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What dyslexia and neurodiversity can teach us about data

Published May 28 2024 5 minute read Last updated May 28 2024
dyslexia and data
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  • Rebecca Rosier
    Written by Rebecca Rosier

    Rebecca is a copywriter at Funnel. With more than a decade of experience in advertising and media, she has written for everyone from ad-land heavyweights, to heritage brands, to plucky startups.

If you have dyslexia or dyscalculia (dyslexia for numbers), then you’re in good company – with Steven Spielberg, Agatha Christie and Steve Jobs. In fact, dyslexia affects around 16% of the population and even more in specific industries. Studies have found that 25% of CEOs, 35% of entrepreneurs and 50% of NASA employees have dyslexia. 

Why such high percentages in these roles? Because dyslexia gives people excellent problem-solving skills and 3D awareness. So how do we harness this superpower and learn from our dyslexic colleagues how to work smarter? Read on to find out how to unlock your data and business culture – the dyslexic way. 

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a neurological difference that primarily affects reading and writing skills. But beyond this, dyslexia is a condition that changes how the brain processes information. People with dyslexia may find it difficult to process and remember information, affecting their school and work experiences. 

The condition works on a scale, from mild to severe, and often runs in families. For a long time, dyslexia was stigmatized, and people with it were considered less intelligent than their neurotypical peers. But the truth is that it has been misunderstood. Many people with dyslexia are naturally skilled at reasoning, creative thinking and public speaking. 

The problem with dyslexia is not only that we undervalue its strengths, but also that we miss out on the opportunity to learn from the dyslexic way of thinking. 

The power of the dyslexic mind

A mind with dyslexia doesn’t always travel in a straight line from A to B. Instead, it finds creative pathways to connect ideas, sees hidden opportunities and innovates. This can be difficult in traditional school and work environments, but can look like genius in business leadership (or thrilling murder mysteries, á la Agatha Christie).

Additionally, challenges in early life – particularly at school – can help develop a creative resilience that lends itself to the entrepreneurial and tech world. Faced with setbacks or unexpected challenges, people who have honed this skill early on in life can thrive in a challenging business environment. 

One trait of dyslexia is a heightened sense of visual and spatial perception. In industries like architecture, product design and engineering, good spatial awareness can help develop ideas and identify weak points more accurately.


Plus, having a dyslexic mind can often give a person a better sense of opportunity and will to challenge the status quo. Having this tendency to go against the grain could be one reason why so many successful CEOs and millionaires also have dyslexia. 

Making data more dyslexic

People with dyslexia can teach us a lot about data. It could seem counterintuitive to some, but let us explain. 

Dyslexia can make processing information difficult. It’s hard to imagine how that might be if you’re neurotypical, but try reading the text on this simulation to see what it’s like. Imagine sitting in a presentation. You’re dyslexic. The meeting is 45 minutes in, there’s a lot of text on a presentation slide, someone has been talking a while and your concentration is burning out. That’s hard work! And potentially, all the great points in the presentation will be missed entirely. 

We think there’s a three-prong approach to making your workplace and data more dyslexia-informed: 

  1. Visualization
  2. Culture
  3. Tools

Let’s dive in a bit deeper.

1. Visualization

We’ve written before about how graphs can make sense of data that’s otherwise just a rabble of numbers and how visualization can unlock data insights. 

Using visualization tools can assist companies in looking at data, identifying insights and patterns. And the best bit is that everyone benefits from clear visualization, not only those with dyslexia. Here’s how:

Reduced reliance on text:

  • Charts, graphs and other visual representations can communicate complex information without any reading. 

Pattern recognition:

  • Well-designed visualizations can highlight patterns and trends in data more effectively than text descriptions.

Improved memory:

  • Visual representations can leave a more lasting impression than text alone. Studies have shown that people following directions with illustrations do 323% better than those following directions without illustrations, and that people shown a piece of information without an image will remember 10%, while those shown an image will remember 65%

Better focus:

  • By breaking down information into clear visuals, data visualizations can reduce cognitive load and make it easier to stay focused. This means your most important points will shine through and nothing will get lost in the waffle.

How to make your data more dyslexia-friendly:

  • Bar charts: Simple and clear visualizations for comparing categories or proportions.
  • Line charts and time series graphs: Effective for displaying trends and changes over time.
  • Heatmaps: Can represent data with color intensity, allowing for quick identification of high and low values.
  • Icons and pictograms: Can be used to represent complex concepts in a visually understandable way.

Additional tips for dyslexia-friendly visualizations:

  • Clarity: Prioritize clear and uncluttered visuals. Avoid overwhelming charts with too much data or complex designs.
  • Color: Use color strategically to represent data, but ensure sufficient contrast for those with color blindness.
  • Labels: Include clear and concise data labels within the visualization itself, minimizing reliance on external text descriptions.
  • Interactive elements: Try including interactive visualizations that allow users to explore the data at their own pace and focus on specific areas of interest.

2. Culture

Another area that can be unlocked with some dyslexia-friendly approaches is business culture. Choosing to create ways of working that are inclusive for dyslexic minds benefits everyone. Here are a few ways to start working smarter, inspired by dyslexia:

Shorter meetings

Is your office calendar default set to 1 hour when you book a meeting? An hour is a long time! Keep in mind that the average person has an attention span of about 40 seconds. Could your office benefit from a 30-minute default meeting time? Then if you want to socialize, you have time to do that outside of the business meeting. This way, no important information gets lost in social time-filling, and people are encouraged to get to the point quickly when the meeting starts.

Structure

When we know what to expect, we’re better prepared to take on information. Our cognitive load is reduced because there are certain elements we don’t have to process. This can work, for example, in document templates, meeting templates, ticketing systems and follow-up protocols. We all know that restriction can spark creativity. Think about where in your business you can add structure, in order to inspire innovation.

Follow up

Making great presentations and coming to insightful conclusions is great – but only if everyone remembers them! Having a follow-up protocol means everyone has the most important notes from a meeting or presentation and has an opportunity to recap or question them in their own time.

Glossary

As you know: in marketing and tech, we have a lot of acronyms and nicknames for things. For some people, it’s no problem to remember everything, but keeping a local document up to date with all the terms, shortenings and nicknames can help people to remember, without any embarrassment about asking or making mistakes.

3. Tools

There are a few tools available that make life easier for people with dyslexia, as well as those who use a second language at work. Here are a couple of our suggestions:

Intellikey

Intellikey is a writing assistant app that you can install on your phone. The app uses chatGPT to generate text, spell check and alter tone. It can also help simplify and summarize longer text, or translate it to another language. 

Grammarly

Grammarly is similar to Intellikey, but can be employed company-wide in order to help everyone keep to a certain style of writing. Grammarly also spell-checks and grammar-checks in the browser so you can be sure all your emails and presentations are correct. 

Funnel

Of course, we have to mention the user-friendly data visualization in Funnel. Pull in data from various sources and drag-and-drop the fields to create a dashboard that gives you insights at a glance. 

Untapped potential

Harnessing the intelligence of the dyslexic brain offers companies a way to level up ways of working and information sharing. So many of our colleagues in tech and business have dyslexia, and by creating an inclusive working environment, we make our data more accessible and our communications more powerful. 

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