By Steven Woodgate, Marketing and Communications Manager at Microsoft
When I was five years old, I couldn’t speak properly; people struggled to understand me and often threw “what?” at me like it was my fault. I saw a speech therapist throughout primary school and always had a teaching assistant beside me in class.
Around that time, I experienced the most significant moment of my life so far. During the school Christmas play, the “cool” kid, Craig, was meant to walk to the front of the stage, thank everyone for coming and wish them a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. However, I saw Craig struggling and looking nervous. So, on my own accord, I marched up to the front, dodging the teachers who were trying to stop me, and spoke instead.
As a five-year-old, oblivious of my “condition”, I spoke loud and clear. It was a moment of complete creative freedom.
Fast-forward a couple of decades and I’ve found the same creative freedom in technology. Look beyond the gadgets and you will find elements of sociology and psychology in this sector, and people using tech to get the best out of themselves.
Technology is not meant to make those with learning difficulties appear special; it’s there to help normalise experiences and create a level playing field.
I was diagnosed with dyslexia and dyspraxia at the age of 22. I struggled with exams throughout my teenage years, never achieving more than C, and managed to get into Southampton Solent University by meeting the minimum requirements.
I coped by trying to find creative solutions to problems.
Creativity is one of the key skills for the 21st century, helping us deal with the opportunities and challenges that are part of our complex and fast-changing world. Amazing things can happen when you put your mind to it.
Microsoft’s mainstream technologies such as Windows 10 and Office 365 contain accessibility options that allow me to break down big chunks of text into more manageable pieces so I can read it out loud. Using the company’s innovations, such as instant messaging, Skype, AI dashboards and touchscreen laptops, allowed me to build up my confidence. This is technology for good.
I soon discovered I could be as productive as I could be creative. In the past, I recorded meetings and made notes afterwards. With Microsoft’s in-built dictation tools, I can now transcribe what people say in real-time. When I don’t know how a word is spelt, I can say it into any Microsoft device and it will appear on the screen. Alternatively, if I know a word but don’t know how to say it, I can use the “read aloud” feature.
Microsoft’s mission to empower every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more means the company is designing and building products that are accessible to everyone. As a result, it’s helping all of us communicate and work better.
In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, creativity will be the must-have skill, providing opportunities in new, digital sectors that are in their infancy today. In the future, coders will be creators.
Accessibility features such as Dictate, Read Aloud, eye control, touch, inking and auto-subtitles are becoming commonplace in software. Technology is catching up with everybody’s needs, including those with dyslexia. Rather than thinking in terms of human versus machines, Microsoft is focused on how human traits such as creativity, empathy, emotion and insight can be mixed with AI to help move society forward.
I kept my dyslexia a secret until a couple of years ago, because I didn’t want to be judged. With technology creating a fairer platform for everyone, everyone with a learning disability should feel confident in every aspect of their life.
I now realise that people who say “you can’t do that” aren’t very important. I don’t take “no” too seriously nowadays. I see the world slightly differently. And I’m happy to.