We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Hidden Disability

July 21, 2016 5:00 PM

Excerpt from a speech given by Dominic Addington, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Special Educational Needs, captain of the Commons and Lords Rugby and Football team, and a West Berkshire resident.

14th July 2016.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

The fact is that if someone has a hidden disability - I am thinking primarily about dyslexia but it could be many other hidden disabilities: dyscalculia, autism, you name it - they can have a problem engaging properly with the state. It is very difficult to access the benefits that the state can offer. We always think of ...

... dyslexia as being a problem primarily in terms of education. That is where the name comes from, so it is obvious. However, my wife would testify to the fact that dyslexics often have incredibly bad short-term memories. In my case it is about getting to appointments and remembering things that are going on. There is no point in writing them down in a diary if you forget to look in the diary.

It is important to note that life today is complicated, which means that people with hidden disabilities are under pressure the whole way through. If someone's problem is that they cannot understand the written word easily and so they dropped out of the education system early because it was incredibly unfriendly towards them, they are always going to be at a disadvantage. Numerous facts, figures and statistics have been provided for me which show that dyslexics are more prevalent in virtually every area that leads to poverty: homelessness, drug taking-you name it and they are in there. Dyslexics suffer mental health problems because the modern world puts more pressure on them and makes it difficult for them to operate.

How do we deal with this? I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Empey, who said that if we get education right by identifying individuals and providing them with strategies which help them, we will start to reduce the burden. I am glad that the Carter review of teacher training recognises that teachers should be better trained in this area-an approach very like that taken in my Private Member's Bill, which is going through the legislative process at the moment. I wonder if the two are connected, but I suspect not. If we try to intervene at the primary stage, it will be decades before we feel the benefit and there will always be people who are missed. So is the rest of the system-everything fromDWP to local government-better capable of dealing with people who cannot handle forms, whether they arrive online or in a letter? A quick mental calculation is made and the conclusion is, "Oh! You're dyspraxic". Are we actually qualified to help those groups?

Dyslexics are not the only people who have problems with literacy. If we take that group as an example, some 10% of the population-a huge number-are over-represented in the groups we are trying to deal with. We should train people to deal with these groups, because then we will stand a chance of getting them access to the help that is being offered elsewhere. We are currently providing help they cannot get to. We are wasting effort on both fronts: work smarter, not harder. If someone cannot access the form or cannot understand what time to go in, they will not get the help, even for adult literacy. If we do not know how to market to these groups-to say to an adult who was something of a nightmare at school, "Come in and do a literacy course", and explain that we will be sympathetic to them and teach them correctly-they are not going to turn up.

If, when it comes to the workplace, we do not allow people to access the written word through the technology which is so readily available now-I must declare an interest as a user of this technology, as well as my business interests-we will compound the problems. We have the ability to change the situation; we merely have to open our minds just enough to allow it to happen.

Dominic, Lord Addington, 14th July 2016.