The Dyslexia Foundation, England: Post 16 Dyslexia Advocacy in the United Kingdom

By O'Brien, Steve | Perspectives on Language and Literacy, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

The Dyslexia Foundation, England: Post 16 Dyslexia Advocacy in the United Kingdom


O'Brien, Steve, Perspectives on Language and Literacy


As the Chief Executive of the Dyslexia Foundation I have been lucky enough to attend the last 12 IDA International Conferences in succession. As a dyslexic academic I have delivered poster presentations and papers at numerous conferences and have visited many lovely cities in the United States, and I look forward to attending the Baltimore conference in October 2012.

In the last two years I have sat on the Global Partners Committee, which again has been a rewarding experience of meeting other like-minded organizations based around the globe. The chance to network, share ideas, and research has been invaluable in developing the services we offer in the United Kingdom. One common concern that we share with our international partners is the lack of provision for adults around the world.

The Foundation and Its Work

The Dyslexia Foundation (the Foundation) is a unique organization, offering a new model of advocacy that supports adults with dyslexia. While other partner organizations in the U.K. offer invaluable services, advocacy, and education to children according to a more traditional model, the aim of the Foundation is to support adults who are disadvantaged by dyslexia.

The Foundation has national helplines staffed by professional advocates well trained in the field of learning disabilities to support adults with dyslexia in their education and employment. The main focus of the organization over the last 5 years has been to address the inequality of adults with low incomes including those who receive welfare. We have two centers in the north of England: one in Liverpool, based in the historic Albert Dock, and the other in Moss Side, Manchester. The two centers are situated in two of the most deprived cities in Europe, but each also has a rich cultural diversity and identity.

As a founder of the Foundation and an adult with dyslexia who was late returning to education, it had become apparent to me that a major barrier to engagement in education and employment for adults with dyslexia was the lack of identification and remediation available to adults - even though there is a great focus on dyslexia in England as an educational issue affecting children. It reminds me of an excellent paper delivered by Glenn Young, who many will know as a fantastic advocate for learning disabilities in the United States. Glenn quoted the notion that research on dyslexia is biased toward "white, 22-year-old males in university education."

The government has invested heavily in addressing the professional development of teacher training in the last 3 years in the U.K. with an investment of about $1 6 million to our partner organizations who work with children; however, there has been no investment in addressing the knowledge of educators in the post 16 education environments. The government welfare programs dedicated to engaging adults in employment and education also have not seen any investment in the identification of adults with dyslexia.

One unique feature of the Foundation is that we offer dyslexia screening in our centers to anyone free of charge. Individuals can drop into the center without an appointment and receive help in exploring the barriers that stop them from engaging in education and employment. Where necessary, a full psychological assessment is given to determine if dyslexia is evident.

Another thing I have learned from attending the IDA conferences and conferences held by the Learning Disability Association of America is that we have more to address than dyslexia. Dyspraxia, dysphasia, dyscalculia, ADD/ADHD, mental health, and autism are some of the other learning disabilities that we need to understand. Where provision and knowledge is lacking in these areas, partners have been sought to enable the Foundation to offer services that empower individuals to reach their potential.

After 12 years of offering free screening and assessment, we now have funding to offer remediation or, as we like to call it in England, a personal development course. …

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