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In order to write this document I had to set myself up, start programs that I will use (Dragon Speaking Naturally 11, Read & Write Gold 11 and Inspiration 9) and then remember to use them. This document was created by me dictating with my hands in my pockets to avoid tapping into the keyboard.
I was diagnosed with dyslexia in grade 4 or 5 at Flinders University and I did not have a lot of support during my school years with classroom work or studies at university.
Over the years I have had a number of jobs where I did not disclose that I had a learning difficulty; hence I had no support at work.
I was a fireman for 12 years and served in the Army Reserve as a general service officer in the infantry for 17 years.
I ran my own business OH&S and security consulting and manufacturing custom hearing protection in the UK for 10 years. Running my own business was a bit of a crutch in a way, as it allowed me to shelter behind the company and its reputation; people didn’t know how I did things, just that I did things well within the company.
Moving back to Australia at the end of 2011, I was essentially starting again with the slate wiped clean. Initially I took some work labouring with an exploration mining firm which is where I began to realise that dyslexia affects me in unexpected ways.
For example the task of measuring core samples: I found this task baffling at times; especially when questioning 3 different geologists about how to estimate the amount of lost core and getting 3 different answers until I was given a guide that helped me consolidate the ideas into something uniform.
I left the mining job at the end of May 2012 to put myself through an intensive certificate IV in Training and Assessment and a Diploma in OHS. Here I realised that study was still difficult for me and I began to wonder about assistive software. But I didn’t go anywhere with that.
At the beginning of 2013 I took on a role which required managing an 80 person roster, creating work briefs for security guards at short notice and liaising with the clients. While working for the company I found that working with conventional software (MS Office and databases) quite difficult. My typing was not bad but I realised that the act of typing was interfering with my flow of thoughts.
Leaving that company in May 2013 I found the next 7 months were pivotal as I wrestled with the idea that my hidden disability was having an impact on my potential employment opportunities and I was struggling to study online.
In June 2013 I decided that I needed to learn to cope with my disability. I decided to be reassessed by Specific Learning Difficulties (SPELD) Association of South Australia (SA). It had been nearly 20 years since my last assessment at Flinders University.
With my current assessment (re-assessment of dyslexia) in hand, I then spoke to my Centre Link nominated employment consultants about what assistance could be arranged to assist me to achieve employment. They suggested that I apply for the Disability Management Service (DMS), Centre Link transferred me to the DMS, and this proved to be a beneficial step.
I was transferred to Campbell Paige, the specialist DMS service provider. Campbell Paige was required to make more effort with clients and I was required to make more effort as well. I had weekly meetings to discuss jobs I had looked at and applications I had made or were drafting.
Initially I was also trying to study at the same time as looking for work but this proved too difficult. I decided to focus solely on finding work and more importantly finding the right work for me.
I went through a process of examining job ads in the field of risk management or emergency management. I examined the Australian Qualification Framework to see where my skills, experience and older qualifications matched up. I looked for jobs with specific skills or qualifications that I had. More often than not
When I found employment as a Fire Safety and Security Officer with SA Health at the end of 2013, Campbell Paige made me aware of support they were able to offer in helping me adapt to my new role. Campbell Paige, as part of the DMS, was able to draw on funding which enabled the purchase of several packages of assistive software, a digital MP3 recorder, an Echo Pulse digital pen; this was all supported with training from SPELD SA.
The assistive software that was purchase to assist me was;
Training in the use of these software packages was arranged through SPELD SA.
What has been essential was my employer’s acceptance of my disability, crucially giving me time to arrange for the purchase of the software packages, learn how to use them and thus become more productive. This has taken some time it is now July 2014 and I started training and using the software in April. I am just getting comfortable with the software packages at this stage and there is a lot of stopping and starting as I train the software to suit me.
SPELD SA training has been very supportive and helped me kick-start the use of my new software packages. It has not been smooth sailing though as I have had to break the habits of a lifetime and change the way I do things. For a start, adapting to verbally dictating documents rather than handwriting or typing these documents has been quite a process.
Teaching yourself a new way of approaching work is frustrating as you have to overcome the feeling that you are going backwards using the new software. At first it seemed easier to just start typing, as Dragon made a mistake (misinterpreted my pronunciation of a word and inserting the wrong word), however, I quickly found that making a correction so that Dragon learnt I how I pronounce words actually took less time than typing (sometimes making a mistake and then retyping several times).
Now no matter how quickly I think I type, I know that I am quicker creating documentation with Dragon. More importantly I’m writing better as I’m concentrating on creating language not managing my fingers.
The ability for me to “proof read” using Dragon’s audio features in combination with Read and Write Gold’s word prediction facilities has improved my documentation as well. The documents I wrote before I started using the software packages were okay but they took me forever and proofreading was problematic. In my first few months of work I asked my manager to proof read things for me while I was waiting the software packages to arrive. This was easy to do because I had been upfront about my disability from the outset and she was quite accepting of this.
A lot of documentation I have to review or read is delivered to me in electronic format, often word or PDF. Luckily, Read & Write Gold can convert text-to-speech across a wide range of formats including articles on the Internet. Whilst I haven’t used this function, the ability to highlight and assemble material for referencing has been useful and as I get more practised it will save me quite a bit of time.
The software “Inspiration 9” has enabled me to present some concepts and training in a way you can’t do with PowerPoint. Because I can assemble and layout ideas as I see fit, not restricted to PowerPoint’s linear format, I can unfold the series of ideas without losing the context. I think this is been quite useful in training people to understand their role in incident command and control.
Finally, the tailoring process with Dragon, fitting the assistive software to you, adjusting it to your style of speech, language usage and personality is tedious but invaluable. If you use it properly from the beginning, correcting the software as you recognise mistakes, the process speeds up. Learning to navigate using the software with voice commands in combination with the mouse and keyboard shortcuts seems to take forever. Eventually I felt that I was using the combination of the process in a more fluid way. Increasingly, I am able to move quickly through tasks as I am able to dictate while using the mouse to do things in conjunction with the keyboard.
The software Read & Write Gold also takes some time to adjust to. You can load vocabularies into it to aid in word prediction and proof reading, this is really valuable. Just imagine being able to have a dictionary specific to the topic you are writing about automatically suggesting words for use. Now imagine what it would be like if that dictionary learned from the way you used language (verbalisation), thus adapting to your style of writing: that is what Read & Write Gold does.
What has also recently become very useful is using Read & Write Gold in combination with Dragon. As you can see from the screenshot the screen can become pretty busy (see Pic 1). But as I worked with the software packages in this way it became easier to pick up words as they appeared in the prediction box.
So word prediction is appearing on the screen as I speak, sort of an auto Thesaurus. This is helping me write better and more fluidly.
Reflecting on the last few months I find it interesting to consider myself learning to do things in a new way, even for someone over the age of 50. I feel that I’m finally coping with dyslexia in a way I couldn’t have imagined at school and university all those years ago.
It has also brought home to me the need for a sympathetic work place which enables people with a disability to learn, adapt and grow. I think the difficult thing for employers and education providers to grasp is that every person with a disability needs an individual approach. While there are similarities, I feel we will probably all differ in our needs with regards to training and the time to adapt in the workplace before becoming fully productive.
The packages provided to me through SPELD SA have been beneficial in aiding me with document preparation and reading in the workplace. Without these it would be very hard for me to take in the volume of information that I’m dealing with in a timely fashion.
I’m very encouraged by what I’ve achieved with the help of SPELD SA and my manager at work.
SPELD SA would like to acknowledge the support of the Douglas Whiting Trust in the development of this website.
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