One in 25 people in the UK are estimated to have dyslexia, a condition that makes reading and writing difficult.

Despite dyslexia being relatively common, those with the condition can face social exclusion and can have difficulty finding work and accessing services.

Sunderland Library Services has launched a partnership with the voluntary group the Social Inclusion and Dyslexia Project (SID) in order to use state-of-the-art software to help those with the condition.

The scheme will see assistive technology installed on all public access computers in Sunderland’s libraries. The technology – which can be used with common software such as Google Chrome – will convert text into speech and speech into text.

It is hoped the technology will help those with dyslexia and other conditions apply for jobs and complete online transactions.

The scheme was recently launched at an event at Sunderland Library, Museum and Winter Gardens.

Speaking at the event, Sunderland City Council’s cabinet member for communities and culture, Cllr John Kelly, said, “At school, we heard about what was described at the time as ‘word blindness’ and what obstacles that created for people in the classroom and in later life.”

“Working with our voluntary sector partners at SID, we’ve tried to identify the barriers preventing people with dyslexia from accessing information in their daily life and how to adapt Library Services to support people to overcome the challenges they may face.”

“It is recognised that better access to assistive technology, and the guidance needed to use it to meet individual needs, plays a vital role in helping personal, professional and social development.”

“Providing the software on the computers in our libraries will support people with dyslexia in reading alone (by converting) text to speech, with the computer itself reading the information directly back to the user, and will help us begin to understand what more can be done in the future.”   

The Mayor of Sunderland Lynda Scanlan, with Joanne Youngson from SID and Cllr John Kelly

SID’s project coordinator, Joanne Youngson, said, “People with dyslexia face social exclusion in their everyday lives at work, in education or training, and in the home.”

“Barriers that exclude them can cause stress and ultimately prevent them from taking opportunities to work and learn. However, with the right support people can achieve and reach their potential.”

A Sunderland-based charity, SID has trained more than 500 professionals and organisations across the country in dyslexia awareness.

Colin, a former builder, first contacted SID at the age of 61. He went on to become a volunteer and is now a trustee of the charity.

Colin said, “The main problem for anyone with dyslexia is knowing where to go for help.”

“I literally couldn’t pick up a pen and write a letter. I had to pay others to do that for me when I was in business, but I was always good with technology.”

“Once you know how to use it in your everyday life, it opens doors to new possibilities. Working with Joanne at SID, I discovered more about phonics and speech recognition assistive technology, which is vital if you have trouble spelling words.”

Namena, 55, said, “I found out about SID and learned more about the assistive technology available. Being able to use it gives you a lot more confidence.”

“Being able to cope with paperwork in a matter of hours rather than days, I’ve gone from being a lifeguard to starting my own business teaching people how to swim.”

The following workshops will be held on how to use assistive technology with Google Chrome:

  • 22nd August – Washington Town Centre Library, 2.00 – 400 pm
  • 29th August – Houghton Library, 2.00 – 4.00 pm
  • 5th August – Washington Town Centre Library, 2.00 – 4.00 pm
  • 12th September – Houghton Library, 2.00 – 4.00 pm

To learn more about the workshops and the help and advice available, please visit

To promote the new scheme, a short story competition has been launched. People with dyslexia are invited to share their experiences of the condition and entries can be in the form of short stories, poems, videos or voice recordings.

Entries must be submitted by 15th September and the winner will be announced during the Sunderland Literature Festival in October. The prize will be a brand new laptop.

For more information about the contest, please visit  

(The featured image shows the Mayor of Sunderland Cllr Lynda Scanlon, with Cllr John Kelly, and Joanne Youngson, Colin Fishwick and Namena Smith from SID.)

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