Reasonable adjustments for dyslexia
To be wrongly accused of anything is heart-breaking and for it to happen because of an employer’s failure to understand an individual’s disability must feel surreal.
The fact that dyslexia can be considered a disability may surprise some people. It is a common learning difficulty that can cause problems with reading, writing and spelling.
Dyslexia is a lifelong problem that can present challenges on a daily basis but unlike a learning disability, intelligence is not affected.
A number of high profile celebrities are dyslexic including Sir Richard Branson the Virgin Group boss, former Dragon’s Den star Theodoros Paphitis and ex-Saturdays singer Mollie King (1)
For employers supporting a dyslexic employee should be just the same as it is with any other worker with a disability.
The case of a former coffee shop worker highlighted what can go wrong when employers fail to understand the impact dyslexia in the workplace.
Meseret Kumulchew won a disability discrimination case against the coffee giant Starbucks in 2016, after it accused her of falsifying documents (2)
An employment tribunal heard that she made mistakes and misread numbers that she was responsible for recording because of her dyslexia. She was a supervisor at the time and she was ordered to reduce her responsibilities and retrain.
In commenting on the case the British Dyslexia Association (BDA) is reported to have said it should be a wake-up call for employers. The BDA says that 10 per cent of the population are dyslexic and four percent severely so (3)
The Equality Act defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities (4) It does suggest that under stressful conditions people with dyslexia can be seen to suffer such an impairment.
Employers have a duty to change their procedures and remove the barriers that an employee with a disability may face. The Act calls it the duty to make reasonable adjustments (5).
Before making any adjustments understanding the nature of the individual’s dyslexia is vital. This knowledge can be gained from the result of a diagnostic assessment.
Consideration should also be given to the job tasks that need to be undertaken, the working environment, work practices and any training requirements.
What is typically considered a reasonable adjustment will depend on the size and nature of the organisation, however, many adjustments for dyslexia can be quite simple and economical.
Some adjustments suggested by the BDA (6) include:
General difficulty with reading
Give verbal as well as written instructions.
Highlight salient points in documents.
Use voice mail as opposed to written memos.
Use screen reading software.
Supply screen reading software and scanner.
A Reading Pen may be useful for unfamiliar words.
Provide information on coloured paper (find out which colour helps the person to read best).
Set up a computer screen with a coloured background to documents.
Difficulty with reading and writing
Allow plenty of time to read and complete the task.
Examine other ways of giving the same information to avoid reading.
Discuss the material with the employee, giving summaries and/or key points.
Utilise information prepared in other formats for example audio or videotape, drawings, diagrams and flowcharts.
Use mind-mapping software.
Use digital recorders.
Use speech to text software.
Get someone else to take the Minutes of meetings.
Spelling and grammar errors
Offer assistive text software.
Proof read work.
Instant spell checker on all computers.
Offer assistive text software on all applications, where possible
Most employers will be capable of making many of the adjustments outlined and they should be prepared to do so.
It is important to remember that many adults with dyslexia may have spent years covering it up and be reluctant to disclose it out of fear of embarrassment or not wanting to be seen as making a fuss.
The working environment should be one in which an individual with dyslexia feels comfortable to disclose details of their condition while confident in the knowledge they will receive appropriate support.
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