The event was organised by Sarah Chapman, a Derby degree student and volunteer for the Dyslexia Association, an organisation that provides support and services for dyslexic children and adults, their parents/families, educators, employers and the wider community.

Opening the event was designer and entrepreneur Sir Paul Smith, patron of the Dyslexia Association, who spoke about the positive affects the condition has had on his life and how ultimately, dyslexia has never held him back but instead made him more creative.

Dee Caunt, chief executive of the Dyslexia Association spoke at a workshop on Dyslexia in the Workplace. She explained what dyslexia is and how, in most cases, there are simple solutions to deal with it. Also at the workshop, Amanda Wadsworth from the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) highlighted the financial support the government can offer to employers with dyslexic staff, via the Access to Work scheme.

Delegates included Richard Holiday, head of training and development at First TransPennine Express, which is currently recruiting individuals for its new rail apprenticeship programme and is ‘keen to attract people from a diverse talent pool’. Said Holiday: ‘The Derby event provided some helpful insights into how we can assist the development of everyone, including identifying where our colleagues have specific needs.’

East Midlands Trains HR director, Clare Burles said: ‘I found the event interesting and informative. As a company we are always looking to support our staff’s CPD in any way we can, for example we work with Union Learning Skills for Life tutors who support our employees in achieving the level of numeracy and literacy they need to get through internal exams for promotion.’

Call to industry to enforce change

According to the British Dyslexia Association, ten per cent of the British population is dyslexic, yet it still carries a stigma and is shied away from being openly dealt with by employers, particularly in the rail sector. Sarah Chapman organised the event to expel some common misconceptions about dyslexia and alert employers to the qualities that dyslexic employees can bring to the workplace. Said Chapman: ‘Although dyslexia can be challenging for some of the six million people that have it in the UK, with the right kind of support, their ability to compensate can be a significant component for success in business. There is a need to recognise that the few limitations associated with dyslexia are in fact obsolete and merely one facet of the condition.’

Sir Paul Smith believes the condition brings extraordinary abilities that enable him to visualise and create his designs. ‘These traits in reality are strengths and skills greatly valued by employers, such as having a greater level of intuition and curiosity; innovation; problem solving; the capacity to think multi-dimensionally and in pictures using all of the senses, never mind the ability to create and alter perceptions and experience thought as reality.’

Smith pointed out that many adolescent dyslexics can develop a negative self-image as a result of an unsuccessful experience with education, and as adults they can fail to reach their true potential in the workplace. Smith urged companies to recognise that they have the power and statutory duty to enforce change. ‘Solutions to these issues can be very simple to implement and can result in more effective, efficient, productive and happier members of the workforce which can be a platform for success in such a competitive market today.’

TfL an industry leader

Within the rail sector only TfL has a designated programme dealing specifically with dyslexia. The company offers a range of support to its staff coupled with awareness training for its managers. Kim Brown, TfL’s SpLD specialist, supports staff with specific learning difficulties (dyslexia and dyspraxia) and she explained that over the years this has grown into a broad range of provision.

There are several strands to the support on offer at TfL. The weekly English for Dyslexic Learners classes are popular; staff with specific learning difficulties meet up to develop their reading, writing and spelling skills within a mutually supportive environment. These classes can lead to qualifications, but many staff just like to improve their overall literacy skills. They can also book themselves a full diagnostic assessment if they feel that exploring their difficulties further would be beneficial. This results in a full diagnostic report with agreed ‘reasonable adjustments’ leading to support being implemented on the job. Regular Dyslexia Awareness workshops are also held for managers and staff who want guidance on how to identify those who may need specialist support, as well as gain ideas regarding appropriate support within the work environment.

Peppered throughout the company are the Dyslexia Champions. This is a group of staff who informally network to provide on the job advice to colleagues who may need support for their dyslexia. This might include identifying if specialist voice recognition or screen-reading software would be useful in assisting with reading, writing and proofreading skills. Brown said: ‘I really enjoy my work at TfL, it puts me in contact with staff from the entire network so I meet an interesting and broad range of people. I’ve also had the opportunity to experience the positive impact of increased awareness and support for employees with dyslexia within the real world of work.’

A personal view

As for myself, I have worked in rail operations for 38 years, but was only assessed as dyslexic three years ago. Since then I have had time to reflect on how the condition has affected my personal development, and more importantly, the part it has played in the safety critical incidents I’ve been involved in during my career.

While I acknowledge the part my failings played in these incidents I also feel that my dyslexia added to these events. Since being assessed I have a better understanding of the pitfalls my dyslexia brings, and the importance of developing good working strategies to overcome the difficulties with my short-term memory, a common trait with dyslexia. This knowledge can only help me in my role as a train driver – it’s all about recognising risks and applying safety measures.

One driver I know of, with more than 20 years’ service, who told his Toc that he was dyslexic was released from duty and sent to the company doctor. This demonstrates a shocking lack of knowledge on the part of the driver standard managers involved. But is it their fault if they’ve never been briefed on the subject of dyslexia and the statutory requirements of the Equality Act 2010?

While there’s still a long way to go in how the rail industry recognises and deals with dyslexia, the University of Derby event shows that attitudes are changing – hopefully through the realisation that many of the strengths most dyslexics possess should be welcomed within any industry that wants an innovative and creative workforce.

To see the BBC broadcast of the dyslexia event visit
For more information about dyslexia contact the Dyslexia Association, Sherwood House, 7 Gregory Blvd, Nottingham. Tel: 0115 924 6888