March 28, 2022

Dyslexia and Neurodivergence in the Workplace with Jeannette Roberes

Dyslexia and Neurodivergence in the Workplace with Jeannette Roberes

We kick off this episode with Mai Ling and James both sharing about events they recently participated in and the takeaways from them. Then James has a great conversation with speech-language pathologist and author, Jeannette Roberes. She has extensive...


We kick off this episode with Mai Ling and James both sharing about events they recently participated in and the takeaways from them. Then James has a great conversation with speech-language pathologist and author, Jeannette Roberes. She has extensive experience working with dyslexic learners and consults with tech companies on dyslexia inclusivity. Jeannette shares about her work running the disability inclusion think tank, Bearly Articulating, and why she's made it her mission to educate the tech community about the unique value neurodiverse people can bring to the table.

Contact Mai Ling: MLC at mailingchan.com

Contact Martyn: Martyn at martynsibley.com

 

Transcript

SPEAKERS

Mai Ling,  James Berges, Jeannette Roberes

Jeannette Roberes 00:01

People don't realize how qualified they truly are.

James Berges 00:12

Welcome to the Xceptional Leaders Podcast. Each week we give you a front-row seat to our conversations with new and successful entrepreneurs and thought leaders making an impact in the special education and disability communities. They share their intimate experiences so you can start to grow and expand your impact. I am James Burgess with https://slptransitions.com/, and

Mai Ling 00:34

I am Mai Ling Chan you can find me at https://www.mailingchan.com/ and in today's episode, we get to hear James's fantastic interview with Jeanette Roberes. I'm so excited for you to hear her because she's a great fusion between technical experience and clinical experience. What do you think James?

James Berges 00:50

Yeah, Mai Ling. I really enjoyed this interview with Jeanette. Some of the lessons that stood out to me are that she went from SLP, to private practice, found a niche in dyslexia. And then took that and went to a software engineering boot camp and now she's making an app with dyslexia. So she really is someone who followed her curiosity and wasn't afraid to reinvent herself multiple times.

Mai Ling 01:04

Yeah, that sounds like a mic drop moment there. She's just incredible. I've met her before and she's created courses and is going to be presenting in upcoming conferences, that exceptional learning and she is just one of those people that shines brightly and really stands out.

 

James Berges 01:28

She does. She also consults on dyslexia and how companies can be more inclusive and tech to people with disabilities, and we talked about how people with dyslexia and other disabilities. "Disabilities" may be exceptional abilities that actually have advantages in tech. So for example, there's some research that suggests that Dyslexics and people with ADHD, have a proclivity for big picture thinking creativity, and they're overrepresented as entrepreneurs. So Sir Richard Branson, the founder of IKEA, Steve Jobs, all had dyslexia and I'm wondering how, what what's going on there might be that they just, yeah, you know, I'd like to dig more into that. But Jeannette talks that she talks about inclusivity, and how we can build technology to meet the needs of people with disabilities.

 

Mai Ling 02:22

Fantastic. Yes, that's exactly what we need to be doing and that actually brings me to what I did last week, which was being a part of the rehab Tech Summit. Did you get to see any of that, James?

 

James Berges 02:33

Not yet. I want to watch the recordings. I wish I got to be there live. But tell us about that Mai Ling That looks so cool.

 

Mai Ling 02:38

Yeah, well, I mentioned it last week and it wasn't in enough time for people probably to sign up because our episode dropped too close to it. But I definitely want our listeners to put this on their calendar for next year. It's just it's an incredible group of people who have come together, and are pioneers, I would say in last couple years who are doing that crossover from being a clinical provider, to working with technology companies, they could be founders, they could be supporting personnel, they can be salespeople, product development. I mean, I learned so much, James, about what is going on out there and the presentations were just fantastic and I don't know, I just feel like this is a conference that we're going to really want to watch for next year.

