03 December 2015
Special abilities: embracing dyslexia in the workplace
Why do so many employers fail to cater adequately for staff with dyslexia? Mark discusses dyslexia and why it's important for employers to change their mindsets.
Since 2010 dyslexia has been recognised as a learning disability under the UK Equality Act. This legislation was introduced to protect the rights of individuals in the workplace and society generally. But even this well-intentioned categorisation misses a rapidly growing consensus that dyslexia can - and should - be embraced actively as a learning difference and not a ‘disability’.
Less than a generation ago the existence of dyslexia as a ‘real’ condition was far from universally recognised - but happily we’ve come a long way since then. The impact of dyslexia is well understood at all stages in young people’s educational journey, from the earliest years to secondary education and university. Today’s curriculum at most schools offers plenty of accommodations for pupils with additional literacy needs, from screen reader software to extra time allowance in exams.
Challenges in reading and writing don’t have to be the roadblock they once were, and students no longer automatically have to suffer the stigma they once did for being ‘different’.
But for young people with dyslexia – an estimated 10% of the school population – progressing to the world of work can bring some very unwelcome surprises. Despite their legal obligations to ensure equality in the workplace, many employers at best pay lip service to the needs of staff with difficulties in reading or writing.
Even today, too few companies make adequate provision for employees needing a little extra help with everyday tasks like researching on the web or composing an email. This picture varies enormously from industry to industry, of course. Effective accommodations are embedded into the framework of many public sector bodies. But step into the commercial world and it’s all too often a case of ‘sink or swim’ for individuals with any kind of literacy challenge.
So why do so many employers fail to cater adequately for staff with dyslexia? As a ‘hidden’ difference, it often doesn’t make its presence known when employees join the company. Pitted against 100 other applicants, would you want to advertise it prominently on your CV or during an interview? In a corporate culture that’s invariably focused on quick returns, any kind of provision for individuals with different needs – however inexpensive and quick to implement in actual resourcing terms – is seen as an unwelcome drag on the bottom line. But for organisations to simply dismiss dyslexia as a ‘problem’ overlooks a bigger picture.
As US educational experts Fernette and Brock Eide have pointed out, dyslexia can bring staff and their employers a number of unexpected upsides. Some individuals show significantly better-than-average visualisation and 3D spatial reasoning, making them prime candidates to be architects, designers or engineers. They can have great recall of facts and experiences, and often exhibit creative narrative strengths – evidenced by the surprising number of dyslexic poets and writers. They’re often efficient delegators. And they can also be adept at piecing together partial or rapidly-changing information to make predictions, seeing the big picture that others may miss.
Dyslexia certainly doesn’t have to be an impediment to academic and professional success. As reported by Scientific American, it’s exhibited by astrophysicists, biochemists and at least one Nobel Prize winner – a consequence, perhaps of its association with finely-tuned pattern matching and analytical abilities.
For any highly functioning professional team, individuals with dyslexia can represent a very real asset. The limitation is not the abilities of an individual employee – it’s the mindset of the employer.
At Texthelp it’s our mission to help people of all ages and at every stage of their own personal literacy journey. And you’ll see that philosophy reflected in our easy-to-use assistive technology solutions – like our award-winning Read&Write software for PCs and tablets – that are equally valuable in the classroom and the workplace.
Since Read&Write is typically licensed by employers on a site-wide basis, this means that it can be automatically made available to every employee. It’s not a case of some staff members having the software installed specially on their device - a potential source of embarrassment or being labelled as ‘different’ by colleagues. The software’s there for everyone to use freely, as and when they need it. And as many employees quickly find out, Read&Write is a useful productivity booster for everyday literacy tasks - just as you’d use the spellcheck on your computer without a moment’s thought.
For employers, the real-world cost of offering support tools like Read&Write to every member of staff who need them is surprisingly affordable. The payoff, conversely, can be unexpectedly generous for everyone in the organisation.