In 2019, as part of the Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme, Kylie Brewer researched whether current extension practices in New Zealand cater for farmers with dyslexia. Several interviews, with farmers throughout New Zealand, who were willing to share their story, took place.
The research found that none of the farmers interviewed saw their dyslexia as a disadvantage but rather an advantage that enabled them to think differently. Many had also found ways to help overcome their dyslexia.
Key themes which resulted from the interviews were that the agricultural sector needs to acknowledge that dyslexia is an issue and that dyslexic people are often more creative, entrepreneurial and can see the bigger picture.
“Many of us who work in the agricultural industry will know farmers with dyslexia. Many of whom have tried to hide it rather than embrace it”, says Kylie in the research.
Often farmers with dyslexia are intelligent individuals, but they struggle with reading and writing and therefore could be classed as a ‘functional dyslexic’ but some dyslexics are ‘literate dyslexic’s and will persevere with reading and writing.
“As a sector we need to change the way they can and do receive information and we now have the technology available to do this,” Kylie concludes.
The research provides the following broad recommendations:
Reduce the stigma of dyslexia in the agricultural industry by having ambassadors for dyslexia and mentors to assist farmers with dyslexia
Conduct research to determine the extent of dyslexia within the agricultural sector
Develop workshops for rural professionals to educate them about the basics of dyslexia, and how they may be able to better assist their dyslexic clients
Develop extension resources in dyslexic font
Develop more podcasts and videos on popular extension topics which don’t require dyslexic farmers to have to read to gain the information
Encourage regional councils to provide assistance with compliance paperwork such as drop-in days or help desk staff to help dyslexic farmers to complete paperwork required
Kylie has hope for the sector to develop, even though there may be some challenges:
“I acknowledge that it isn’t going to be easy for the sector to make the changes required, as for too long this has been a topic which has been almost hidden, but at the same time it is acknowledged that many farmers are dyslexic. A change in mindset will take some years to create but I believe we can do this by having an ambassador or ambassadors for dyslexia in the same way we have Doug Avery for rural mental health.”
“Dyslexia is the new stigma in the agricultural sector which needs to be broken. I hope this report helps to both challenge and change the mindset that dyslexia is something which should be embraced not ridiculed. I would love to work in this space and help bring about change in the agricultural sector and make it easier for the next generation of dyslexic farmers coming through,” says Kylie.
The report is a product of the learning journey taken by participants during the Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme, with the purpose of incorporating and developing tools and skills around research, critical analysis, network generation, synthesis and applying recommendations to a topic of their choice.