 

James Berges 03:22

Yeah, and you're a keynote speaker. That's so cool. One thing you mentioned about how we can bridge to tech, something I did this weekend too that you reminded me of is I attended a webinar about voice technology and chatbot design and a lot of the people there were SLPs and linguists sort of a niche weird subsection of people, but it's like that's my jam of people using technology and their speech pathology skills in a different way. So for those listening, you know, speech pathologists, if you don't know, we work a lot on pragmatics on language turn-taking and these are people who are designing those experiences for customer service robots, you know, we've all been on an annoying customer service call or press zero to talk to a representative. It's like that, but the future is coming. It's getting more intelligent and how can we make these robots sound more human and more enjoyable, but there are also applications in healthcare and you know keeping older folks company who may not have anyone to talk to with their Alexa obviously doesn't beat in-person communication, but it's just really cool to see our skill set can translate to this. This exploding world as well. The possibilities are out there.

 

Mai Ling 04:43

Yeah, so good. So I have a very unique story to share. I was getting an Uber from my friend she had come to visit and I wanted to host the Uber for her so I put it on my app came to my house and she had a very large suitcase. My husband was not home so we went around and we stood behind the car and we're waiting for the driver to open the trunk, which you know, sometimes they do and he didn't. So I tapped on it and then it opened up and my friend looked at me and she said "Do you think he could come out and help us?" and I said "Well, I don't know". So I went around to the side, and he rolled down the window, and he had to use a tap valve. He had to occlude the opening and speak and so I was like, oh, and so he said, I'm sorry, I'm not able to, you know, to assist you, and I said, No problem. So she and I lifted that Hunka luggage, and we stuck it in the back, and I had to let her know quickly because she's not familiar. You know, with a speaker like this. I said, just want to let you know, he's using about to be able to speak. And so she said, Oh, so she gets into the Uber and goes off to the airport and calls me after she got through security, and she said that was the most interesting experience, you know, that I've had with an Uber driver, she said that he was very chatty. But you know, she was glad that I had told her at least something about it and then she had more questions and it was just fantastic. James, like I was so happy for him, you know that he's doing what he wants to do and making a good income. Right, and it's just, it was just a wonderful experience for me as a speech language pathologist.

 

James Berges 06:08

Oh, that's really cool. I've never met an Uber driver quite like that. But I love that story. So cool.

 

Mai Ling 06:15

Yeah. All right. Well, I think that this is a great segue into this fantastic interview, I think you guys are gonna love it. Before we go. I just want to invite you to follow us on all of the major podcast apps, you can listen to us on Spotify, and the apple podcast and whatever major ones you listen to and then also, please give us some love and some feedback. We could definitely use some five star reviews and that helps other people to find us and then you can also connect with us via our Facebook and Instagram pages. So we want to hear from you. We want to connect with you.

 

James Berges 06:48

Absolutely leave us some love. Let us know if you have any questions. We'd love to hear from you.

 

Mai Ling 06:53

Great. All right, you ready to get to the interview?

 

James Berges 06:55

Let's do it. Today, I am excited to be talking with Jeanette Roberes says hello Jeanette.

 

Jeannette Roberes 07:06

Hello, James. How are you?

 

James Berges 07:08

I'm doing great. How are you doing today?

 

Jeannette Roberes 07:11

No complaints. It was 60 yesterday and today we're getting snow. So I'm just going to try to live that gratitude life and complain little as possible.

 

James Berges 07:21

Hey, I got to learn more of those lessons. I complain that it's too sunny sometimes. What am I doing? So Janette, I want to introduce you to the audience because you have a really multitalented background, which we'll get more into. But Jeanette Roberes, you are an SLP focused on dyslexia, and you consult on inclusivity in the workplace. And you wrote a book called Technical Difficulties: Why Dyslexic Narratives Matter in Tech. We'll get into all that. But first, welcome, and second, can you tell us a bit about how you ended up with this background? A little bit about your backstory.

 

