Promoting Dyslexia Awareness
Dyslexia Awareness was the theme for a packed Education & Training Dept fringe meeting at CWU Annual Conference.
In opening the event Trish Lavelle, Head of Education & Training, acknowledged that the CWU had not always got everything right first time, but that over the last few years a lot had been learnt and the CWU E&T Dept was ready to provide the support to anyone with dyslexia who might attend activist training.
In telling the story of an activist called "Dave",
Marc Pastorelli, gave moving evidence of these improvements in
dyslexia support. Dave had gone through school as the class clown,
never making any great academic achievements. No-one had ever
thought to ask why - and no-one was surprised when he left school
with no qualifications. Dave went from job to job and when he
plucked up the courage to admit to his workmates he might have
dyslexia someone laughed and suggested that "dyslexia was just
a posh word for thick!" But things changed for Dave when he
joined BT and became a CWU rep. Attending activist training at
Alvescot, he was offered dyslexia screening and support from
Solihull College. This gave him the confidence to achieve his
activist qualifications - culminating in his successful application
to the Trade Union & Labour Studies Degree at London
"For a person with dyslexia, knocking on the door of education is the hardest part," said Marc, "but once you're there it's fantastic! And if it wasn't for CWU Education "Dave" wouldn't be here talking to you now!"
Billy Butterworth, spoke about how dyslexia support had to be
expanded way beyond activist training and be offered to all CWU
members who needed it - and Billy reminded his audience that,
statistically, all branches would have members who would need this
support. "It's not about not being able to read,"
said Billy, "It is about having difficulty processing
information - and there are all sorts of adjustments to the
workplace that can be made to assist with this."
Billy asked the audience to think about how the employer communicated with their workforce - or how we, as union reps, communicate with our members. He asked people to be conscious of dyslexia when dealing with members who are repeatedly late, or are disciplined for failing to follow instructions, or who had had a number of accidents at work. Could there be a root cause to the problems that the member was suffering. If identified, this might not just get the member out of their current predicament but also ensure they did not get into similar problems again. Billy spoke of his recent attendance on a BDA dyslexia assessors course and asked us to consider whether, in the same was as we undertake health & safety risk assessments, we should undertake assessments to make the workplace more dyslexia friendly.
The General Secretary, Billy Hayes, spoke about why we as trade unionists should help people with dyslexia. He spoke about all the famous people who had overcome dyslexia - but he pointed out that the wealthy had an obvious advantage over working class people with dyslexia. Wealthy people can have one-to-one tuition, they can pay for additional resources and aids - working people all too often cannot afford this. Billy also reminded us about union reps who were excellent and dynamic speakers but who struggled to express themselves in writing. "One thing the union gives you," said Billy, "Is self-confidence. The belief that you are as good as the people running the country - and anything that increases that confidence is a good thing. That's why it is so important for us to support members with dyslexia to achieve their potential."
There followed a lively debate where some of the audience
thanked the E&T Dept for assisting them to overcome dyslexia,
while others asked how they could assist members in their branches
to do the same. Some even expressed the wish to move beyond their
branches and provide help to wider society. In summing up, Trish
Lavelle said the meeting had highlighted how ULRs were identifying
new ways in which reps could help our members, and through closer
co-operation between ULRs and other parts of the union we were
seeing real developments towards greater support to all our members
with dyslexia - and indeed, as these skills developed they may
indeed be of service to wider society.