This is a 2019 SHRM Annual Conference and Exposition (#SHRM19) interview is with TextHelp, a provider of digital literacy tools. Below is a quick Q&A with Aaron Lopez, Director of Workplace Solutions.
Who is Texthelp!? Tell us everything, just as you would someone approaching your booth and asking you this question at #SHRM19 in Las Vegas.
At Texthelp, our mission is simple - we want to unlock everyone’s full potential through innovative technology. To do this, we provide a range of solutions to help organizations, their employees and their customers. Our friendly digital literacy tools make the workplace more inclusive and productive, supporting employees with ‘hidden’ disabilities like dyslexia or those with English as a second language to meet their full potential. We also help government and corporate organizations engage with their customers, making access to websites and services easier for people who need help with reading or lack confidence online.
We believe that everyone shares a fundamental need to understand and be understood, and that language and communication are the passport to success in all walks of life. That’s what drives us to create smart, easy-to-use software tools that can help people thrive, regardless of the background, language barriers, strengths or challenges they might have.
Could you tell us the story of Texthelp? What idea sparked its founding?
It all began in 1996, and we’ve been on an epic ride ever since! Our mission for over 20 years now has been to create smart, easy-to-use support technologies that enable young people and adults to read, write and lead successful working lives, from school right through to the workplace and beyond. We want everyone to be able to reach their full potential with confidence and independence.
But the spark that brought Texthelp to life is personal to our founder and CTO, Martin McKay. As a teen, Martin’s father had a stroke that tragically left him physically disabled and healthcare professionals had to teach him to talk again. It was this moment that inspired Martin to begin developing text-to-speech assistive technology. Shortly after, speech therapists began to recognize that the technology could truly benefit those with disabilities, and the technology evolved from then on (much like Texthelp itself)!
Today, we continue to support those with disabilities to read, write, and communicate, but we also find that many people use our technology to work more productively and save precious time at work. This is what keeps us moving forward and enthusiastic about what the future holds.
It’s awesome that Texthelp has the opportunity and capacity to help computer users of all ages around the world.
As a global company, with offices in the U.S., UK and Australia, we hear stories again and again of the impact our software has on the daily lives of ordinary people. We also hear about how it helps create a more inclusive working environment where users can overcome everyday literacy and communication hurdles, and also work more productively to get their job done in a much easier, more efficient way.
Our software is available across a diverse range of platforms and devices, and we have strong working relationships with the likes of Google and Microsoft to help make that happen, opening up what we offer to the people who can benefit the most. We continue to work closely with organizations to provide training for our software and assist in implementation, ensuring that every member of staff has the opportunity to find out what works best for them.
What’s more, we’re proud to be able to work with organizations large and small, public and private, to aid them in offering their clients and customers more inclusive digital services and information. We hope to build on partnerships like these to keep helping make the digital world an accessible place for everyone.
It’s amazing to me that our software usage continues to grow at the pace it is now. We’ve got over 20 million users worldwide and we love hearing from people when one of our products has had a positive impact on the way that they learn, communicate or complete tasks at work. It’s what keeps us trying to innovate and provide solutions to help everyone in the workplace.
Making the workplace more inclusive for employees is becoming increasingly important in today’s day and age. What are the biggest challenges companies face when trying to help disabled employees? How do they overcome those challenges?
Employers are beginning to learn that they need the benefits that diversity can bring. For example, individuals with a hidden disability may not flourish in a traditional interview format, but they still have lots to bring to the table, including the ability to approach problems from a different angle and consider innovative solutions to business challenges.
Support needs to be effective right from the hiring process through to helping an employee to work in a way that suits them best, and then with further help day-to-day - whether that’s technological, practical, or otherwise. In doing so, organizations not only create a more diverse, talented, and capable staff base, but also comply with legal obligations and become a more attractive place of business to prospective customers, clients, and employees.
It can be difficult to take a holistic approach to, but by recognizing that some staff will need reasonable adjustments, and to support them effectively, organizations can consider educating senior staff, training line managers to offer appropriate support, or adopting a Diversity Champion that can help inform recruitment and adjustment policies.
Texthelp has a handful of different products, from Read&Write to Browsealoud. Which is your favorite? Which has been most impactful, in your opinion?
I couldn’t claim to have a favourite, that’s like trying to choose a favorite child!
I would say that both products offer different solutions for individuals and organizations with different needs. Read&Write can help employees with hidden disabilities to achieve their best, using tools like text-to-speech, predictive text, and advanced spelling and contextual homophone checkers. Browsealoud allows organizations to offer their customers a more inclusive digital experience. It adds speech, reading, and translation services to websites facilitating access and participation for people with Dyslexia, Low Literacy, English as a second language, and those with mild visual impairments
For anyone who won’t be able to make it to the Texthelp booth in Las Vegas, what do you want them to know?
When you create a culture where staff are empowered to shine in all their unique and diverse glory, then great things can happen - productivity increases, innovation increases and staff are more engaged at work. Our Texthelpers will be at #SHRM19 providing advice on how organizations can do just that, and they’ll also be demonstrating Read&Write and Browsealoud.
If you miss us at this year’s conference, and would like to talk about how our innovative solutions can help your organization, or if you’re curious about how best technology can help support your staff, you can always contact us at anytime.
Visit the TextHelp booth #2166 at #SHRM19!