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DYSLEXIA: How assistive tech salvages Nigerians with learning difficulty

By Juliet Umeh

Technology is an eye opener.

Who would have known that when a child has difficulty in learning, it was a health challenge? In Africa, the solution was to beat, threaten and mostly, abuse.

*A child suffering from Dyslexia

However with the aid of computational technology, health experts have discovered that the health condition is known as dyslexia. Dyslexia is a general term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols, but that do not affect general intelligence.

A child with dyslexia exhibits characteristics such as inability to pay attention or focus, taking too long on homework, struggling to read or comprehend material, disruptive or withdrawn behaviour, failure to follow instructions, falling behind in class among others.

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Statistics from  a foundation,  Dyslexia and Brain training centre,  have it that over 32 million Nigerians are struggling with these traits.

But, the good news is that with technology, a person suffering from dyslexia or a dyslexic in Nigeria, can now come out fine and good. Before now, such a health challenge was naturally overlooked and victims are left to gradually die with the trauma of abuse and abandonment. The only hope of dyslexics getting treatment in the past was either the United Kingdom or America

Just as a lady who identified herself as Lola recounted, life was unbearable as a dyslexic until providence took her to the UK where she was diagnosed and found to have dyslexia. She was constantly abused and thoroughly humiliated, dismissed as a low brain by both her parents, school mates and friends.

Lola said: “I was outrageously beaten for not being able to answer questions on time. I was constantly compared with my twin sister who was doing much better at everything.

“But luck smiled at me when few years back, we relocated to the United Kingdom and the condition was discovered with technology.”

Famous dyslexia cases

Dyslexia is not necessarily the sickness of the poor nor does it deny one the gift of talent or ability to be famous. In fact, some of the famous and popular celebrities today suffered dyslexia. Some of them include famous American film producer, screenwriter, animator and director, Walt Disney.

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He is an entrepreneur who is widely known for his motion picture. Others are Muhammad Ali, the great American boxing champion. He struggled throughout school and at the time wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia. Also, the world-famous British novelist, and short story writer, Agatha Christie is another person, among many others.

Nigerian dyslexics

Many children in Nigeria are still suffering from this. Some face educational exclusion and negative life outcomes on account of dyslexia, but the Executive Director of  Dyslexia and Brain training centre, Mrs.  Felicia Arikpo, said with the foundation, succour has come.

She regretted that Nigeria’s condition is bad because one in every six people is struggling with the health challenge.

Arikpo, said that children from wealthy homes were most hit, although they are normally sent abroad while some of them from poor homes stand chances of dropping out of school.

She said: “For long in Nigeria, people don’t recognize it, they rather call these people names; that they are lazy and all of that. Before now, people have to go abroad to carry out different kinds of assessment. Now, we do both assessment and intervention, here in Nigeria”

Aside that the internet has put information about dyslexia at people’s finger tips, parents who go online can now find answers to their questions. They can as well connect with the greater dyslexia community all over the world.

“We have the technologies here and we also do the assessment. We have Sense band device which is connected to either telephone or laptop to assist the dyslexics,” she said.

Assistive devices to the rescue

She also said that other technologies such as assistive technology, AT, have fast become crucial aids to dyslexics who are at work or in the classroom. Assistive technology is software, hardware and devices that ensure independence and productivity for the day to day life of the user.

Some of them include: Text to Speech Software. The software can read emails, web pages, PDFs and Office documents in natural sounding voices. They also provide spell and homophone checkers and highlighting tools, which can enable independence when producing and proofreading their own work.

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Speech Recognition Software: Speech recognition can quickly transfer a person’s spoken words into digital text. The software can also help the user to navigate round their computers, create and edit documents, surf the web and send an email – all through voice.   Some speech recognition software is up to three times faster than typing.

Reader Pens: This technology is becoming popular a product in dyslexia schools as they allow the user to process sentences quicker and understand the context. The pen is a portable device that traces a printed sentence and then reads back the words. There are also exam-approved versions which can aid students and create a balance between the understanding of a dyslexic and his speaking ability.

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