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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

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A giant leap for dyslexia


Katie Carmichael on how a Scottish charity changed the discourse on dyslexia

It was a time of change. Nasa's Apollo 8 was sending humans to the moon for the first time in December 1968 when a small Scottish charity was beginning its very own pioneering mission.  

The Scottish Association for the Study of Dyslexia was thrust into business when Gill Thomson MBE identified a gap in wider-UK provision for the Scottish context. 

Known now as Dyslexia Scotland, this humble organisation has taken giant leaps to accomplish real-world change; influencing policy and changing practice in learning and work settings to create conditions that help dyslexic people in Scotland realise their true potential. 

Understanding and awareness of dyslexia has come on leaps and bounds since the 1960s. Back then, language like “handicap” and “disorder” were the norm. Today’s dyslexic adults often share with us how they were “written off” off at school, branded “thick” for their difficulties with reading and remembering.  

But if it wasn’t for Dyslexia Scotland’s bold and influential work over its five-and-a-half-decade history, those attitudes might still prevail.  

How has the charity brought dyslexia in from the margins of Scottish life? 

Gutsy campaigns have been core to raising awareness. The 2011 book Dyslexia and Us, an anthology of personal experiences, gave a voice to the dyslexic community –  and a radically different kind of publication to the world. Each story was printed word for word, letter for letter exactly as each individual had written it, to heighten the reader’s understanding of the dyslexic struggle with words. 

In another unprecedented move, Dyslexia Scotland persuaded the Scottish Government to commission an independent review of education of dyslexic children and young people in Scottish schools. The findings of this review, published in the Making Sense report, were pivotal in creating a strategic momentum to make our classrooms more inclusive. 

And it’s not all sky-high policy change. In practising what we preach, Dyslexia Scotland drives a momentous boots-on-the-ground movement when it comes to making change happen.  

Our provision in recent years has upskilled many hundreds of eager changemakers, all proactive in bringing about positive change for dyslexic people. Alongside Education Scotland, Dyslexia Scotland is delivering a ground-breaking masters-level GTCS-accredited programme for teachers and lecturers in Dyslexia and Inclusive Practice. More than a qualification, the professional recognition award ensures that these educators act as change catalysts in their learning settings.

Parents, too, are active in fostering dyslexia awareness in their childrens’ learning and social circles. Since 1979, across Scotland, parents have formed grassroots-level branches to bring about awareness in their local communities. These vital pockets of voluntary action keep dyslexia visible, and make it more understood. 

Hi-tech and high touch  

Like the 1990s BT’s advert with Bob Hoskins used to say, we too believe that “it’s good to talk”. In fact, we’ve been talking to people via our helpline since that ad graced our screens. In the last 20 years, our service has had over 37,000 conversations that have helped, reassured and directed people on the first or next step of their personal dyslexia journeys.  

When the pandemic caused us to pivot much of our provision, by swapping the meeting room for the Zoom room, we’ve been able to reach hundreds more people than we had done prior to 2020.  

Whether we’re engaged face-to-face or from another space, Dyslexia Scotland is a consistent point of contact to dyslexic people, their families and supporters as a caring friend and ally at times of crisis and joy. We pride ourselves on championing the rights and strengths of this community, while advocating for them in the places that are still learning to be inclusive. 

Destination: dyslexia-friendly Scotland 

We approach what we do as a journey – we’re en route to a dyslexia-friendly Scotland. At times it feels like mission: impossible. Despite all that we do, many members of our community are still misunderstood, bullied and discriminated against in Scottish life; but there is hope. We believe in an equal society where all people have the opportunity to fulfil their potential. Like Nasa, we may be aiming for the moon, but at the very least, we’ll land among the stars. 

Looking to the future

Dyslexia Scotland and the University of Glasgow are undertaking Scotland’s biggest ever survey of dyslexic adults, the results of which will help us to address the needs of our community. Please do the survey (if you are dyslexic) or share this through your networks and encourage dyslexic people, aged 16 or older, to take part in this important research that will help make Scotland a dyslexia-friendly country.
Dyslexia-friendly Scotland survey | Dyslexia Scotland - Dyslexia Scotland

Katie Carmichael is lead for creative and digital at Dyslexia Scotland.



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