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Dyslexia in the Workplace

Dyslexia in the workplace

In the first part of the latest inquiry session hosted by policy institute Curia, the British Dyslexia Association discussed how working-age adults with dyslexia cope in the workplace.

The session was chaired by Michelle Catterson, the Chair of the Association and Executive Headteacher at Moon Hall School, Reigate. She was joined by several guests, all of whom had expertise in the dyslexia sector.

Centred around how difficult life at work can be for those with dyslexia, the focus of the discussion particularly if their employers were not understanding or willing to provide additional support and how this could be better addressed by employers.

How can employers support dyslexic employees?

Many adults with dyslexia will have experienced parts of their childhood where they felt isolated due to a lack of diagnosis. Despite support being provided after diagnosis in early years, it severely weakens into adulthood. So, how can employers ensure this support carries on into their work life?

David Williams, Director of Inclusion at the Park Academies Trust, said: “The biggest issue is that there isn’t a conversation about dyslexia in the workplace 99% of the time. 10% of the country has dyslexia, but most businesses aren’t aware of who has it within their organisation.

“When I was a Trustee for the British Dyslexia Association, the thing that always struck me was that about three-quarters of the incoming call and emails were about children. Children only make up a small proportion of society

“I think that from a business point of view, the one thing that they should do as a starting point is to simply find out who, within their organisation, is dyslexic. We regularly put out an anonymous survey, so we at least know the number of people with dyslexia, even if they aren’t comfortable being open about it individually. At least if you have a figure, you can then start to provide better support.”

Founder and CEO of the Dyslexia Foundation, Steve O’Brien believes the key is for every employer to have a disability policy that includes hidden disabilities. He said:

“We wouldn’t sit there and say what would a wheelchair user need to be able to work at an organisation, or what would a deaf person need? The simple question should be what is an organisation’s dyslexia policy as part of their disability policy?

“If a company doesn’t have a policy for dyslexic people and people with other hidden disabilities, then they should face legal action. We work with many organisations that do have fantastic policies which support their employers.”

“The biggest issue is that there isn’t a conversation about dyslexia in the workplace 99% of the time.”

David Williams, Director of Inclusion at the Park Academies Trust

However, certain organisations and individuals have sidelined the specificity of dyslexia as a disability. O’Brien voiced his concern on the dilution of the dyslexia identity in present disability discourse:

“I asked 20 students how they identify as a person with dyslexia and out of the 25, only one person knew what neurodiversity was. Others had no clue what neurodiversity was, but everyone wants to talk about neurodiversity. If individuals cannot explain what neurodiversity is, how will organizations understand what it is either? We need to explain things in basic terms to most people because employers may not understand the needs of dyslexic people.”

Removing the stigma of dyslexia

Nasser Siabi, the CEO of Microlink – a company that provides disability management, support and technology to workplaces – believes the stigma of talking about hidden disabilities, such as dyslexia, in the workplace is going away. The more people that are open about their dyslexia, the more support businesses should be able to offer.

Nasser said: “Informed and progressive employers are no longer looking at it as a way to label people, but rather looking at it as an opportunity to help their employees. In turn, this will make their business more productive and efficient.

“Almost every client we work with no longer expects their employers to ‘prove’ they’re dyslexic. If someone says they have dyslexia then straight away, they ask ‘what can we do to help you?’ In those types of organisations, people are very comfortable coming forward.

“The whole dyslexia assessment process is quite stressful which puts a lot of people off. Instead, if you have employers who trust their employees when they come asking for support rather than asking for them to jump through hoops to prove it, they are going to get better results and employers will feel more comfortable.”

Such practical solutions point towards workplaces placing emphasis on identifying barriers and delivering measures that can be in the form of assistive technology, coaching, or both. Up to 20% of the workforce in the leading organisations working with Microlink have received adjustments for disabilities including dyslexia. Making this conversation more mainstream can help tackle challenges of inefficiency and low identification, among employers.

Dyslexia in the workplace
Curia is hosting the Dyslexia Commission. To find out more click here. (Image: Wikimedia Commons, MissLunaRose12)

How important is a diagnosis for dyslexia?

For those with undiagnosed dyslexia, the quest to get support in the workplace can be even more difficult. With that being said, Dr Deborah Leveroy, Neurodiversity and Inclusion Lead at Dyslexia Box believes a diagnosis shouldn’t be particularly important when it comes to receiving support at work. She said:

“I think screening can be really empowering for individuals with dyslexia, but it’s potentially a red herring in the work sector. It places the emphasis back on the individual to go and get a screening rather than on the employer to provide support for them.

“The law is quite clear – it’s the employer’s duty to be inclusive and not to send people for screenings to prove they have dyslexia. We should be putting the ball firmly in the employer’s court.”

Final thought

Living with dyslexia is undoubtedly difficult and trying to complete your work in an environment where you are not supported must be a nightmare.

In this scenario. workplaces that do not provide adequate recognition and reasonable adjustments to employees with dyslexia pave the way for regressive employment structures that divert the responsibility of providing equal and accessible work opportunities.

This not only remains an issue of disadvantage in employment and career progression but has far reaching ramifications – sidelining the needs of those with disabilities and heightening inequalities in mental health and wellbeing between people living with and without disabilities.

On the shoulders of present organisations working towards addressing needs of dyslexic persons, not due to the threat of litigation but due to the recognition of diversity of talent and contributions of people with dyslexia, the way forward for employers is by creating safer spaces for people with dyslexia to voice their requirements and matching those through investment in inclusive adjustments – whether through assistive technology, coaching, diversity in work responsibilities or all three.

For the full recording of this inquiry session, please visit Chamber’s YouTube channel.

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