Himi Ratnakar

Graphic Designer, Photographer and Video Editor

When did you first realise that you had a different way of thinking?
Growing up in India, dyslexia isn’t readily recognised. I didn’t actually think I was different until I was filming a dyslexia workshop in Christchurch. The speaker was talking about the signs of someone with dyslexia when it suddenly struck me – my whole life flashed in front of me. I stopped filming and just sat and listened. I suddenly understood. 

What was your experience of school?
I was always good at creative stuff. Subjects that were practical such as maths or science weren’t really a problem. Even geography was relatively easy because there was a visual element to it. But English was really difficult. I had reading problems. I just couldn’t pick it up quickly – to understand some sentences, I’d need to read them10 times in order to build a picture in my head for me to fully process its meaning.

When I was 14, I told one of my teachers that I wanted to be in advertising. She told me that I simply didn’t have the communication skills to do well in the field. It was harsh, but she was simply being realistic. In fact, she was the only teacher that supported me in pursuing my passions, and it made me realise that I had to work much harder in order to succeed. 

How did you get involved in creative fields such as photography and video editing?
I did a Bachelor of Commerce and an advanced diploma in graphic design and multimedia in India after leaving high school. I’ve had steady employment in the graphic design and multimedia field even while at university. I was even offered an internship at LucasArts (American video game developer and publisher) but couldn’t afford to go.

New Zealand only came up by chance. I was accompanying a colleague to an expo on New Zealand. I passed by the Design & Arts College of New Zealand stall, and out of curiosity, asked about the courses they offered. I felt the courses were too similar to what I had already done, but they wanted to see my portfolio anyway. A job offer in New Zealand landed within a week. It’s been eight years since, and it was a natural thing to branch out into photography and video editing at Cookie Time. They’ve been very supportive and understanding.

What are the main work challenges that you have had to overcome?
It’s gotten easier over the years, but I still find it difficult sometimes to convey my concepts and ideas. I can see the ideas in my head vividly, but I can’t communicate it as easily to people. Emails also pose some difficulty, and where possible, I prefer to meet with people or talk to them over the phone. 

What do you think are some of the positives and negatives of dyslexia?
There are heaps of positives. Your creativity is amazing – you think totally differently to most people. You’re incredibly visual and you’re blessed with a photographic memory. I can still remember the faces of people I met casually once years ago – I may not remember their name, but I can vividly recall what they look like!

Reading instructions is also very easy – I can assemble things such as computers easily because it’s very easy to picture in my mind what needs to be done. Because of our learning difficulties, however, dyslexics can lack confidence socially. We tend to keep quiet and just listen to people – which is a good practice in its own way but it means we don’t contribute as much to a conversation and seem shy socially. But dyslexics need to remember that we all have something to offer.

What advice would you give young New Zealanders who are dyslexic?
Just keep going. Do whatever feels right for you. Dyslexia doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything. I wasn’t really good at school, but I knew what I was good at, and what I wanted to do. Concentrate on what you are really good at, and don’t sweat the small stuff. Look at the bigger picture. It may be really hard, but have some faith in yourself and just keep going!

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