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Dyslexia Help with Martin McKay

George Grombacher January 23, 2022

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Dyslexia Help with Martin McKay

LifeBlood: We talked about getting those with dyslexia help, the number of people afflicted by it, the impact it has, how technology is helping to alleviate the problems it causes for professionals as well as students, and how you can bet help with Martin McKay, Founder and CEO of TextHelp, the leading provider of assistive software. 

Listen to learn why it’s a good practice to write the way you speak!

You can learn more about Martin at, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn.

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Our Guests

George Grombacher

Martin McKay

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:11
Herbalife lead this is George G. And the time is right to welcome today’s guests strong and powerful Martin Mackay Martin. Are you ready to do this? I am ready, George? Yeah. All right, let’s let’s go. Martin is the founder and CEO of Texthelp, did leading provider of assisted software to both education and corporate markets worldwide believe that everyone shares a fundamental need to be understood by others. And that language is our passport to academic, social and professional success. Martin, tell us a little about your personal life. It’s more about your work and why you do what you do. Okay, George, you can probably hear from my accent, I live in Northern Ireland, I was brought up on a farm in a pretty rural part of the world. And when I was 12, my dad had a fairly serious stroke. And he lost the ability to speak and write and use his right arm and leg, it had a huge impact on him, and also on me, and the rest of the family. And he had been a very driven, independent guy up until that point. And it really shouldn’t be the impact of not being able to communicate, he couldn’t express himself at all. And when I was old enough, I started trying to make software to help people in the same position. So people with strokes, cerebral palsy, motor neuron disease, and other kind of motion and dexterity and communication, related disabilities. And so that was the original idea. And then the business started to work. But I had a breakthrough moment in Scotland, I was talking to a lady in Glasgow College of Art, I think it was, and she said that she had one student with cerebral palsy, but she had about 200 students with dyslexia. And if I could do something for her dyslexic students, you know, I can reach a lot more people. And so I started to research dyslexia, and what type of assistive technology that could help. And I started off by making a dyslexic spell checker. And over the years, we’ve built a whole set of tools to help people who need help with reading and writing. And nowadays, it’s not just because of dyslexia, it could be people working in a second language or learning a language or some other cognitive impairment. So yeah, there’s we’ve got, we’ve got to reach a lot of people and we want to reach a level. Well, I certainly appreciate that. It seems like very often entrepreneurial success is, is motivated by catalyzed by a personal experience, and certainly experience with your dad that that led you down the path to, to create an IT solution and then running into the person, the teacher that said, Well, I’ve got 200 kids with dyslexia. So I think that that’s incredible.

Martin McKay 3:11
I got onto CompuServe, believe it or not, is a very long time ago. And I kind of researched and I found I ended up getting in contact with a guy called Marshall Raskin, who was based in Pasadena and California. And he had a research center, he was researching kids with learning difficulties. And he had done a PhD, specifically into spelling and how dyslexic people spell a little bit differently. He was really generous with me. And he shared his research. And that was the basis of my first spell checker. And, you know, just as I, as I learned that spoke to more people, I got to meet more educational researchers and learned a little bit more each time and expanded the product and the product. And yeah, just kind of made it gradually better over time. Nice. So

george grombacher 0:00
Come on

Fascinating, you needed to really understand dyslexia to be able to use technology to serve it. So tell me a little bit about that.

Martin McKay 3:05
Ah, so this is a long time ago towards this is like before the internet.

george grombacher 4:03
was it a function of it’s it’s going from, from whatever speed you’re going to really, really, really fast and growing and scaling a business. So you need to learn about dyslexia. But then you also need to learn all about entrepreneurship and scaling business. How’d you figure all that out?

