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How to manage dyslexia in the workplace 01/05/2010

Andi Sanderson offers some top tips on small steps employers can take to make all the difference to disabled employees and explains why this support is so important.

How to manage dyslexia in the workplace

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  1. Disabled employees - loyal workforce
  2. How can small changes make a difference?
  3. Why is employers support important?
  4. What can employers do?
  5. Assistive technology
  6. Tips to make your workplace dyslexia-friendly

Disabled employees - loyal workforce

Making small changes in the workplace can make all the difference to disabled employees. Companies prepared to make small changes to the workplace environment and to their ways of working in order to support disabled employees, will feel the Benefits. Raised morale coupled with improved performance will lead to a more productive, more loyal workforce.

How can small changes make a difference?

By making reasonable changes to support disabled employees, employers can encourage a culture of productivity and are likely to retain staff for longer periods of time: a happy workforce is a loyal workforce. There are a number of measures that can be easily implemented and will have a positive impact on the workplace experience for disabled employees. Simple things like ensuring easy access to information, the provision of assistive technologies and implementing inclusive HR policies can make all the difference.

Why is employers support important?

Developing an inclusive culture where disabled employees feel secure and supported should be fundamental to an HR department’s role within a company. Under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against current or prospective employees on the basis of any disability. This applies to ‘hidden’ disabilities that do not have an outward or physical manifestation and as such, can often go unnoticed. Dyslexia, for example, is a processing disability that affects people in a variety of ways that can hinder them at work. While there is no link between the condition and intelligence, poor spelling, organisational problems and difficulties with working memory retention are all tell-tale signs. As such, the condition can be incredibly frustrating for an employee, affecting skills that are so crucial in a workplace.

If employers take small measures to adjust the workplace to support those with disabilities such as dyslexia, they will raise morale and reduce stress levels within the workforce. Helping employees to better fulfil their job role through such changes will increase confidence and consequently lead to an all-round improvement in performance and increased productivity.

Government funding is available to help employers implement these changes through Access to Work (AtW) which operates through Job Centre Plus. If an employee applies for funding within the first six weeks they are employed by an organisation, AtW may cover up to around 90% of the costs of the reasonable adjustments. The amount is dependent on the size of the organisation, as many bigger companies or government organisations may not be eligible for the grant in full. Check this out at: www.jobcentreplus.gov.uk

What can employers do?

These top tips constitute a good starting point for employers but there are various additional adjustments that can be made within the workplace to better support employees with disabilities, including: specialist training, screening for current and prospective clients, creating the right work environment, disseminating a written disability policy, providing awareness training for line managers, providing strategy training for disabled staff and considering the implementation of appropriate assistive technology.

Assistive technology

Technological advances have been critical in removing many of the barriers to learning that dyslexics previously faced. The right technology may offer an employee greater independence in their job role. Technologies that alleviate difficulties associated with reading, writing, organisational and memory skills can enable dyslexic employees to achieve immediate success. This success will, in turn, build confidence and lead to an all-round improvement in performance. 

For example, dyslexia can often result in difficulty with reading; as such, dyslexic employees may be unable or unwilling to access internet resources or to take on tasks like proof-reading. Text-to-speech software can read text back in a real-speak voice at a variety of speeds. Technology like this means that those who have difficulties reading can scan whole pages of text to be read back to them. By implementing this sort of technology, employers not only support dyslexic employees but can often facilitate significant improvements in their job performance. 

Similarly, writing often presents difficulties for those with dyslexia. Simple measures like ensuring the availability of an onscreen word bank containing subject specific vocabulary or predictive software can really help relieve difficulties with written work. Software of this kind allows one-click entry for certain words or phrases, this reduces the number of keyboard strokes and means that the writing process can continue unhindered by slow typing or spelling difficulties. Voice recognition software can be another useful tool for dyslexics who express themselves well verbally but have trouble writing: having spoken words converted to type can enable people to get their ideas down quickly.

Tips to make your workplace dyslexia-friendly

Provide company reference documents in a plain, sans-serif font such as Arial, in point size 13 (at least) and on a cream paper. Wherever possible, also offer these alternative formats via an intranet that your staff can access easily.

  • Ensure all notes, handouts etc are circulated electronically two to three days prior to meetings.
  • Provide all employees with dyslexia awareness training.
  • Provide screening in open-plan offices, with plenty of plants (these absorb noise as well as creating a more pleasant environment).
  • Find out about Access to Work and inform new staff of the scheme. Set up a system to make applications easy and effective.

For further advice or information on what changes can be made in the workplace to support those with disabilities visit www.re-adjust.co.uk

Andi Sanderson, dyslexia specialist & lead consultant, iansyst

Andi Sanderson, dyslexia specialist & lead consultant, iansyst

Andi is responsible for managing iansyst’s team of consultants. Predominantly acting as a soundboard for dyslexia in the workplace-related customer enquiries, and also a range of other sectors/environments.