Word is spreading about a successful scheme helping to transform the lives of Shropshire employees with dyslexia.
Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service, with a higher ratio of dyslexic staff than the 10 per cent population average, is one of a few public sector organisations to run a support programme acclaimed for changing the lives of staff with dyslexia and Meares Irlen syndrome.
Brigade chaplain Rev Murray McBride, who has dyslexia, has since started a self help group among dyslexic church ministers in the county to help them overcome the “nightmare” of reading sermons in public.
The fire service attracts more people with the dyslexia skills of problem solving, leadership, innovation, heightened visual skills and the ability to see “the big picture.”
Over the past five years, more than 70 employees have volunteered to be assessed and given practical help and tuition including visual enhancement aids and a range of IT equipment and software.
“As soon as I got the diagnosis I searched through my old school reports to read my English teacher’s “could do better” condemnation of me when I always tried my best. I just thought I was no good at English,” said father of three Simon Morris (42), a Crew Manager at Telford Fire Station.
“I look at dyslexia as a gift. I see things differently and work out problems quickly. I use mind maps and have different coloured pens for tasks which really helps. The support from Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service is brilliant.”
On call firefighter Jeremy Chambers (44), a mechanic at Prees Auto, has dyslexia and Meares Irlen syndrome and is now getting filtered glasses to make reading easier.
“Words used to jump up and down all over the place in a book or on a computer screen. But they found I could read with something as simple as a green filter. Now I can enjoy books and magazines and I don’t have to drag a finger along a sentence to read it any more.”
Staff work with Elizabeth Wilkinson, The Dyslexic Dyslexia Consultant, who sees how individuals are affected and teaches “the bits they missed out at school,” such as how to understand vowel sounds, differentiate between similar sounding words, spelling rules and study skills.
“I was labelled a low achiever at school leaving with no qualifications. If I wrote an email or a letter, people would assume I was careless because my spelling was all over the place,” said Jeremy.
Since receiving help he has been promoted to Crew Manager, no longer struggles to read and life is “so much easier.”
“Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service is a top employer. Through their help I have been given a lot more confidence and now I know what the missing link was when I came out of school.
“If it wasn’t for the fire service I wouldn’t have got this help. They have helped me and I am putting more back into the service.”
Becci Dickens (37), an admin support officer at Shrewsbury fire HQ, who takes the minutes at senior officers’ meetings, is studying again full of confidence after being offered help since she was diagnosed a few months ago.
“I must have the best employer in the world. They have stuck by me, helped me with forms and phone calls. I am more capable and have much more inner confidence. I wish every employer could take a leaf out of their book.”
Watch Manager Cameron Taylor (48) has received help with the extra paperwork he now deals with in business fire safety. Cameron has also been able to help his dyslexic daughter before her A levels and she is now studying for a university degree.
“This has helped me and my family so much. Although I did cope over the 40 plus years without knowing, with my own coping strategies, now I wear tinted glasses to help me with the paperwork. I find admin work a lot easier and I understand why it took me a little longer than others to do things,” said Cameron, who is now working for more qualifications.
“We are very pleased to hear that our work has started to make a difference both inside and outside the service,” said Natalie Parkinson, Equality and Diversity Officer.
“We want to help our employees in all areas of their work to give them an understanding so they can self diagnose and support colleagues.”
Rev McBride (54), vicar of St Georges Church in Shrewsbury, has promised to “spread the word” about the good work done by the equality and diversity department at Shrewsbury fire HQ allowing people to reach their potential.
“My parents used to hide my school report cards because they didn’t want me to be upset,” said the vicar, who left school with poor academic qualifications to get a job on a dairy farm before gaining a theology degree at Bristol University.
“The county fire service is restoring people’s confidence,” said Rev McBride, who spends hours planning and rehearsing Sunday sermons, uses a yellow ruler to keep words on a page, wears tinted glasses, and gets his wife to check he reads out the correct hymn numbers.
“I have learned from Winston Churchill’s discipline of practising all his famous talks, again and again, until he crafted them into inspirational speeches,” he added.
A film, made by professional volunteers, about the county fire service’s success will be used to raise awareness.
Making Sense of Dyslexia is the theme for Dyslexia Awareness Week 2015 from October 5 to 11 and will look at how the right support can have an impact on the future for people with dyslexia. For more information visit www.bdadyslexia.org.uk
An information day run by The Dyslexic Dyslexia Consultant Elizabeth Wilkinson will be held at Hadley United Service and Village Club in Telford on October 10 at 11am.
Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service is holding a Celebrating Diversity Event open day on October 10 from 10am to 1pm at Shrewsbury HQ which is open to all and will include information on dyslexia support.