We are fortunate to have a wide range of expertise and experience on the iRead project team. In a series of blog posts we will introduce each of our partners and find out what motivated them to get involved in the iRead project. First up is Dyslexia Action (introduced by ed-tech specialist Dominik Lukes).
Introducing Dyslexia Action
Dyslexia Action has been one of the leading charities advocating for people with dyslexia for almost four decades. We have over 20 regional centres all over the United Kingdom where people of all ages come to get advice, assessments for dyslexia and specialist teaching. We also work directly with schools and companies to help them reduce the barriers dyslexia represents for their students and workers.
The lead of our efforts in this project is Dr John Rack who has been active in dyslexia research for over twenty years. He is the Director of research, development and policy for Dyslexia Action. He is a specialist in dyslexia assessment as well as one of the leading experts on the phonological deficit of dyslexia – a theory he helped pioneer in the early 90s.
My name is Dominik Lukes and my role at Dyslexia Action is that of a specialist in education and technology. My background is in linguistics and language education. I have been involved in running teacher training courses in many countries around the world at all levels. My recent research has been in how assistive technologies can remove barriers to readings. I have been promoting the idea to teachers through a variety of channels. I have also taught courses in the structure of English for literacy teachers and have been exploring ways in which teachers can get more out of using corpora.
Our experience with struggling readers
Dyslexia Action has been around since the early 1970s (formerly known as Dyslexia Institute) and as an organisation we have seen many things change. We have seen increased recognition and research evidence for the fact that reading difficulties can be very specific and not indicate anything and we have seen increased support for those with cognitive impairments that make reading (and writing) more difficult.
Reading impairment has been called a hidden disability because it is like an invisible barrier that stands in the way of so many other achievements. It is something a person is born with but it only shows up when they start to read. For some children, it is immediately obvious that reading and writing will be a struggle. Others struggle through and may not realise they have a problem until they start secondary school and are asked to read and write much more than ever before. For others still, the problem may not be identified until university.
Somebody with a reading and writing difficulty such as dyslexia will not only find they do not get access to all the same information as their peers, they will also often develop strong negative feelings towards reading or education in general. They may suffer ridicule or bullying from people who think that ability to read is the same as the ability to think.
Dyslexia Action always promoted the use of assistive technologies but we started promoting them especially strongly following our work with the RNIB on RNIB Bookshare a repository of textbooks that can be read out by a computer. We always knew that readers with dyslexia do not have problems when they listen to books, but this project opened up new ways of making this a real possibility.
However, reading on a computer was still quite a challenge in school environments. They were cumbersome, required a lot of management and were quite expensive. The ease of use and personal nature of tablets coupled with a low cost have a transformative potential for reading. We saw how powerful these technologies could be during the predecessor project – iLearnRW. This is why Dyslexia Action was so eager to join the other partners on iRead to help develop a system that will support readers at all levels of need.