Jeannette Roberes 08:03

Sure thing. So I started my origin story, my background story, as a SLP working in a urban school district, where I had a very, very large caseload. I was happy with the work that I was doing. I however, found that I was spending a lot of my weekends still doing work. At the time, I had a really small family. My son was who he was probably like months, my husband and I were probably two years in. So it was difficult to have work Monday through Friday, eight to four, and then in the evenings have more work. And on the weekends. I'm still diving deeper into work because again, I had this very, very vast caseload. So I started looking at my options, and I put all of my cards on the table. And I decided to open a private practice. So my private practice is called barely articulating. And the work that I did with barely articulating was a lot of what I did in the school districts, but it provided me flexibility. One of my specialties when I was working within the school district was dyslexia. That was something that kept coming up. So I was very vigilant in learning more information about dyslexia. What can I do, how can I help? What are the signs? And so when I created my private practice, that was one of the things that I highlighted that I work specifically with those with dyslexia, I have certifications and nice particular intervention programs. And I think that's what really through a lot of parent’s tours, my services ultimately. So my husband and I decided that we were not a good fit. And we parted ways, probably about three years into my private practice. So, with that in mind, I decided that I wanted to reinvent myself. So with that, as my prime focus, I started to look at natural language acquisition, I started to look at technology as it relates to AAC, and different communication board applications, what those could potentially look like for me. So I went to school for programming, and coding, and I was able to complete a program within three months. And having completed that program, it really set me apart from not only being an SLP and specializing in dyslexia, but now I had this other cool tool that was on my tool belt. So I worked as a software engineer for about two and a half years, and the rigor of that work wasn't just the best for me, because I'm like a free spirit carefree kind of gal, and  that was stifling all of my creativity. But again, I was able to really pivot with a finesse. And so I started to present and facilitate trainings around how individuals with language based learning disorders like dyslexia, can provide their essential skill set into the tech workforce. What should websites look like, for those individuals who have dyslexia? What are some benefits and some detriments to the accessibility of apps, and how they are being launched, and that is kind of where my story leaves me today. So after having spoken around the world, I've spoken and visited about 40 plus countries, I decided to sit down and write a book, and the book is titled, as you stated Technical Difficulties: Why Dyslexic Narratives Matter In Tech. So having wrote that book, it definitely made the playing field a lot more. Let's see cool for me, because now I had this body of work that people were able to tap into, they can learn more about dyslexia, and they can see how being dyslexic is not at all a detriment, if you want to pursue careers in technology. And to be honest, every single occupational role has some type of facet of technology in it. So I think that the book is tailored to people who want to be, you know, 21st century employees or employers, what does that look like, if you have dyslexia now, I will pivot really quickly and make sure that I'm clear that I, myself do not have a dyslexic diagnosis. But it was just certainly something that I was seeing a lot of as I was working in the school districts, and usually when something piques my interest, I go full force and try to find cool ways and innovative ways to look at that issue. Ultimately,

 

James Berges 13:38

Amazing. That's great, and there's so much there's so much beat in there that I want to dig into, and what I'm hearing that standing out to me, Jeanette is you weren't afraid to go for what you were interested in, you followed your curiosity, even amidst hard times through a divorce through life changes, I think you moved across the country a couple times. And, and we can all relate to the bigger caseloads. You know, for me that was a thing that motivated me to want to try different things, but also just a curiosity about technology, too. How did you choose a coding boot camp? Did you always think about programming? Or why didn't you do that before SLP, you know, how did that play out in the order of things?

 

Jeannette Roberes 14:22

You know what I will say this, and I think this is really, really important. People don't realize how qualify, they truly are. You know, I think that a lot of times, we feel like oh, you have to be really smart to do that, or to be in that field, and so that was what held me back initially, when I was an undergrad or even when I was a grad student. I wouldn't dare look into technology, because that would mean math. That would mean engineering and science. Those to me were things that this little liberal arts person was certainly not into and could not grasp or fandom. So I will say that there are stigmas that exist around that technology space that you have to be some type of Jimmy Neutron or a Dexter's Laboratory, and I hope I'm not aging myself by giving you our concepts around those shows. But, uh, you have to be like this Brainiac person in order to join the tech workforce, and for me, I think, after my divorce, and it was, I won't say it was rock bottom, but it was definitely like I was starting all over again. So again, I wanted to look at ways in which I can reinvent myself. And I thought, like, Hmm, this has always been something that tickles my fancy, but I've never quite felt qualified enough to pursue this. So the boot camp popped up into my search engine. It was an ad, and I said, hey, let me give it a shot. And for me I'm always thinking about the best case scenario. I mean, what, what is the best thing that can happen in this instance, I can get accepted into this program, and now I can learn how to design and create beautiful websites and develop applications, or I cannot, and I can continue working as an SLP, navigating caseload and you know, just doing what I've done. So that was, was the thing that ignited my flame was like, what’s the best thing that could happen here?

 

James Berges 16:40

Amazing.

 

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Mai Ling 17:22

Now, let's get back to our amazing interview.

