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Unwrapping Dyslexia with Cathy Magee

Unwrapping Dyslexia with Cathy Magee

This year to mark Dyslexia Awareness Week Scotland, we caught up with Cathy Magee, Chief Executive of Dyslexia Scotland, to find out everything about Dyslexia Unwrapped a new and exciting online platform for children and young people. The platform goes live tonight (Thursday 9th November) with a big focus on the theme of the week ‘Positive about Dyslexia’.

Over to Cathy to tell us a little more about this wonderful venture…

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Hi Cathy, welcome to the blog! Could you tell us a little more about what ‘Dyslexia Unwrapped’ is and how it developed?

Dyslexia Unwrapped is a separately designed, interactive, age appropriate Dyslexia Scotland website for dyslexic young people aged 8+. It maximises on the use of graphics, audio and videos to make it dyslexia-friendly. The final website has four main areas, ‘Information and Support’ (with sub sections for three different age groups); ‘Create and Share’; ‘Just for Fun’ and ‘Useful Stuff’.

We listened closely to the views of young people with dyslexia when developing the site, in order to make it their own, dyslexia-friendly online space. We believe that an online format is more accessible to a much wider group of children and young people and that there is a gap that currently exists for dyslexic young people to access dyslexia-friendly information independently of their parents and others who support them.

The feedback we got said very clearly that whilst they wanted to see helpful information about dyslexia on the site, they also wanted the website to be a place to go and simply have fun as young people, as they are not solely defined by their dyslexia.

How did you choose the name ‘Dyslexia Unwrapped’?

The name was chosen from a shortlist of six suggestions from young people, members and volunteers, voted on by our Young Ambassadors. They chose it for a few reasons:

  1. Dyslexia means so many things to different people – therefore, often identifying and understanding one’s own dyslexia is a process which involves unwrapping different layers bit by bit.
  2. Dyslexia is hidden, so the idea of unwrapping works – individuals may not know they’re dyslexic themselves and when they do it’s a gradual process of working out what that means
  3. We also liked the association of unwrapping a gift – some people see dyslexia as a gift, or aspects of their dyslexia as strengths, so the process of understanding dyslexia changes and develops as people become more confident about what works for them. We know that not everyone sees dyslexia as a gift – but then people do not always like the gifts they receive.

Why do you think it is particularly important for young people to have their own dyslexia informed and dyslexia friendly space?

Many young people with dyslexia tell us that they often feel different to their peers at school – when we bring together children and young people with dyslexia (through for example our youth groups or our first Youth Day earlier this year), they often speak about a strong sense of belonging, of feeling understood for the first time after meeting other young people who are also dyslexic. They feel ‘normal’; they don’t have to explain themselves to others; they can relax knowing that the others involved ‘get’ dyslexia; the sense that ‘there is more than one of me’. A parent recently told us, after her daughter attended our Youth Day event, that she ‘seems like a new girl, I think she’s finally realising she’s not alone in this.’

We thought it was really important to develop a website especially for young people with dyslexia, to give them an online space to help support this feeling.

We hope that the website will inspire and empower dyslexic children and young people to take positive action towards reaching their potential at school, college and day to day life. The information on the website and the opportunity to share their own experiences and learn from others will help young people to understand what their dyslexia means to them and to become more confident about asking for support at the right time.

How will the website be promoted to young people?

Alongside the development of the website, we have also set up new social media channels (Instragram, Pintrest) in order to promote the new website for our new young audience.

Over 240 young people took part in the focus groups, surveys and Youth Day – they were fully engaged in the process and keen to help their peers with dyslexia, recognising that everyone with dyslexia will have different experiences of it, both positive and more challenging. Their involvement in its development has built on their sense of ownership of the new website and belonging. This in turn will encourage them to inspire others to engage with the website once it goes live. This includes reaching out to young people with dyslexia whose experiences may not have been as positive as their own.

In an increasingly digital world, and one that influences young people in so many ways, what are your thoughts on highlighting accessibility across various platforms?

There is so much potential nowadays for websites and social media channels to present information in an accessible way and to take into account the wide range of needs of the people organisations are hoping to reach. For example, accessibility toolbars such as ‘Recite Me’ which we have on our Dyslexia Scotland and Dyslexia Unwrapped websites, allow visitors to customise websites with text to speech features, dyslexia software, an interactive dictionary, a translation tool with over 100 languages and many other features.

There are of course challenges in making information accessible – seeking the views of those who you hope to reach is an important part of this process. As well as striving to make our new website both dyslexia-friendly and young people-friendly, a key part of this project has also been setting up social media channels which are most relevant to young people, which has been a learning curve for the team at Dyslexia Scotland. However it is also important to continue to provide accessible information to those who cannot access information digitally. Barrington Stoke’s books are an excellent example of non-digital resources for reluctant readers.

Finally, in the spirit of this week’s theme, do you have any advice or words of wisdom to help young people view their dyslexia positively?

Dyslexia exists in all cultures and across the range of abilities and socio-economic backgrounds. It is a hereditary, life-long, specific Learning Difficulty or Learning difference. If identified and supported early, with appropriate intervention and targeted effective teaching, learners with dyslexia can and do become successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens.

We have chosen the theme this year to highlight the skills and talents of children and adults with dyslexia; that with the right support, children and adults with dyslexia can reach their full potential; that they can be successful in education, work and life; that we are working to help turn the challenges and difficulties into positives.

For words of wisdom I think that the ones we’ve received from young people involved in this process are the most powerful, especially the following:

“Have a growth mind-set. Say I can’t do it… YET!”

“The struggles we have now give you excellent life skills”

“There will always be people who will help you. Ask teachers, friends, family, and other people if you need some help. You are not alone”

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Thank you Cathy for taking the time to chat to us about this exciting new website – one bound to be a wonderful space for young people. Make sure to check out unwrapped.dyslexiascotland.org.uk and follow them on Twitter @DSUnwrapped .

Finally, Happy Dyslexia Awareness Week, Scotland!

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