28 Sep 2020

Human Rights Commission accused of 'dismissive' attitude to dyslexia

8:12 am on 28 September 2020

A man with dyslexia who was knocked back by police after failing one of the entry tests claims the Human Rights Commission was dismissive and insulting when he asked for advice.

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Photo: Screenshot / Human Rights Commission

Advocates for people with dyslexia say the Commission has a blindspot when it comes to its own dealings with people who are neurodiverse.

Anthony's dyslexia means he struggles to process written information under time pressure.

When he inquired about police training in 2016, he was told he would get extra time for written tests - but when he applied in 2018, he was told that was no longer possible.

"I got an email from them saying it's all done on iPad so we can't give you extra time, because it's a set time-limit. So I was like 'Cool, I'll just have to grin and bear it', so I did."

Unfortunately he failed one of the three psychometric tests necessary for entry.

Worried that having disclosed his dyslexia to police, he would never be accepted, he phoned the Human Rights Commission for advice - but was in for a rude shock.

He says the advisor incorrectly assumed he had failed the "intelligence test", and told him he was delusional for even considering he could be a police officer.

"I would never meet their standards and the test did what it was supposed to do in keeping a person like me out."

Anthony says the advisor told him he would be a danger to the public as a police officer.

He then complained to the Commission but was told that as there were no other witnesses or record of the call, it was his word against the advisor's.

He was told to email the Commission's complaints mediator, which he did last week, but he has had no response.

Adult literacy expert Mike Styles, who works with people with dyslexia said, in his experience, the Human Rights Commission does not take neurodiversity seriously.

His own efforts to raise the issue have been met with a "polite but patronising" response, and there was no follow-up.

"It's not the sexy issue, like women's rights or LGBT rights or racial issues, it's not flavour of the day, so therefore little attention is paid to it."

Most government agencies had little understanding of dyslexia, despite the fact it impacted on 10 percent of the population, he said.

He said he has previously suggested to police and other agencies that they modify their recruitment screening because they were missing out on what dyslexics have to offer.

"They're very good at reading people, they've very empathetic, they are creative, they see patterns and connections and relationships, and I would have thought that sort of thing would be very good, if you were a detective, for example."

Esther Whitehead from the Dyslexia Foundation said the Human Rights Commission has advocated strongly for the rights of dyslexic children in the education system - but its own practices showed a lack of understanding and awareness, such as expecting people to process large amounts of text.

"The irony is that some people I speak to, their interaction with HRC is possibly contributing to discrimination.

"It may be unintentional, but given they are the Human Rights Commission, we would expect them to know and have clear published policy around dyslexia and other forms of neurodiversity."

Whitehead said all employers using psychometric tests or other screening tools needed to ensure they did not have "in-built bias".

"The commonsense question is: what skills are essential to the job role, and is psychometric testing essential as a hoop for entry into that?

"So the validation process for the test would ensure that it's objective and that it's actually measuring the skill that's required for the job role."

Deputy Chief Executive for the police, Kaye Ryan, said police strive to employ a diverse workforce that reflects the communities they serve.

"Police work with individuals to ensure any medical conditions, mental or physical, are well managed, and that the individual is able to undertake the role of a Police Officer.

"As part of the recruitment process, anyone applying to join is required to complete verbal, numerical and abstract reasoning assessments.

"We have a number of constabulary staff who have varying degrees of dyslexia and we encourage staff to let us know this so we can work with them and provide support."

The Police College could provide learning support to recruits who might require it, she said.

Anthony, who is now 30, plans to reapply to police college next year, despite the knockback.

"It didn't go my way, I don't want to 'pack a sad' about that. If I don't get the extra time, then I don't get the extra time. This is something that I want to do, this is something I'm passionate about.

"Sure, in a perfect world, I could run around the wall. But if I have to climb over the wall, I will climb over the wall."

The experience had made him more determined to pursue his dream and become a role-model for young people - particularly the many thousands with undiagnosed learning disabilities who ended up in the criminal justice system, he said.

No-one from the Human Rights Commission was available for interview.

In a written statement however, a spokesperson said the agency had "a variety of channels for people to make enquiries and complaints" including by phone, email, text, New Zealand Sign Language, Easy Read and a range of languages.

The Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero liaised with a large number of stakeholders around neuro-diversity, and regularly highlighted issues across education, the justice system, housing and employment.

"The Commissioner speaks about these matters at conferences, meetings, and in the media.

"The Commission is part of the Independent Monitoring Mechanism (IMM) overseeing New Zealand's compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The IMM released its report Making Disability Rights Real Report this year which also highlights a number of issues for neuro-diverse people."

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