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TOTKO, takes one to know one - can you help?

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Joined: Jun 24, 2012
Posts: 1
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Posted Jun 24, 2012 at 12:00:04 PM
Subject: TOTKO, takes one to know one - can you help?

I’m a newbie here, my name is Ana. I live in Essex and am currently in the process of starting my own business. My business is called TOTKO, which stands for “Takes one to Know One” and what we do is very simple. We aim to challenge the stigma of what it means to have a learning disability such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADHD, autism etc. We aim to do workshops in schools designed to get young people to see nobody is good at everything, but everyone is good at something, corporate workshops in companies to enhance equal opportunities and academic lecture style events in to the very latest research into learning disabilities. Our focus however for the initial first year is schools – we have a fantastic catalogue of workshops for people with and without disabilities which all have the underlying goal of equipping young people with the skills to learn, no matter what their strengths and weaknesses. We do this through different learning techniques, technology and mentoring.

We are made up of some fantastic volunteers and I am so lucky to have such people involved. The amazing thing, I feel, about TOTKO is that everyone involved is disabled. Each of us have something we cannot do, but each of us also have something we can do. We’ve all contributed the skills we can and together, have built something bigger than the lot of us combined. We have CEOs, we have billionaire businessmen, we have artists – all of them with disabilities like dyslexia, autism and ADHD. We aim, through these peoples stories to inspire others and equip with the skills, tools, self belief and motivation to go after their own dreams, in spite of their disabilities. Whatever it takes, we’re there.

The business was founded out of my own experience of having a disability. I have severe dyscalculia which affects me every day of my life. Some people think “oh it’s just numbers”, but it’s not. I have trouble balancing because my brain can’t do the maths. I get the wrong bus all the time because I can’t read the number on the front. And I am chronically early for everything because, yeah you guessed it- I can’t estimate time. But despite all this I feel I have achieved success. Despite leaving school with very few qualifications – a result of teachers mistaking my disability for “disruptive behaviour” and then not being diagnosed until I was 17, and so therefore out of education, I now have a degree. Three years ago I started working with other people with learning disabilities because I believe so strongly that nobody with a disability should ever be made to feel “stupid” in education, and that everyone, disabled or not, has a skill or a talent they can turn in to a career. I loved my job, I got to help people who were just like me, I got to pass on my tips on dealing with disabilities and I got to work with some amazing academics. It was my dream job – helping others deal with what I already had. But through the government cuts, I became redundant and had to go the job centre. That’s when I realised how deep the stigma of having a so called “invisible disability” ran. Despite my achievements, my degree and my work experience, as soon as I ticked that box that said I was learning disabled, the way people spoke to me changed. I’m sure everyone knows what I’m talking about. “Hellllllloooooo, are yoooooooou oooooookaaaay?” “I’m fine, thanks – I’m dyscalculate by the way, not brain dead. How are you?”

After months of being unemployed, I slowly began to realise the awful truth. They thought I was stupid and because of that, they had limited expectations of my skills and what I was capable off. Despite everything, because I was learning disabled, a massive stigma was attached to me. They saw my disability, and not me, and out of that my business was born. What was even more shocking is the experience I had at places such as job centres and recruitment agencies. These places, although had “equal opportunities” paragraphs emblazoned on anything and everything that could be printed on, seemed merely to be paying a lip service. There was no equality. They thought I was an idiot.

So that’s where TOTKO came from. My own experience and wanting to help others. The business has recently become supported by the Princes Trust Enterprise Programme which is a huge honour and we are so grateful for all their help. It means the world that they believe in the idea too. Since then, it has all taken off and I am excited to see it launch in September. What makes me smile most is talking to others about TOTKO. When I talk to someone with dyslexia about how it’s going to work, they get excited. That gets me excited, because I can see that they see what I see.

What I’m here for is to spread the word and hear peoples stories. My organisation is about having a gigantic conversation with people of all ages, about challenging the stigma, about providing another side of the story and about giving people with disabilities a chance to influence science, research, technology and education.

I’d love it if some of you would share your stories of discrimination with me. I’d love it even more if you are in the London/Essex area and feel you would like to share your story as part of TOTKO with some young people. Maybe you’re dyslexia or autistic or something and you now have a fantastic job? Or maybe you are dyscalculate and you’re working as a lawyer? Anything that you think will inspire, I’d love to hear. I’m also interested in stories of times you’ve felt discriminated against, you know the stuff, misconceptions etc.

Anyway, so that’s me. I hope my idea has maybe sparked your interested. I’m hoping to get involved with a lot of these online communities also so if you see me bopping about online do say hello. I’m looking to hold a launch event for my business in September in London and entry will be free of charge, so I’ll defiantly be looking for some awesome people with learning disabilities to be in the audience and see some of the fantastic stuff my company offers.

If you want to get in touch, either drop me a message here or email me at hellototko@gmail.com
Hoping your words can help something fantastic happen for young people with learning disabilities,
Ana x

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