Dyslexia in the workplace

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Written by Mark McCusker on 1 April 2014 in Features

It needn’t hold employees back, says Mark McCusker

According to the British Dyslexia Association, dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that affects the reading and writing of 10 per cent of the British population1. It occurs independently of intelligence and varies from person to person so that no two people will have the same set of strengths and weaknesses.

Dyslexic people may have difficulty processing and remembering information they see and hear, which can affect learning and the acquisition of literacy skills.

On the positive side, people with dyslexia will often have strong visual, creative and problem-solving skills and are prominent among entrepreneurs, inventors, architects, engineers and in the arts and entertainment world. Those in high-profile careers include Tom Cruise, Danny Glover, Cher, Magic Johnson, Carl Lewis, Keira Knightley and Whoopi Goldberg.

Dyslexia in the workplace

Dyslexia is defined as a disability in the Equality Act 2010, which means that employers must ensure that dyslexic employees are not treated unfavourably and are offered reasonable adjustments or support to help them achieve their full potential.

One way that people with dyslexia can improve their performance in work is through using assistive technology, which can improve the ability of individuals with disabilities to communicate, learn and live independent, fulfilling and productive lives.

Spotting the signs of dyslexia

In the workplace, an employee who is struggling to meet targets or who is experiencing high levels of stress may have an undiagnosed specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia.

Employees with dyslexia often adopt different tactics to help them in their daily tasks – some may come in earlier and leave later to allow themselves more time to complete their daily tasks, others may spend extra time planning in the mornings for the day ahead, so their time is clearly and efficiently mapped out.

Dyslexia, being a ‘hidden disability’, is not always obvious to others and it can lead to untold stress in the workplace for employees affected by it. With the right tools and support, however, it is easy for organisations to help bring out the very best in their employees.

Educate employees about dyslexia

It is important for all employees to know what dyslexia is and what it means if one of their colleagues is affected by it. By understanding how those with dyslexia can be affected, they can adjust their communication methods to work effectively as a team.

Although dyslexia can affect individuals differently, there are ways to help the common factors like difficulty in reading, writing or remembering written instructions. Simplifying instructions and delivering them in a way that they can be remembered and followed helps employees execute their tasks effectively.

Should you give verbal or written instructions?

Dyslexia is different for everyone and so what works for one employee may not necessarily work for another. Therefore, some may prefer verbal instructions and others may prefer instructions given in writing. It is always best to ask which they prefer and then deliver instructions according to their preferred channel. Either way, it is important to focus on the objectives of the task and remove any other information that is not relevant. The clearer the message, the easier it will be for them to understand.

When it comes to training and development, using photos, illustrations and other visual aids to cover topics can be highly effective for comprehension and retention.

Training to develop time management and organisational skills

Good time management is a great skill for all employees but it is particularly important for those with dyslexia, as it helps them manage their days more effectively. An example of effective time management is to divide the day into blocks of time and then assign each of these blocks to a task. By doing this, employees can focus on one task at a time, complete that task and then move on to the next.

Removing distractions is also important so employees can focus on executing the task, rather than stopping to look for documents or other supporting material. Having dyslexia makes it difficult to move your focus from one thing to another, so removing supplementary material can often help.

Location, location, location

It may not affect the average employee but, for someone who is dyslexic, being seated in a busy area such as near a reception, with frequent visitors and calls, or outside meeting rooms, where there can be a high flow of traffic, can prove extremely challenging.

An area in the office where there is the least amount of disturbance or distractions will help employees with dyslexia focus on their tasks.

Assistive technology

A survey of workers and employers by the British Assistive Technology Association in 20132 found that three quarters of employees who use AT, such as literacy software, say it has improved their effectiveness at work. The research revealed that only 21 per cent of the employers taking part actively promoted the availability of AT in their workplace and that support was more likely to be offered to employees as a result of
individual requests.

It is important that employers have an open culture that encourages people with disabilities to come forward if they need help. Providing support allows an employee to be more productive and feel more independent, with increased job satisfaction.

There is greater awareness in organisations now but every person has different needs, so it is important to understand that a solution that works for one person may not work for another.

Assistive technology has been great and it can be used by anyone as long as they are given the time to get to know their way around it. The cost is minimal when compared with the confidence it brings and the stress and pressure it relieves.

About the author

Mark McCusker is chairman of the British Assistive Technology Association and CEO of literacy support software provider Texthelp Ltd. He can be contacted via www.texthelp.com/uk


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