 

James Berges 17:25

What I'm hearing is that there's so many different ways to have an impact is a theme that we hear from a lot of people on this podcast is that you're in the trenches as an SLP, and maybe that gave you inspiration to expand your impact in a different way. Because even if you're not one on one, you can still develop things that can reach potentially 1000s if not millions of people, and in a book to like book is just taking your brain and putting it on paper. Right. So actually, I do want to talk about your book because it's called Technical Difficulties. And I really loved it, everyone should read it. It's a quick read, it's engaging. Here's a couple quotes that stood out to me. And I wonder if if you can speak to these. So one quote I loved was "At the heart, dyslexia can complement tech", and you touched on this a little bit how we don't all have to be Jimmy neutrons. We don't even have to be neurotypical right. Tell me about the strengths that someone with dyslexia might have to bring to tech.

 

Jeannette Roberes 18:29

It's so many amazing strengths and this is where I want to plug make sure you go get my book. But I will say that when I think about the strengths, ultimately, and maybe more of a cumulative way, I think about the idea of people creating technology that is one size fits all. Now, when we create technology that way, it is completely inaccessible to those who may be neurodiverse. So with more people in the technology industry, that are thinking differently, that are looking differently, that are interacting with software differently. That means that we're having a influx of variety and now we're able to engage with technology in a way that it meets us where we are. So I think about the fact that you know, sometimes websites may have bright colors and things that could cause someone with low vision to strain or the idea that some apps don't allow you to listen to the words as opposed to just reading them. It's important that as we are growing and our industries are evolving that we are not excluding people. There is a massive population of individuals. Those who identify as neurodivergent and we're seeing more people as adults even get diagnosis and it's, it's interesting, because I have friends, I have about three friends that were diagnosed with a neuro divergence over the span of the pandemic. It's like as more people are coming out and saying, Hey, I noticing that I interact with things differently in the environment, and technology and, and with people like socially, and we're seeing all of these differences. So I just want to challenge us to think about whose voice is the loudest when we are creating a product, whose voice is the lowest, you know, we want to tap into that and to just kind of bring it all home. As it relates to dyslexia and technology. There are some really cool things like big picture thinking, or episodic memory innovation that Dyslexics are bringing to the tech workforce that otherwise individuals who are neurotypical may not be able to bring into the workforce. Technology workforce.

 

James Berges 21:16

Amazing. I love it. I love to think about, I mean, obviously, we have some movies like A Beautiful Mind with schizophrenia. We've heard about books with people with bipolar disorder. There's a documentary with Kanye right now, which I've been I've been enjoying watching but I think he he's bipolar diagnosed and you know, these manic episodes and depressive episodes can be a real downfall and hard to deal with. But they also are responsible for a lot of genius moments and creativity. So, yeah, it's really cool to think about

 

Jeannette Roberes 21:49

That was thinking about Kanye's college dropout album that was in late registration, oh, my goodness, those were, like some of the anthems of my life. You know, all fall down and a flashing lights, just so many amazing things that Kanye brought into the world, and though his public life is being scrutinized, and he has a lot going on, on that front? Oh, I think that if things like that didn't exist, this world would be great. We wouldn't have so much color and excitement.

 

James Berges 22:25

Yeah, I like that. Yeah, it's more color. It takes different strokes, different minds, and different strengths. So I know you're talking about a different spectrum of supports, that we can give people at companies to be more inclusive. Right, and this is the topic you talk about when you consult with companies. Can you tell us what's one thing that a company can do to be more inclusive?

 

