A Nottinghamshire dad-of-two with dyslexia who couldn’t read and write until his 20s has shared his incredible journey from hospital porter to his dream job of Paramedic.
Richard Henton, 43, of Bestwood, Nottinghamshire, was illiterate when he left school and was told by teachers he wasn’t clever enough to join the ambulance service.
However, after determinedly teaching himself to read, working his way up through the ranks at the hospital and then with East Midlands Ambulance Service, Richard is now a registered Paramedic and will be celebrating his graduation from the University of Northampton in November this year.
He said: “I still can’t quite believe that I have ‘paramedic’ on my epaulettes and will be graduating in a couple of months in a cap, gown and everything.
“It’s been the hardest but the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, and I’m so grateful to everyone who has supported me to get here.
“I remember my first day on the university campus as I couldn’t believe I was there – I never thought I’d go to university.”
Richard explained that becoming a paramedic had been a boyhood dream, sparked by regular trips to Beechdale Ambulance Station where his stepdad worked.
However, as Richard struggled with dyslexia, he was told by his teachers that this wouldn’t be possible as he wasn’t clever enough, and instead he was sent to his school’s ‘life skills’ class which taught struggling pupils about surviving prison and how to sign up for benefits.
Richard was illiterate when he left school but managed to secure a job at Nottingham City Hospital folding sheets in the laundry room. It was here that he took it upon himself to learn how to read.
He said: “On my first day I walked in and realised I couldn’t read any of the hospital signs, so I didn’t know where any of the laundry needed to go. I tried to match the symbols of the words to work it out, but it took me twice as long to get my work done. I knew I had to teach myself to read.
“I would watch a football match one evening, and then buy a paper the next morning and read from the back, trying to learn how to read based on knowing what happened in the match.
“In time, I started being able to read more and more of the paper, and 10 years later I was able to read a newspaper cover to cover. “
After 12 years in the laundry, kitchen and logistics departments in the hospital, Richard became a porter, but he found people would still look down on him. It was the birth of his first child which lit the flame which would lead to him becoming a registered Paramedic.
He said: “I would be carrying the bins out and parents would say to their kids ‘if you don’t work hard at school, that’s what you’ll end up doing’.
“So on the day my son Brody was born I made a promise to him that I would make him proud of me.
“And 13 years to the day, on 10th June, I received confirmation of my Paramedic registration.”
Richard explained that while he had been diagnosed with dyslexia at 11 years old, it was only when he arrived at EMAS at the age of 34 that he finally received the disability support he needed to reach his full potential.
He underwent assessments which showed he was severely dyslexic, so he received exam support in the form of a reader and writer and 25% extra time in all his ambulance technician exams, and additional time out on the road with patients to complete his paperwork.
A few years later Richard was accepted onto the Student Paramedic course at the University of Northampton, funded by EMAS who also provided him with a laptop with screen-reading and dictation software to support his learning.
He said: “On the first day I came in and put my cards on the table because I didn’t want to hide my dyslexia and since then I’ve had nothing but support.
“No-one at EMAS wants you to fail and the education team, my crewmates and my managers have been so supportive of me all the way.
“I have always wanted to be educated, but the education system is so rigid and I represent the 20% of the population who learn in a different way. And I didn’t want the standard lowered so I could sneak in, I wanted to be able to meet the standard and be as good as everyone else.
“I know EMAS have accepted me and aren’t ashamed of me and it helps me to feel I can do anything.
“I used to hate being me, but today I’m a registered Paramedic and I feel 10 feet tall.”
Our service is committed to ensuring that we pro-actively advance equalities by ensuring an inclusive and supportive workplace, where employees with a disability or health condition are able to be open about their disabilities or condition and are valued as an individual for their skills and contribution to the organisation.
Anyone interested in joining EMAS can find all our jobs on www.jobs.nhs.uk