Martin McKay 4:22
You know, in the early days, probably a little bit like riding a bike, quite a few fell off my bike a few times. Yeah, learn to bounce. And I, you know, over the past 10 years, I’ve taken time over here for some professional development to try to learn about business development and leadership and all that sort of stuff. But in the early days, it was just, you know, you know, an idiot in his 20s, who didn’t know that he fail, and it just kept going. And, you know, I’m very thankful I’m really lucky. I’ve had investors who believed in the idea and they got on board and You know, investors tend to bring support with them, they bring in help and non executive board members who can help steer things in the right direction and help with recruitment and help attracting a really good talented team into the organization. So, yeah, without external investors, I would say, I probably wouldn’t have got quite so far. So I owe them a debt of gratitude, for sure.

george grombacher 5:22
Nice. So, what, how, how many people across the world are we talking about that you’re working to serve?

Martin McKay 5:31
So Well, I mean, we’re still in the grand scheme of things on a global basis, we’re still a relatively small skill, and dyslexia doesn’t, you know, like in Mandarin, you know, dyslexia is not a thing. It typically is. It shows up in languages where the written text is effectively an encoding of what the word sounds like. So whenever we read a word, we split it up into little, not syllables, books, a syllable is a sound, we visually split it up into graphemes. And the grapheme is like a two or three letter slug, and then you turn those into sounds. That’s called grapheme to phoneme conversion, and then we blend the phonemes. And that turns it into something that we can understand. Lots of dyslexic people can’t do that. So pretty much any Latin language, probably half the world, you know, more than half the world. And of that group of people, you know, conservatively, 7% of people have got dyslexic have got dyslexia, like 12% of kids are in special education. And by far the largest group of those kids are specific learning difficulties like dyslexia. And, you know, if you’re in the workplace, 5% of your work colleagues are probably dyslexic, and they’re embarrassed about it. And they don’t put their hand up and say, I’m dyslexic, because they think it’s a career limiting move. And they can’t read very well. But they’re not stupid. And it’s kind of like me taking my glasses off, if I take my glasses off, I can’t read, it doesn’t mean that I’m any less smart than I was, or I can have a really good, interesting conversation about topics that I’ve got some expertise on, I put my glasses back on, and I can read about all sorts of things. And for dyslexic people, it’s just it’s the very same thing. You can have a conversation with them. That can be super bright, articulate. And just when you confront them with some text, it’s difficult for them. The piece of the brain that non dyslexic people use for decoding patterns of text and turning it into sound. dyslexic people have that piece of the brain, but they use it for something else. And they’re typically really good designers, really good architects, really good engineers, really good marketers. They’re just they have got a talent that is different, where we all we’re all different. And we all think differently. It’s kind of helping them discover that talent, and put it to work by giving them like the equivalent of a pair of glasses, this is what we tried to do.

george grombacher 7:57
So this is probably going to be really oversimplification or an impossible question to ask. But how, how does Texthelp actually work then?

Martin McKay 8:07
It’s really simple. It’s really, really simple. It if if you want to understand what’s on your computer screen, you just press the play button, and we’ll read the right load. And as we’re reading, it will color highlight the words there as it’s being spoken. And that helps build up a link between what the word looks like and how the word sounds like. It helps perform that process that dyslexic people can’t do. If you encounter a new word. We’ve got talking dictionaries, authors, 101, things like if you, if someone sends you a text message, we can read the text message. If you get like something on paper that’s hard to read, you can take a photograph of it and we’ll read the photograph our load. If you’ve difficulty writing, dyslexic people make really inventive spelling mistakes. And you know, when you understand dyslexia, they don’t seem weird. They’re they’re very logical. So like, a dyslexic person might spell? Well, let me give you an example. George. So the, if I was to write down the word Lef, A and T over Do you think that is? Lef a NT? Yeah,

george grombacher 9:12
the font elephant? Oh, got it. Got it. Yeah,

Martin McKay 9:17
so it’s an L E font elephant. So it’s pretty logical. So dyslexic person might spell that way, and a regular spell checker would fix it. So we have got a dyslexic spell checker and grammar checker on a word predictor. So when you’re typing in your form, and you’re saying sending a text message, your form will predict ahead. But that type of prediction is designed for people with fat thumbs on a small keyboard. And it’s not really designed for dyslexic people. We’ve got word prediction that shows up inside Microsoft Word and Google Docs and Facebook and work wherever you are. And it’s designed to help dyslexic people not make the kind of embarrassing typos.

george grombacher 9:55
And isn’t it? Yeah, it’s pretty cool. So through through through using the software. Is it feasible that somebody could get to the point where they wouldn’t need the software anymore, or they just get faster.

