Making adjustments for dyslexia in the workplace

For a number of years dyslexia in education has been a hot topic which has led to many companies now offering online support, for example this course that provides online dyslexia training from CPD Bytes. Once up on a time, dyslexic children were considered lazy, unable to focus or just badly behaved – where now, significant differences to brain function have been identified and adjustments to the learning environment are made.

It’s difficult to say if we can boast the same type of changes in the workplace. Even in the 1990s there was still significant scepticism in education about the condition – so how many dyslexic people left school without any support, only to find themselves in an equally unsupported workplace? Studies suggest around 10% of the working population are affected by dyslexia – so it’s highly likely that the condition could be a factor for your business.

Here we’ll look at how dyslexia can impact an employee and what an organisation can do to support and maximise the potential of anyone facing the difficulty.

Diagnosis

Although as a manager or business owner it’s not your place to diagnose dyslexia, you may find yourself supporting someone who has been through the education system with little or no support. Dyslexia is not a reflection of someone’s capacity to learn or perform in the workplace – and in fact, you may find that someone who has formulated their own strategies to work with dyslexia brings an incredible level of adaptability and tenacity to your team.

Providing the right level of support

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, a ‘learning difficulty’ and a ‘learning disability’ are very different. If someone is described as having a learning disability – it means their ability to learn is permanently reduced compared to the ‘average’ ability of someone their age. Dyslexia is a learning difficulty – essentially it’s a barrier to learning, but not a reflection of intelligence. The impact of any learning difficulty hinges around the support that a person receives.

What is it?

People with dyslexia often find it difficult to deal with phonics, meaning it can be hard to grasp the sounds that letters make to create a word. This impacts the ‘translation’ that occurs between the point where a person’s eyes see characters on a page – and the brain turning that into understandable information. Because the brain can struggle with the formation of words and sentences, it means lists, names and other information can be extremely difficult to recall quickly – and there can also be similar difficulties with maths.

As a result of the increased effort needed for reading and writing task, there are a number of other impacts that can be observed for someone who struggles with words – working memory can be impaired, it can be difficult to focus or keep attention on specific task and busy working environments can be difficult.

The law

While we’ve noted the difference between ‘difficultly’ and ‘disability’ – dyslexia is legislated for under disability law – in particular the 2010 Equality Act. As such, your company must be able to demonstrate an ability to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for an employee with dyslexia. Above the requirements of the law, you may find that while making adjustments for an employee who comes with an awareness of the condition, you enable other employees and even customers to engage more effectively.

Adjustments

Dyslexia will almost always present differently from one person to the next – as such, it’s important to work around the specific needs of an individual. Below you’ll find a list of possible issues and some adjustments that might be appropriate.

Does the individual struggle with reading and/or writing?

  • Move your communication toward voice and video – instead of email and written notes.
  • Offer software that reads what is displayed on a person’s screen – combining this with a scanner can also provide for some printed communication. A ‘reading pen’ can quickly scan and output a voice translation via headphones
  • Where written communication is necessary, offer to use coloured paper that suits the person’s need – or a coloured background for online documents
  • Allow additional time for reading and writing tasks
  • Offer alternatives to longer writing tasks – mind-mapping, drawing, diagrams and charts can all communicate huge amounts of information

Does the employee work at a computer?

  • Anti-glare screens can help reduce harsh glare and remove eye-strain
  • Screen colours can be changed to provide a different contrast to text
  • Are ‘brain breaks’ needed? The dyslexic brain can often need to work a lot harder, meaning frequent rests can prevent headaches and migraines
  • Can you mix computer work with other tasks to reduce the need for screen reading?

Do you see spelling and grammar errors?

  • Offer spelling and grammar checking software above and beyond the standard Office or browser provided solutions
  • Provide a proof-reading service for documents/emails where accuracy is essential
  • Provide a dictation service

Does the individual struggle with verbal communication?

  • Avoid giving instructions in busy environments with possible distractions
  • Offer a ‘what a good one looks like’ example of any work that’s required
  • Encourage note taking – and offer to check the accuracy of notes
  • When conveying instructions, break requests and tasks into concise and individual points – making sure all points are clearly communicated, never just implied

Does the employee struggle with the workplace environment?

  • Keep working areas neat and intuitively organised
  • Provide a quiet working area – possibly soundproofed or with noise reducing earplugs or headphones
  • Request that interruptions to the employee’s day are kept to a minimum or done with some notice
  • Provide visual timetables and planners that reduce the need for recollection
  • Look at flexible hours that allow quieter office time – or working from home solutions

What else would help?

As previously stated, no one person with dyslexia is the same as another – so requirements will change. There can be some shame and embarrassment that a person associates with their dyslexia, but working with an understanding employer can go a long way to remedy this. Talk to your employee about what they struggle with and what might help – the impact of dyslexia can be wide reaching, so try to keep an open mind and research where other people have found solutions to similar problems.

What’s in it for your business?

Making your organisation dyslexia-friendly doesn’t just mean you fall in line with the law – a lack of support around the symptoms of dyslexia can be a significant trigger for workplace stress. As such, if you’re able put support in place, you’re very probably going to see reduced sickness and staff turnover – as well as increased productivity, motivation and loyalty.

Whether the dyslexic person sitting before you is an employee or an interviewee, they’ve likely overcome more than most who find themselves in that position. If you can support around their issues with dyslexia, you’re likely to unlock levels of creativity, adaptability and dedication that will bring big benefits your business.

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