Turning dyslexia from a hindrance to a success story

In the UK, 1 in ten people are affected by dyslexia.  Whilst the law states educators and employers have to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that people with dyslexia are not disadvantaged, many employers simply don’t understand the condition.

Deciding to do something about this, dyslexic sufferer Gary Smith, set up Brainbook, a company providing technological support, currently in the form of the app Dyslexia Toolbox, that helps dyslexics on a day to day basis whether studying, at work or at home.

Here, he talks about his business, and the challenges of dyslexia in the workplace.

What is the aim of Dyslexia Toolbox and Brainbook?

With dyslexia, the right support costs a lot of money and is hard to find.  I wanted to make something that was affordable within technology that could help everybody with dyslexia.  

I wanted something that could help people trying to set up a business.  One of the biggest obstacles to setting up a business if you’re dyslexic is the reams of paperwork.  The app helps by using an overlay system that utilises the users own phone or tablet camera making paperwork easier to read, there’s also an inbuilt web browser to make information from the internet is easier to read and more accessible.

We also want to completely eradicate the stigma behind dyslexia.  Dyslexia is a spectrum disorder, it doesn’t automatically mean you can’t read, it might just take you a bit longer than normal, or you might just have problems remembering things you read even though your memory generally is excellent.  One of the things we are trying to do is get that message across, but it’s hard work.

What are your hopes for the future of the business?

We are currently looking into ways to support people with autism.  But our biggest aim is to work with other companies to integrate our technology into their websites to make them more accessible to people with dyslexia.  We’ve met with a lot of big internet companies who don’t realise the struggles people with dyslexia have online.  They don’t realise people with dyslexia have a problem with their website because they aren’t part of the conversations going on around dyslexia.  Not only will it help sufferers but it’s also a massive benefit for the companies involved, so many people suffering from dyslexia are currently effectively excluded as potential customers and users.

What has been the hardest part of setting up the business?

The endless paperwork.  No one likes it, but being dyslexic, it’s much worse.  For me, I got around it because I’m not afraid to say to people ‘look I’m struggling with this, can you help me out a bit’ and they do.  I think people often go wrong when they’re not open enough about their problems and are afraid to ask for help.  Once people understand the problem, they’re really helpful and they respect you’re honesty.

What advice would you give anyone wanting to set up business, particularly an app?

Unless you know what you’re doing do your research.  Ask experts, find a family member, friend, friend of friend, anyone who knows about the business and ask them all about it, really get to know the ins and outs of the business.  Never think it will be easy because if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.  There are plenty of mentoring groups consisting of business experts that give advice, use them.  

Never go into business thinking you know it all because if you do, you will fail.  You might know everything about your product but it you don’t know about the behind the scenes stuff you’ll fail.  

Do a SWOT analysis beforehand, a study of a business venture that works out the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, work on eliminating your weaknesses.

As far as the tech world is concerned, people think it’s easy, but it’s really expensive, so keeping start up costs low is incredibly important.  

In a nutshell, minimise costs and maximise research.

Excluding your own, what company do you admire the most and why?

I prefer small companies, they tend to be more free thinking, better for product design and better returns on investment, but I really admire Virgin.  Whilst they may be a big corporation, people like working for them and Branson always comes across as incredibly approachable.

How endemic is dyslexia stigmatisation in business?

It’s a big problem as there’s a lack of understanding about the condition, not just in business but the world in general.  The people with dyslexia who become successful are those who accept they have a difficulty and work with it.  The ones who fail are those who don’t accept they have a problem and try and do everything themselves.

What can business do to help people with dyslexia in employment?

Be more visual.  There’s a lot of paperwork involved in training, don’t ask people with dyslexia to sit and read a training manual, do some one on one with them, use videos or demonstrate it using diagrams.  Dyslexics are visual thinkers.  Ask them what they think is the best way for them to work and be more accommodating.

What unique skills do dyslexics have that business should be looking to utilise?

Problem solving, creativeness generally, and being intuitive.  There are far more positives to dyslexia than the negatives generally associated and business will benefit once they appreciate that.