From education to employment


Despite the £100bn advertising industry recognising the positive benefits of recruiting people with #dyslexia and other neurodiverse conditions, it is failing at the first hurdle.

According to LEO – a new platform that seeks to transform the way that neurodiverse university students learn, reading lists are causing them to doubt their ability to take part in the course – ultimately placing them at a disadvantage from the very start.

  • New platform, LEO, launches to help make educational material more accessible for those with dyslexia and neurodiverse differences
  • The platform was created by advertising professionals who worked alongside a designer with dyslexia, dyslexic ad students and experts in the field
  • 11.5 million people in UK have dyslexia and with university learning still being largely text based, LEO questions if the creative industry is missing out on future superstars   
  • LEO finds that the one of the biggest barriers preventing dyslexic students from studying advertising at university is anxiety over reading list, leading them to doubt themselves
  • LEO transforms books into video, audio and other mediums to help neurodiverse students and calls on industry to do their part

Dyslexia is often referred to as a superpower by the advertising industry who support the idea that neurodiverse people are often more creative and artistic, because they can think differently and more holistically than neurotypical people. However, thousands of students with dyslexia looking to break into the industry are still being put at a disadvantage, until now.

LEO is new and free to join eReading platform designed to offer students with dyslexia a way to access course material that works for them, while removing a barrier that may halt their progress in the industry.

The platform was created by advertising professionals James Hillhouse, Kat Pegler and Alex Fleming. The idea was conceived after Hillhouse discovered a dyslexic student he worked with through his organisation Commercial Break – a youth transformation agency, designed to give working class talent a break in creative industry – was considering dropping out because of the difficulty of reading lists.

The team worked alongside UX designer Evert Martin, who himself has dyslexia, and called upon his own experience with dyslexia growing up to help inform the platform interface and functionality. The features were then created and formed with the guidance of dyslexic university students and dyslexia experts to make the LEO as natural to use as possible.

Dyslexia is a learning difference that involves difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and how they relate to letters and words. It affects areas of the brain that process language – making it more of a challenge to digest information from text than neurotypical experience.    

LEO enables users to personalise how they consume the content to suit what works best for them. This is done predominately through the three pillars of text customisation, audio and video, with additional functionality to make the experience easier and more enjoyable. How these features work and what they look like in real time can be seen from a video that LEO has released.

Launching this month with its first book ‘How to do Better Creative Work’ by Steve Harrison, who is regarded as one of the greatest direct marketing creatives of his generation, with his book widely seen as a bible for advertising. Each chapter of the book is read by a different creative luminary of the advertising industry, such as Rosie Arnold (BBH and AMVBBDO), Joe Staples (Mother LA), Aidan McClure (Wonderhood Studios) and Stu Outhwaite-Noel (Creature). Staples and McClure are two of the most high-profile creatives in the industry with dyslexia.

Two more books by other leading advertising creatives will also launch on the platform later this year with LEO putting a call out for other authors to support the platform and add their books to its library.

Speaking about the LEO’s launch and the problem it’s addressing, Kat Pegler co-founder of LEO said: “On the surface, the advertising and digital industries are set up for people with dyslexia to thrive because they rely on divergent thinking to ensure that the products they are selling are noticed. This kind of thinking is second nature to people with dyslexia who tend to think less linearly, and more holistically than people who are neurotypical. However, each year, students with dyslexia looking to break into the industry are being put at a disadvantage that is blocking their entry – the reading lists that accompany the courses they take.”

Proprietary research[2] by LEO shows that almost two thirds of people with dyslexia are not able to complete their undertaken reading lists. A third of them are even getting to the point where reading lists are almost putting them off going to university at all. Whatever their reaction, three quarters of them agree – the reading list in its current form is putting people with dyslexia at a disadvantage. 

Steve Harrison has pledged his support of the initiative and is encouraging other authors to follow in his footsteps. Speaking on the importance of LEO Steve said: “I picked up most of my knowledge and owe much of my success to reading books about the industry. I have always insisted that people steep themselves in the writings of the greats who have gone before us – and the innovators who see the way forward. 

“But so many potential stars cannot do this and are held back because they have difficulty reading, which means they’re starved of this insight and inspiration.  I am absolutely delighted that LEO is happening, and I am honoured that my book has been chosen for its launch.  I hope this is just the start of the LEO story, and that the advertising world gets behind it and helps those with dyslexia bring their unique mode of thinking to an industry that’s crying out for fresh ideas and a different perspective.”

Kat Pegler, (LEO spokesperson) continues: “LEO is on a mission to make the future of education more accessible for students with Dyslexia. Today is just the first step towards this goal – we now need the help of authors, publishers, brands, and potential funders to join the cause and back the platform. It’s an absolute no brainer that we should be doing more to help get people with dyslexia into the industry. By making LEO free and available to all, we’re hopefully making that a little bit easier.

To celebrate the launch of LEO the founders are hosting a free virtual event entitled ‘Thinking Sideways’ on January 28. The event is aimed at students and young people looking to break into the industry, especially those who are neurodivergent. It will feature some of the leading figures from the worlds of advertising and dyslexia and will be a relaxed 90-minute event mixing talks, interviews, and audience interaction. To sign up click here.

Methodology: Research was carried out by LEO and the sample size was 380 people and a mix of those about to go to university, at university or have left recently.

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