Martin McKay 10:14
So, yeah, they become more productive. And certainly to some extent that they need to use it last, because some aspects of the software are about teaching people vocabulary. And as they learned vocabulary, they don’t need that piece of it. Some pieces of it are just about cognition. And, you know, dyslexia is not a one size fits all kind of diagnosis, there’s a whole range of kind of sub symptoms, and some people will, will need it less. And some people, for some people, they’ll just continue to use it. But I think that the big The important thing is, it’s just, it unlocks a bunch of productivity, lets people get on with the thing that they care about, and stops them having to worry and be stressed about having to read or write in the workplace or in school.

george grombacher 10:58
Yeah, it’s, I mean, it’s pretty incredible. If you have a company of 1000 people, it’s, you know, at least 50 people 50 of their employees are living and working with, I don’t want to call it with with with with dyslexia. And do you have I mean, I imagine if I was trying to read without my glasses on, that’s really limiting my productivity. So

Martin McKay 11:24
yeah, if you were an employer, and you saw, like people who had short sight coming in and trying to work with glasses, as an employer, you would say, let’s get these, let’s get these people some glasses. They’re like, super inexpensive. And I think that’s the job that we have, we have to try to tell the world about this. Because there’s a kind of misconception and an older generation of people that dyslexic people are stupid, and they’re not, you know, they can’t learn. And that is really just a, it’s a, it’s an inaccurate perception. And they have difficulty reading the way that short people have difficulty reaching a high shelf, and short sighted. Without glasses, we’re all different. We’re all you know, and we all interact with the world in a different way. And thankfully, now, there are tools to help people with dyslexia to just, you know, perform completely like normal. And, yeah, in fact, you know, it’s better than that, because we allow them to read and write like normal people like not mine when I say normal reading, right, like people who are competent that reading and writing and don’t have dyslexia. But it allows them to really unlock that dyslexic thinking that superpower that they have, do, you know, in the UK GCHQ, which is the government. GCHQ is kind of like our CIA, or NSA type organization, they deliberately hire dyslexic people, because they think differently, they value them as better, I suppose they make better spies, better decoders. And so, you know, clearly already people are seeing the value of this. And some are, there’s a good delivery search, we want less to emerge just generally in the workplace,

george grombacher 13:07
literally seeing the world in a different way. So there’s, there’s immense value to that. Yeah. So I went right to the money piece of it. Because from an enterprise standpoint, if you have the opportunity to work with big company, they have the opportunity to potentially write a check for the service schools, though, I mean, to help kids, I mean, that’s way more heart centric from just sort of just me thinking about it for the first time, but difficult because they lack the resources that companies have. How are you? How do you think about that problem?

Martin McKay 13:38
So it’s, we’ve solved that problem by making it super, super inexpensive. For schools, actually, 17% of students in the US have got our software. We’ve got that far by making it super inexpensive. And, you know, it’s school budgets, public money, it’s got to be spent wisely. And, and yeah, we find a way of making it really inexpensive so that we can reach more and more people.

george grombacher 14:07
Amazing. Well, thank you for that.

Martin McKay 14:10
That’s good. We’re very happy to help. That’s what we’re here for.

george grombacher 14:13
Yeah, I think that that’s that’s certainly an incredible thing right there in the store is the must get I’m sure that they’re absolutely incredible. So trying to get over the trying to get over the stigma of of the thing that people with dyslexia are somehow less intelligent. That’s that that’s a big thing. Just the awareness piece that this is a big chunk of folks out there probably way bigger than you could have ever imagined. Just all of it.

