Everyday Computing, Features

The Great Enabler

By Dr. Lyndell St. Ville- ICT Consultant

LAST week, on a popular TV programme, an outspoken and exasperated host demanded to know whether the Prime Minister was suffering from dyslexia, based on a presumed aversion to reading, and instances of unexpectedly-poor reading skills. Despite the indelicate and unhelpful manner in which the question was raised, there remain legitimate issues of concern. Dyslexia is the most common learning disability, affecting 3—7% of the population around the world, although 20% may have some degree of symptoms. Therefore, the potential exists for the Prime Minister or other senior figures who may experience this condition, to struggle with high-volume reading, and not fully assimilate the details being read. As a public figure, the PM may be legitimately criticized for any instances of poor leadership, abuse of authority, and maladministration. Despite that necessary antagonism, we should remain careful not to stigmatize those affected by language-related or any other learning disabilities.

You might recall the positive news in May 2013, that the German multinational software firm SAP announced plans to think differently and promote innovation by recruiting hundreds of people with autism, to work as programmers. Modern thinking accepts that a diverse workforce is more representative of the wider society and therefore more resilient and capable. Although autism usually affects communication skills, social interaction and attention span, it is not uncommon for autistic people to be superior in many respects, where focus and attention to detail are important. Because software development benefits from such abilities, it is encouraging that technology companies are foremost among those willing to recruit people with disabilities.

Closer to home, we could actively promote and embrace the need for people with disabilities to be represented in the workforce. Just imagine the impact on everyone in society, if we actively accepted that you could advance despite your impairment, perhaps using ICT to assist you along the way. That would be a success story worth celebrating.

Even those without disabilities may find the available technology useful. For example:
* Text-to-speech (TTS) software enables the computer to read back your writing, and makes it easier to proof-read your work;
* Dictation software allows the computer to convert your speech into text, and is faster than most at typing!

To the many marginalized children and people who may feel hopeless or shunned because of a disability, this presents a remarkable opportunity to empower and engage them, and to demonstrate equity. It would prove that, even with an apparent disability, one may work hard to overcome these challenges to ascend the ranks of an organization or party, and then positively impact the lives of others. If for no other reason, an admission by the PM of a common learning disability would encourage those hidden in a cloud of shame or despair, and maybe improve access to treatment!

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