Change Maker inspiring Kiwi dyslexics with technology and tenacity

  • 28/10/2020
  • Sponsored by - Dell

Matt Strawbridge, 21, from Wellington is an inspirational young Kiwi ahead of his time. He started Dyslexia Potential when he was just 13.

He used technology to create inclusion and transformation for individuals with significant learning needs, essentially creating a 10 week program to support dyslexic people within the education system, and in life.

The impacts of addressing dyslexia early has a huge social impact in New Zealand and Matt used his own lived experience to create major changes in this domain. 

He is this month’s well deserving Dell Change Maker. Dell and The Project have been recognising New Zealanders who have made a positive social impact in the community through the Change Maker campaign.

His main motivation is his own life "because at school I didn’t want other kids to experience what I did." Matt wanted to give back to the dyslexia community and his younger self.

"I wanted to make something I would love when I was growing up," he explains.

It was hard work in the early days, and a lot of hard work to get the program off the ground, but there was never any doubt the need was there. Initially they set up a website with helpful tips and tricks. Between 400 - 500 people signed up for the mailing list and his first workshop sold out in one day, so Matt immediately knew there was a huge demand for this kind of thing.

"When we first started Dyslexia Potential the subject just wasn’t talked about, but we thought ‘wow there are so many people who are dyslexic’," Matt says. "For us getting through school is an exercise in tenacity and resilience."

Matt points out there are fundamental differences between success and sad stories when it comes to dyslexia. He points to research that shows 10% of the population has dyslexia, while in prison this figure increases to 49%, so real and meaningful change needs to happen.

"It’s about understanding there are different ways to learn and there’s not one solution," he says. "Everyone is unique and everyone thinks differently. So that’s why it’s important the resources cater to the full spectrum."

"When these issues are addressed and dyslexics feel supported they can, and do, go on to do amazing things."


Three top tips-

Matt has three top tips to support someone with dyslexia.

1. Self-esteem/understanding 

Matt suggests dyslexic people achieve more when they are passionate about what they’re learning.

“When I was a kid there was a point when I just said to my Mum I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read,” Matt says. “But I always loved lizards. So she took me to the library and I took out some library books about lizards, and this opened up a new door and gave me hope.”

2. A creative strategy which is open and can be adapted to find out what you are really good at. 

He points out Orlando Bloom came up with elaborate excuses for not doing his homework, and became a Hollywood star actor. Similarly, Richard Branson started his own company because he didn’t think he’d be able to get a job.

3. Support crew

Matt says while it can be hard to ask for help, practical support can make a huge difference. He admits he’s lucky because both his parents and sister supported him so well along the way. 

He suggests learning to be the boss, and being really good at one thing counters out what you’re not so good at. "Being dyslexic is both amazing and really hard. It’s inspiring to see so many role models doing so well in the right environment."

For Matt his life changed when he started using a computer at school, and this is one of his motivations for starting Dyslexia Potential in the first place. 

"I knew I wanted to do something to help others, and my first thought was to write a book, but then I thought, ‘Well I’m dyslexic and these poor kids are dyslexic, so that’s a terrible idea."

Instead, he decided short readable text, easy exercise sheets and videos were better options and created content accessible for dyslexics. All the resources are very dyslexia-friendly and take a 360 degree approach reaching out to students, teachers and parents.

So far around 120,000 people have accessed the resources which is a source of pride for Matt. 

Created eight years ago these resources are essentially ahead of their time, with technology coming into its own recently amid the COVID pandemic. Matt says he’s heard mixed feedback about the recent lockdowns. "Some parents realised for the first time their kids were struggling at school. Others with dyslexia enjoyed learning at their own pace, with no pressure and stress to keep up with others."

Technology seems to be the thing Matt is ‘really good at’. While he still spends time on Dysleixa Potential these days he is now learning how to code, and is really enjoying this new adventure. Ultimately his aim is to build more technology to support dyslexics.

And while Matt has already achieved a lot in his young life like being a finalist for Young New Zealander of the Year, graduating with a philosophy degree, and sharing a stage with Richard Branson, it’s clear to see that what drives him the most is unlocking the potential all dyslexics have.

If you know someone who goes that extra mile to support and shape a better future for their communities, nominate them here and they could be a winner of a brand new Dell XPS 13 laptop.

This article is brought to you by Dell