chance to try out the ClaroSpeak Plus app for the iPad. It's very good because it reads straight away when you insert the cursor whereas with others you have to highlight the text. I like the fact that when I type a full stop it reads the whole sentence so I can check it makes sense."
Well developed visual skills but unaware of help for dyslexia
Sean has very well developed visual skills. He studied at Ravensbourne College of Design and Communications in Bromley. "I knew I was dyslexic from high school," he said, "but didn’t realise that this was something I could ask for help with I thought you would only be given help if teachers deemed it was necessary."
He has gone on to have a successful career in the media industry. He worked for BBC News as a cameraman/editor covering a large part of Yorkshire: "Dyslexia was not really a problem because I have good skills in other areas," he explained. "I have really good map reading skills and can remember routes once I have seen a map."
Sean Douglas: Sean Douglas: 'in an environment not attuned to dyslexia it is hard to get on board'He has also worked in Chinese media and speaks and reads a little bit of Cantonese and Mandarin. However, problems set in when he moved to a job with an independent production company. He found that the demands of the job and his skills set did not mesh.
He was snowed under with paperwork and long reports. The company thought he was slow and he was frustrated that he could not demonstrate his skills: "I felt deflated and started looking out for assistive technology [AT] and anything which could help."
Sean was familiar with text-to-speech technology but didn’t know about other AT solutions that were out there or about Access to Work funding. 'Knowing that there was a service where someone could come into my workplace, assess my needs, suggest additional AT solutions and that the government would help fund this would have been a huge help to me at that time," he added.
Programs and resources not gathered in one place
He soon found that while there were programs and resources, they were not gathered in one place. There were resources for children and information for those at university but nothing for the ordinary adult: "If you are working in an environment which is not attuned to the needs of someone with dyslexia, or which is not up to speed with assistive technology, it is hard to get on board."
So Sean set up The Codpast which curates interesting content from the web such as Upside-Down Mugs from Henry Franks (see Muglexia), a dyslexic designer. They illustrate one of the common symptoms of dyslexia whereby letters seem to turn themselves upside down when reading. These mugs are more than a gimmick. Because they are designed to be wider at the base, they are more stable and drinks stay hotter for longer. A fine example of dyslexic ingenuity.
The videos are for me the highlight. As well as the excellent ClaroSpeak Plus video, the site features videos of Browse Aloud and a video blog called "5 Assistive modes you never knew existed on your iPad" with more examples to follow.
Of course companies produce their own video guides but often these explain technical features to people who have already bought the product. Sean is a video editor and has the skills to make engaging visual content with a very personal touch, with comments such as: "Getting feedback as you type is one of the best ways to save time and eliminates some of those mistakes that you may miss", or "16 point [type size] is a little small for me so I will choose 20", or "I can be confident that the recipient will not know I have dyslexia."
6.3 million people in UK have dyslexia
According to Dyslexia Action more than 6.3 million people in the UK may have dyslexia. Since the majority are older than 16 it is about time that there was a central information point for them. The Codpast has a very authentic voice. It is full of information, news and reviews. It has text and video content, is lively, fun and doesn't take itself too seriously. It has a lot to offer those adults who want to overcome some of the day-to-day problems that their dyslexia causes.
Sean now has his own video production company as well as running The Codpast. While he has the resourcefulness and outgoing personality that would make him a success in anything he chose to do, assistive technology such as ClaroSpeak Plus has helped him cut the paperwork down to size and lets him focus on the creative parts where he excels.
Sal McKeown, a runner-up in the “Best Author” category of Teach Secondary’s Technology and Innovation Awards, is a freelance journalist covering special needs. She recently published two packs of conversation cards about dyslexia aimed at Pupil Premium spending – Dealing with Dyslexia at Home and Dealing with Dyslexia at School. The cards cost £14.99 per pack and can be ordered online at www.finkcards.myshopify.com/.