A dyslexic entrepreneur is seeking the help of businesses and employees as he works to develop an assistive tool that will make email easier for people who share his condition.
Hull-based Dileepa Ranawake, who was diagnosed with dyslexia at 18, is drawing on his background in technology and health projects to create Jisterly.ai, which will enable dyslexic people to read and prioritise their emails up to five times faster without having to open them.
His project has been welcomed by Ian Streets (left), an accessibility expert who runs his own consultancy, About Access, and who said the disabling effects of dyslexia were often overlooked.
He said: “Dyslexia is recognised as a disability under the Equality Act because individuals with the condition are considered to be at a substantial disadvantage when compared to people who do not have the condition.
“In the workplace it is all too often poorly understood by employers who may not be aware of the indicators. As with any other impairment, employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for someone who is dyslexic, and hopefully this study will raise awareness of that.”
Dileepa, a former CEO and director of Yorkshire-based technology and health business Kinata, operates from C4DI in Hull but is seeking input on the email frustrations facing dyslexic people regardless of location.
He said: “With dyslexia you spend your life going through school and being told you are lazy and bad at stuff and most of the time you are trying about five times as hard as anybody else.
“There are obvious barriers to being dyslexic but there are big advantages too. People with dyslexia have off-the-chart abilities with problem-solving, creativity and verbal communication. More than one third of entrepreneurs are dyslexic. We need to empower people to do the things that they want, remove the barriers so we can help people double down on their strengths.
“There are so many dyslexic people who develop huge levels of anxiety every day and with me it’s about emails, so I am self-funding the research and development of Jisterly.ai to help people with dyslexia read their email up to five times faster by reducing the word count by 80 per cent and highlighting key information and actions.
“If you are really on form it might be slightly easier to read an email in a really quiet room, in the perfect moment. But the thing with excess anxiety is not knowing if the email is important or difficult and what the key tasks are. People with dyslexia spend so much time re-reading their emails and that drastically reduces the time they can spend leveraging the strengths of being dyslexic. We’re trying to fix that by removing a big barrier.
“What we do is process the content of those emails to bring the key information to the top so you can see it without needing to open the email and when you do key information is distilled and reformatted to significantly improve readability.”
The aim is to develop the service to work across any email provider, client or device. It’s being trialled among Dileepa’s business contacts and he is eager to gain feedback from a wider sample.
He said: “We need bigger organisations who have dyslexic employees because we want them to do more to support the 10 per cent of the workforce that has dyslexia. I am looking for employees and organisations, business leaders and owners who typically get a high volume of emails.
“We are starting the trials in Hull because that is where we are but it is not restricted to this area. It is a digital service and there are about 7.6 million dyslexic professionals worldwide who use email and speak English. We want to reach people who are dyslexic and woke up this morning feeling as though they were about to go to war with their inbox.”
Ian added: “People who have dyslexia could experience a variety of problems around tasks which may appear routine to others, such as written and verbal communications, time management and remembering names, numbers and lists.
“Many adjustments can be made at little or very reasonable cost to a business and can make a great deal of difference to the dyslexic employee, enabling them to shine and make a greater contribution to the business.”