As dyslexics we are often told that there are some jobs that we are just not suited to, or that our unique challenges may make certain professions no go areas. We at The Codpast are having none of that.
Name: Ashley D Penn
Title: Landscape Architect
That does your job role entail?
The role of a landscape architect is varied. We work across a broad spectrum of areas including Design, Management and Planning and also Urban Design and Landscape Science.
I design outdoor spaces including gardens, parks, plazas and streetscapes using computer aided software to draw up plans of my designs and writing specifications and contracts. I then oversee the construction of these projects to make sure they run to plan and stick to the contract.
Sometimes, I also assist with planning applications, giving landscape advice on how to maximise a development’s usefulness, attractiveness, resilience and biodiversity. My job also involves writing reports on proposed new development, for instance how a project might impact visually on the area or community it is in and how the area will be managed and maintained once it is in place.
Do you remember your first experience with dyslexia?
Ever since I started school I struggled. I remember not learning to read until very late. I was never able to finish my work within the allotted time. One memory sticks in my mind. I was at Sunday school. I might have been 6 or 7 at the time. My parents were in church, and I was receiving some one-to-one help with some written work from a Sunday school teacher. She told me off as I kept getting my Bs and Ds the wrong way round. I remember her raising her voice to me in frustration as I couldn’t remember what the letter J looked like when she told me to write it. She thought that I was joking as she thought I should know better by that age. I was 11 before I was diagnosed with dyslexia. That’s when I first heard of the word dyslexia and understood that I wasn’t just ‘stupid’.
How did/does dyslexia affect you?
I didn’t learn to read until quite late. The first proper book I ever read cover to cover was a Terry Pratchett Discworld novel at the age of 15. I found I just kept reading to find the next joke.
I still struggle with reading. I had my dyslexia assessed again during my post graduate diploma, when I learned that my reading speed is roughly equal to that of an average 14-year-old. My slow reading speed is the main thing that hampers me on a daily basis. It takes me longer to read technical reports or contracts at work.
What did you think your job prospects would be at school/college?
I have always been interested in the natural world. Before leaving school I was advised against taking A-levels as I ‘wouldn’t cope with them’. My careers advisor suggested that I should study horticulture, as he thought it would be less challenging for me. So I left school, looking forward to a vocational career. At college, I discovered that I actually quite enjoy learning, and so I eventually returned to study for a degree in landscape and garden design.
Did you ever think you would be able to work in the field that you do?
At school, I hated reading and writing so much. I always felt ‘stupid’. I never would have believed that I would end up with an office job. Or that I would one day write a book! Looking back, I don’t think I ever thought I would someday be where I am now.
How did/do you overcome the difficulties you thought you may face in this field?
For me, a large part of how I have overcome some of my difficulties is taking ownership of my dyslexia. At first, I was hoping someone would be able to teach me how to ‘not be dyslexic.’ Over time, I came to realise that it is not about curing my dyslexia, but working with it. I searched for my own coping mechanisms and read about how other people overcame their problems and experimented with those methods myself.
Do you think this is a role that is suitable for dyslexics and what do you think a dyslexic way of thinking brings to the role?
Dyslexics are known to have good spatial awareness and good problem-solving skills. We are often highly creative. All these things are very important in any form of design. I think landscape architecture is a suitable profession for any dyslexic who loves the environment and enjoys drawing and creating things. It’s a diverse profession so there are many areas to specialise in. It also has many levels, from assistant landscape architects, who do a lot of drawing by hand or on the computer, to chartered landscape architects working at management level so it can accommodate different abilities, experience and qualifications.
What do you think someone with dyslexia would find difficult about your work?
There are different challenges for dyslexics depending on which area you specialise in. For example, landscape planning can involve a lot of reading and writing of technical reports such as Landscape and Visual Impact Assessments. Landscape design involves learning the Latin and common names of many plants and their spellings.
If someone thinks this may be a career for them what would be the best place to start?
Landscape Architecture is a varied discipline that people often come into from other professions.
For anyone interested in a career in landscape architecture, whether a school-leaver, or someone with more experience, I would recommend checking out www.bealandscapearchitect.com. The site has everything from a detailed descriptions of different roles within the profession, courses you can apply to and interviews with students, graduates and professionals.
You mentioned you are writing a book. When will it be published and how can our audience access it?
I have written a book on behalf of teNeues Publishing all about roof gardens, balconies, and green roofs from around the world. The book is called Living Roofs, and it is available from Amazon, here.
What are your most effective coping strategies?
The most important thing to me are my blue-tinted dyslexia glasses. I wear them whenever I am at the computer or reading a text.
I carry a notebook with me, and write everything down; every meeting, every telephone call. It all gets recorded.
And of course, embracing technology! I always look up Latin plant names online which will also give me the common name. I use Grammarly a lot. I even have their browser extension. There is also a really good keyboard shortcut – Ctrl F – which I use to search documents quickly for a keyword to find what I’m interested in without having to read through a lot of unnecessary information to get there.
I use my phone a lot too, as I always have it with me. I set reminders, and make lists using the Wunderlist app, and I set calendar events so I won’t forget things. I take photos of documents, so I don’t have to spend a long time writing notes while other people are watching. I then send these photos to myself using the Telegram app, so I have it on phone and PC. I sometimes record audio messages or meetings on my phone too.
Paperbacks, eBooks, audiobooks or other? Why?
I usually read ebooks/articles, as I find it easier to navigate the text. But for pleasure, I like to read paperbacks. I don’t generally listen to audiobooks. The last novel I read was The Land of the Painted Caves by Jean M Auel.
Preferred way to keep up with Current Affairs: Newspapers, TV, social media, podcasts or other? Why?
Social media. Especially Facebook. I like the way I can consume exactly the media I want without having to sift through media I don’t. I also like reading other people’s opinion on the media (although I rarely join in the discussions).
Communication in the workplace? Email, Phone, Skype? Why?
I prefer face-to-face contact, as I find it easier to read exactly what people mean, using their body language etc. I prefer email to telephone calls, as I sometimes get a bit tongue-tied or I forget to say something. With email, I can double check before sending.