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Mike Micklewright

Quality Insider

Dyslexics Wanted, Part One

How those with the condition can thrive in a lean environment

Published: Friday, July 23, 2010 - 10:44

There’s a good chance that 20 percent of the people reading this article have dyslexia. Are you one of them? Are you proud that you have dyslexia? You should be. People with dyslexia typically are smart and creative. I wish I had it. Perhaps then, I would be leading my own huge consulting and training company rather than working as an independent consultant and trainer for the past 16 years.

I’ve asked my wife, Donna, if she thought I was dyslexic (kind of hoping she would say yes, as if that would suddenly make me more creative). She didn’t think so, but did feel I had at least one symptom of someone with dyslexia. She thought I did have… um… what was it again? Oh yeah, “word-finding issues,” which is oftentimes, but not always, a symptom.

I thought I might be a little dyslexic because I believe I have one of the positive characteristics of dyslexia—an ability to look at the big picture, think conceptually, and see relationships between two unrelated topics to form a third relationship or product. Maybe this is why I’ve been able to do stand-up comedy every so often, and how I linked “dyslexia” with “lean.”

A brief pause here for the collective, “Huh? How are they related?”

A couple months ago, my wife and I combined forces and gave a joint presentation at an American Society for Quality (ASQ) section meeting in Fox Valley, Illinois. I must say there was a great deal of interest. I then mentioned this presentation and the same general content as the emcee of the TWI Summit (Training Within Industry) in Las Vegas in May; again, there was a great deal of interest, especially from those with dyslexia or who have children with the learning disability—about 20 percent of the population. You see, people with dyslexia have suffered for years in an archaic school system that doesn’t know how to properly teach them, and continues to make them feel stupid and see themselves as complete idiots. They continue to suffer in the workplace as we in the workplace continue to not know how to teach them and continue to make them feel like idiots. We tend to treat them with disrespect.

Some of the attendees, especially those with dyslexia, came up after the presentations and, with tears in their eyes, thanked us for bringing up this sensitive subject. One person, a renowned TWI expert, confessed to me that he has dyslexia, and that he had struggled his entire childhood in school and failed many classes throughout his academic career. He also believed that this is why he became such a strong advocate of TWI—which many believe is the foundation for lean—because it teaches workers in an action-oriented and hands-on way, using multiple senses in its approach. Multisensory teaching is what those with dyslexia need to gain understanding of the topics, and it’s a standard part of TWI methodology.

So why did Donna speak with me?

Well, first because she’s hot and I thought it might be a good way to get a date with her after 17 years of marriage. Also she is an excellent speaker. For the first time I felt like Sonny Bono, establishing a singing duo with his wife Cher even though he had no talent and Cher did. Besides this, Donna is a strong child advocate and holds a bachelor’s degree in special education and a master's degree in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis on reading. She has served for more than 20 years in a classroom, as a special education teacher, and a reading specialist in the public schools of Chicago and Las Vegas. As a learning specialist, Donna currently runs a private practice in our home and on location, specializing in multisensory structured language training for adults and children with dyslexia, and related learning differences. In other words, she knows dyslexia.

On the other hand, I just know quality, lean, and Deming stuff.  I’m the Sonny of the Sonny and Cher duo (“Babe … I gotchoo babe...”).

So what is dyslexia?

According to the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

The reason why so many people don’t know that they have dyslexia is because they would never understand the definition above. (Just kidding, gang… or am I?) Actually, one of the main reasons people don’t know they have dyslexia is because they have never been screened for it, and it is pretty costly to do so. Some states, including Texas and, more recently, Mississippi, have passed laws mandating schools to screen students for dyslexia and provide special services to those who have it. Texas passed the law 25 years ago, and even though up to 20 percent of children have dyslexia, less than 1 percent of Houston-area children are enrolled in the state-mandated program. Of the 200,000 student population in the Houston school district, just 256 students receive the service. At the risk of stating the obvious, the screening process doesn’t seem to be working well in Texas, and those with dyslexia are still not getting the services they need.

The IDA believes that 15 to 20 percent of all school children have dyslexia. Counter to what Tom Cruise once claimed on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Scientology—or for that matter, any other program, fad, or religion—cannot “cure” one from being dyslexic. Which means that up to 20 percent of the work force probably has dyslexia.

How about your company? Does it screen new employees for dyslexia and provide special services when training them? Should it? Probably not. But perhaps we can and should keep in mind those who have dyslexia or other “issues” (e.g., other learning disabilities, ADHD, English as a second language) when we manage our business systems, much as lean principles and techniques have. Perhaps we can take the approach of what is called “universal design for learning” (UDL).

What is UDL?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL), according to Wikipedia, is:

“An educational framework based on research in the learning sciences, including cognitive neuroscience, that guides the development of flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences.

“Recognizing that the way individuals learn can be unique, the UDL framework, first defined by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) during the 1990s, calls for creating curriculum from the outset that provides:
Multiple means of representation to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge
Multiple means of expression to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know
Multiple means of engagement to tap into learners’ interests, challenge them appropriately, and motivate them to learn”

If we could just take the UDL approach and bring it to the business world, then we wouldn’t have to worry about screening for those with dyslexia or any other “issue.”

Ironically, UDL originated from the world of business. From Wikipedia again, “The concept and language of Universal Design for Learning was inspired by the universal design movement in architecture and product development, originally formulated by Ronald L. Mace at North Carolina State University. Universal design calls for designing and constructing buildings, homes, products, and so forth that, from the outset, accommodates the widest spectrum of users. UDL applies this general idea to learning: that curriculum should from the outset be designed to accommodate all kinds of learners.”

Many attributes of lean does just this. But which ones? In part two we’ll take a look at them.


About The Author

Mike Micklewright’s picture

Mike Micklewright

Mike Micklewright has been teaching and facilitating quality and lean principles worldwide for more than 25 years. He specializes in creating lean and continuous improvement cultures, and has implemented continuous improvement systems and facilitated kaizen/Six Sigma events in hundreds of organizations in the aerospace, automotive, entertainment, manufacturing, food, healthcare, and warehousing industries. Micklewright is the U.S. director and senior consultant for Kaizen Institute. He has an engineering degree from the University of Illinois, and he is ASQ-certified as a Six Sigma Black Belt, quality auditor, quality engineer, manager of quality/operational excellence, and supply chain analyst.

Micklewright hosts a video training series by Kaizen Institute on integrating lean and quality management systems in order to reduce waste.