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Coping with dyslexia in the workplace

 A survey of workers and employers by the British Assistive Technology Association  in 2013 found that three quarters of employees who use Assistive Technology, such as literacy software to help support staff with dyslexia, say it has improved their effectiveness at work. But few employers promote its use, writes Mark McCusker.

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 at work and feel more independent with increased job satisfaction.

According to the British Dyslexia Association (BDA), dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that affects the reading and writing of 10 per cent of the British population. 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. People with dyslexia in high profile careers include Tom Cruise, Danny Glover, Cher, Magic Johnson, Carl Lewis, Kiera Knightley and Whoopi Goldberg.

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.

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 the condition. With the right tools and support however, it is easy for organisations to help these individuals bring out the very best in their employees.

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 reading and 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.

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 tasks 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.

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 focus from one thing to another, so removal of supplementary material can often help.

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 disturbances or distractions will help employees with dyslexia focus on their tasks.

Mark McCusker is Chair of the British Assistive Technology Association (BATA) and CEO of Texthelp Ltd, providers of the award winning Read&Write Gold literacy support software.

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