Sir Steve Redgrave campaigns for Dyslexic Readers.
With only 5% of UK text books available in alternative formats, Sir Steve Redgrave believes the time has come to speak out.
Steve Redgrave at the BBC studios
in London, campaigning
for alt formats.
"I believe in reading. The evidence supporting the synthetic phonics teaching method is highly compelling. It would be great if every child in this country had an advanced reading age, well at least a reading age as high as their actual age. In fact if they had I wouldn't really need to be standing on this soap box. Unfortunately that is literacy utopia and is some distance from the truth. We have a literacy problem in the UK that affects about 20% of the population. Much of this statistic is underpinned by people with dyslexia who have long term, fundamental difficulties with printed text. I'm one of them.
"if students with literacy problems are exposed to learning materials in the form of combined audio and text, their exam scores can increase by almost 40%"
Despite the extraordinary numbers of dyslexic readers, I sometimes feel also there is an assumption amongst educationalists that there is only one way to learn, i.e. through the medium of reading. More research needs to be done to explore alternative methods such as video, but I’ve seen research from America, which shows that if students with literacy problems are exposed to learning materials in the form of combined audio and text, their exam scores can increase by almost 40%. This is staggering and it’s time everyone knew about it. We’re in a digital age; it’s now possible to create digital books that could be presented for example as combined audio and text. This type of book called DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) is proving highly popular with everyone that uses it, including the lucky few that have access to it in the UK. In fact in two trials, one in the UK and one in Ireland, where children with special print needs have had access to digital audio and text, the other kids in the class argued to have it as well.
Blind and print impaired kids have always had the thin end of the stick in the classroom. They either had hardcopy books which they were ill equipped to use or great reams of large print that screamed I am different. With software playback devices that are designed for people with print impairments, but also look cool, they can quickly navigate to chapters or search for words; in fact they can do pretty much anything as quickly or quicker than their classroom neighbours. I can use it. My daughter showed me how to use a piece of DAISY reading software called Dolphin EasyReader in five minutes and it took me about seven minutes to learn how to use Dolphin EasyProducer, a tool to create DAISY from a Word document.
This type of software can also be used by adults in work or by people with literacy difficulties anywhere. In the past I have heard so many anecdotes about adult retraining schemes failing because the adults involved had difficulty, not with being retrained, which many of them found easy enough, but with learning rules or confronting tests at the end of the course. Reading is only one medium for receiving information, but we seem hell bent on treating it as the benchmark of competence. The Easy products from Dolphin could suddenly transform the lives of thousands of people.
"Under the disability act, if you are a print impaired student you have a right to have your books in an alternative format"
It would be nice if every book published could come in the DAISY format, then anybody, child or adult, could walk into a library or their local bookstore and chose a text book or a DAISY book. Although this model is a long way off, it's coming. In the Republic of Ireland NCBI is currently working on a pilot project with the Dyslexia Association and AHEAD to make DAISY schoolbooks available. NCBI are also currently in negotiation with a number of educational book publishers to make this project a reality in Ireland. RNIB has transcribed tens of thousands of books into DAISY for their users. Under the disability act, if you are a print impaired student you have a right to have your books in an alternative accessible format but unfortunately schools and universities are under a great deal of pressure to deliver this service. In time I hope agreement will be reached with the publishers, like they’re doing in Ireland, to make their books available in both text and DAISY format.
In the mean time there is a lot of work to be done. DAISY is probably the single most exciting thing to happen to people with dyslexia. Dolphin has tools which already exist making it easy for our schools and colleges to adopt DAISY. Using Dolphin EasyProducer, teachers and lecturers can make their lecture notes and handouts DAISY compliant. Individuals can easily convert their Word documents to DAISY.
This process will earmark a shift in the way people learn that is no longer aimed at just readers. I don’t think it will be long before a more flexible information delivery medium will be seen as the norm. Imagine taking a chunk of a book, converting it into DAISY and putting it on your MP 3 player or iPod and then listening to it on a train or bus as you go to or from college. If you want to delve more deeply into the content: read and hear the synchronised material, navigate around it or make notes; then play it on your laptop.
This will hopefully put an end to the needless barrier to learning imposed by our education system. Our vocabularies will continue to grow, our subject learning won’t be jeopardized, our relationships with our friends won't be defined by our poor reading and most important of all we will have the ability to fulfil our promise."
Sir Steve Redgrave CBE, MBE