Martin McKay 14:42
And also, you know, the fact that it’s you’re right, it’s the fact that people, particularly when they go to workplace when they’re when they’re at school, hopefully if they’ve got a good teacher, the teacher will recognize that they’re struggling, have them assessed by an educational psychologist and they can get it You know, they’ll get support because they’re dyslexic in the workplace, you know, particularly young adults, that are not feeling particularly proud of the fact that they’re dyslexic, and they don’t disclose it. And then, you know, they’ll start to avoid job roles for there’s a lot of reading and writing, and they end up making career limiting decisions. And really, what we need to do is help people understand that when these people leave school and go to the workplace, they don’t leave dyslexia behind. And, you know, like, if they’re in the workplace, they’re going to be not kind of prone to put their hand up and saying, I’m dyslexic. And so if you if any of your listeners are in working in HR department, and you’re not actively supporting dyslexic employees right now, please think about that, because that’s a huge chunk of your workplace. And if you give them a little bit of help, it’s like not much more expensive. I mean, it’s cheaper than you would spend on coffee for them to, you know, to give them the glasses that they need. And it will help them be more productive, stay with you, and be a cat loyal employee, and you will be doing more for people who can really contribute a huge amount. I think it’s a it’s a, it’s a really important thing. If, you know, if I could just get people to understand that, I think it’ll be really good thing.

george grombacher 16:22
Yeah, there’s no doubt about it. Fascinating. And that’s obviously going to be on an individual basis that some people will are more adept or more open to raising their hand and say, Hey, I’m suffering with this, or I need a little bit of help, versus somebody who’s just going to close themselves off and avoid doing certain things, avoid jobs, avoid roles. And then having an empowering an HR leader, or the CEO, or whoever in leadership is in charge of employee issues, to coach them up and help them to roll this out so that people use it, and they’re comfortable doing it. That’s a big opportunity, and also a challenge I would imagine. Yeah,

Martin McKay 17:05
it’s, you know, trying to get the news out to people as is. I think there’s like a different generation, this generation of people that we have now are much more open minded, inclusive, you know, Diversity, and Inclusion is an important. You know, it’s an agenda item at the board, and many large public companies know, and, you know, so I think it is getting better. i The, the urgency that I feel about this is, we’ve been doing this in education live for, you know, in the US for about 16 years, and the kids that we’ve helped right through education, they’re going into the workplace now, and the workplace is not ready for them. We need to get these tools into the workplace. So that so that they can can follow them right through their life.

george grombacher 17:47
Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. Oh, Martin, people are ready for your difference making tip? What do you have for them?

Martin McKay 17:53
Okay, so at my difference making tip is, really, this might seem a little bit weird. But I would say, don’t assume that if you’re reading an email, or you’re reading marketing copy, or you’re reading a report, or you’re reading a document for any purpose, if you’re writing today, don’t assume the person who’s reading it is very good at reading. 16% of people in the UK are functionally illiterate, right? So that I mean, they can’t read well enough to identify, you know, define the plumber in the local Yellow Pages. For example. People don’t use yellow pages anymore, but it’s a very large group of people who can’t read very well. So if you write marketing copy, or company reports, don’t use long words to make yourself look smart. Use short sentences and easy words, because that will make it easier for everyone. And so that’s my tip. Keep it simple. Just like don’t assume that everyone’s a smarter viewer, and make the world a little bit easier to read.

george grombacher 18:52
Well, I think that that is great stuff that definitely gets a Come on. Yeah, cool. Yeah, the easier we can make it on ourselves by not trying to be fancy with with with with 10 cent words and whatnot. It’s probably better for everybody just in general. So well said, Martin, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you? And how can they engage with Texthelp

Martin McKay 19:15
they can learn more by visiting our website, that’s probably the easiest place. It’s And if you’ve got dyslexic family member, or you’re dyslexic, or you’ve a friend who’s dyslexic, they can go there and download the software and use it for free for 30 days. And yeah, I would just encourage people to try it out and they’ll find find a period understand

george grombacher 19:38
amazing. Have you enjoyed this as much as I did. So Martin your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas, go to Text help calm that’s t x t h e And try out the software for free for 30 days. If you work for an organization, check it out. If you work for an educational entity, check it out. and help a lot of people who probably didn’t realize we’re struggling thanks good Martin Thank you George and until next time keep fighting the good fight we’re all in this together

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