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Dyslexia in engineering: taking pride in different thinking - Refrigeration and Air Conditioning

Last updated: 03-19-2021

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Dyslexia in engineering: taking pride in different thinking - Refrigeration and Air Conditioning

“Who is dyslexic? Well quite a lot of people who run very big, very successful companies, and are well respected for what they do. That’s because they work their own way through and are no longer afraid to say they are dyslexic.”

“They are proud to be dyslexic, and that’s where I have got to. I am proud to be dyslexic.”

These were the comments of Professor Andy Ford from London South Bank’s University’s School of Built Environment and Architecture, during the opening session of Dyslexia in Engineering webinar.

The event, jointly hosted by H&V News and RAC Magazine today and following on from the first Dyslexia in Engineering Day held on 9 October last year, looked at the issue of embracing different ways of thinking across the building engineering sector.

A major theme of the event was around taking a more positive approach to the condition and building awareness in schools, colleges, work[places and wider society about what the condition means for those living with it.

The webinar also sought to consider and identify challenges and barriers to help support individuals with dyslexia into sectors such as HVACR to ensure industry can benefit from embracing neurodiversity.

Professor Ford was among dozens of specialists from across building engineering, HVAC and academia to take part in the webinar, where they shared experiences of being dyslexic, as well as supporting individuals that process and think about information in different ways.

He accepted that for young people, particularly those starting out in education, that dyslexia could be “difficult, challenging and tough”, particularly when facing the traditional educational focus on written examinations as opposed to more practical, hands-on testing.

However, in keeping with the theme of the day, Professor Ford was keen to stress that he was among a range of figures from across the HVACR sector that have forged hugely successful careers around their ability to look at engineering problems and challenges from a different perspective.

He said, “I can tell you that once I left school and moved into a profession where being imaginative and having problem solving skills and getting to solutions was a positive thing, at that moment, I realised I was in a place I could live and I could do things positively.”

Professor Ford noted that he had recently chosen to reveal his dyslexia after building a successful career in building engineering.  However, the webinar also looked at the reluctance of others to decide against sharing that they have the condition in their own workplaces.

Making reasonable adjustments in education, the workplace and broader society in accepting the neurodiversity of staff who all have different ways of thinking was highlighted by panellists as one of areas they hoped to see real change across industry.

Professor Ford said it was interesting that other sectors alongside engineering that were commonly associated with seeking out dyslexic talent were sectors such as architecture and the space industry due to their different approaches to 3D visualisation and approaches to problems.

Janette Beetham, a qualified trainer offering support and development for dyslexic people, as well as being the founder of the Right Resources consultancy, noted that part of the challenge of living with the condition was in the different natures of peoples’ experiences.

She noted that the accepted definition of dyslexia - as defined under the 2006 independent Rose Review - is a condition based on a difficulty that primarily affects skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling. However, this was only one aspect of living with the condition.

Individual experiences were often unique to each individual, which can make knowing when to try and offer support or accommodate needs within a role particularly hard for companies and staff, according to Ms Beetham.

She said, “So what is dyslexia?  It is a combination of challenges, which are commonly accompanied by a variety of strengths.”

Ms Beetham noted that these strengths included strong creativity and innovation, particularly around problem solving. Individuals living with the condition also showed aptitude for large-scale thinking, and being practical and hands-on within their work.

Based on her work in helping to create training programmes for dyslexia, and her own experiences of living with the condition, Ms Beetham was asked about if there was meaningful national support mechanisms or school programmes to help better support individuals.

She said that there was a lack of a clear national approach to help dyslexic individuals with learning and other challenges that could prevent them from finding their way into rewarding careers and overcome possible barriers to discovering a preference with regards to work.

A government petition issued about eight years ago had campaigned for a dyslexia focus to be a compulsory element of teacher training was heard in parliament after getting more than 50,000 signatures, according to Ms Beetham.  The calls did not move forward despite initial discussions being held.

She said, “In terms of workplace support, this tends to be self-directed by employers and you hope, that once there is awareness, then employers will actively take a pro-active approach and realise that there are benefits across the the board – to the organisation to be the employer of choice, to be supportive of people that leads to staff retention - but this starts with awareness.”

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