Jeannette Roberes 22:50

Oh, wow, that's a great question. I'm trying to think of just one thing. So I'll tap into the recruitment process. How are companies locating talents? Are they just utilizing people that are being referred from current employees? Are they tapping into social platforms that neurodivergent individuals are frequenting just looking at that recruitment process, and seeing how that can be tweaked, so that all people feel invited and feel welcome to apply to that position? I often see in technology, where there are diversity, equity, inclusion roles, and those individuals will say, you know, it's just really hard to get, you know, for instance, black people in here in this tech, this tech company, I just don't understand where all of the black people who want to work at this particular company. So you have to look at the pipeline, that that's clearly an issue, if you are saying that you want this specific demographic to, to be present and feel welcome in your company, but you're having an issue with recruiting, you know, you have to really break down those specific barriers. So maybe what's happening is you're not reaching out to maybe black technology, social sites, or you know, tapping into places where black people are who worked in tech, so it's just so layered. But I will say I've frequently heard people say like, well, we would love to hire more people with autism, or we would love to hire more people with ADHD, but we just don't know where to find them. And so for me, I would say you need to really look at the the recruitment phase, what are you doing, because sometimes people just post it up on Indeed, and if, indeed is inaccessible to those then they just don't have access to that job. So it is important that we are meeting people where they are. And if that means that you need as a hiring staff member, you need to start to open up your network more and start to look at social groups or organizations that support these types of thinkers and learners, then, hey, that's what you need to do. So it's a lot of different ways we could go with this. But the first one that came to mind is the constant complaint that we there's, there's no one that you know, is autistic or dyslexic, that is, is interested in this position, because we haven't found them. But what are you doing to locate them? Are you just basically using your current employees to find people for you? Are you only using one specific sites have filled out where you want your employees to come from? It's a pipeline issue for sure.

 

James Berges 26:03

Hmm. Right. Yeah, it's, it makes sense. You can't get more people if you're not starting from a place of empathy, and understanding where the people you want to recruit actually are and how to reach them. So thank you for sharing that. It reminds me of your quote to from your book, "That access invites you to pull a seat up to the table, while accessibility welcomes you to engage in the dialogue at the table". I really love that. Thanks. So, Jeanette, thank you so much. I'm going to wrap up, we're almost out of time. But I look forward to finding more ways we can bring more people to the table, make the world more accessible, whether through your speaking. And I understand you're working on an app right now, can we talk about that are under wraps,

 

Jeannette Roberes 26:50

It is under wraps. So I will give you a sneak peek. So as an SLP. I know the frustration of going into classrooms and getting new students, new student referrals and the teacher is basically giving you all of these indicators have dyslexia and you're like, I don't think I can even test for that. So I don't know. So I am creating a application, which will provide the steps and a very intentional outline for SLPs, as they are learning how to work with and to diagnose those with dyslexia. So it's just so many different dynamics to this specifically and I will say that I've met hundreds of SLPs, who were not even aware that they could diagnose for dyslexia, they did not know that they could assess for dyslexia. So I am creating a application which will make that very seamless, and it will bring more SOPs into this particular knowing. And that there will be more confident about their role with language based learning disorders, like dyslexia.

 

James Berges 28:11

Amazing. I'm looking forward to that because honestly, I need to learn more about dyslexia. I'm still learning so I'll be following along your journey. Look for that app and yeah, Jeanette, where should people find you if they want to learn more about your projects?

 

Jeannette Roberes 28:27

Yeah, um, so I think that my social presence is pretty connective to my work. So I will say if you are looking for me, definitely check out my Instagram it's going to be @bearly_articulating and I know it's going to be in the show notes right, James. Also, I am on Twitter, TikTok, Tumblr, Facebook, all of the platforms, you can find me just by searching @bearly_articulating and barely is going to be spelled just like an actual animal. B E A R L Y.

 

James Berges 29:03

Okay, that makes it more visual for me too. So. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for taking the time Jeannette, and we'll talk to you soon. Yeah.

 

Mai Ling 29:16

We hope you enjoyed this episode and invite you to leave us a review on Apple podcasts and Spotify and share the show with people you think will find value from it. This helps the show a lot for have a great guest referral, reach out to us at xleaders@gmail.com.

 

James Berges 29:31

And if you want exclusive tips on becoming an exceptional leader delivered straight to your inbox, just go to https://www.xceptionalleaders.com/ and sign up for our mailing list. Thanks for listening!

Jeannette Roberes Profile Photo

Jeannette Roberes

M.Ed., M.S., CCC-SLP

Jeannette has worked as a speech-language pathologist and software engineer. She is the owner of Bearly Articulating which is a disability inclusion think tank that ignites conversations across the dimensions of ability. Jeannette’s experience working largely with dyslexic learners has earned her recognition in The Washington Post alongside the cofounder of Yale University’s Center for Dyslexia & Creativity. She is trained as a Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) facilitator which is accredited by the International Dyslexia Association. Her debut novel Technical Difficulties: Why Dyslexic Narratives Matter In Tech has received starred reviews across Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Audible.