Most employers will know a thing or two about dyslexia, but how many employers realise they have a duty to help sufferers in the workplace?
Dyslexia comes under the remit of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), with respect to both employees and the provision of services to customers. It is also covered by the Disability Equality Duty, which requires organisations in the public sector to have a Disability Equality Scheme in place. This means that employers are required to identify dyslexia and modify their procedures accordingly.
There are hundreds of thousands of dyslexics in the workplace. Government figures estimate that acute dyslexia affects around 4% of the UK’s working population, and the British Dyslexia Association (BDA) believes that about 10% of UK workers have some level of dyslexia. But, despite its inclusion within the DDA, dyslexia is often only identified when an individual is already involved in a disciplinary process, where difficulties have been misinterpreted as performance-related issues.
Where managers suspect problems, screening techniques – either paper-based or by computer – should help employers conduct an initial assessment, says lead consultant at specialist dyslexia consultancy Iansyst, Dr Andi Sanderson.
To avoid any suggestion of discrimination, however, Sanderson warns employers to wait until they have made a job offer before introducing any form of dyslexia assessment. Any employee can operate screening packages, but it is vital that any follow-on consultation is carried out by a specialist who can identify strengths and weaknesses and prepare an individual-specific coping strategy.
Once dyslexia has been identified, employers have a wide number of procedural and technological options open to them.
BDA chairwoman Margaret Malpas says: “Assisted technology has made a huge difference in this area and there is grant provision available for this so it doesn’t even cost employers significant amounts. We offer a national helpline for employers, as well as one-day training courses covering everything from awareness to how to make reasonable adjustments.”
And employees can take advantage of a number of software programs and gadgets specifically developed for dyslexia.
These include speech recognition packages and recording and note-taking equipment or software. Add to that spelling software and devices such as the Franklin Speaking Dictionary and organisational software including MindGenius and MindManager. Then there is Captura Talk – a tool that enables dyslexics to photograph pages and then listen to the words.
Ellen Morgan, a specialist dyslexia assessor at City University who has written a number of books on the condition, including The Dyslexic Adult with Cynthia Klein, has also developed a CD-Rom that addresses the needs of dyslexic adults.
Called Wordswork, it was originally designed for individuals in higher education. It is an interactive program designed to enable an individual to look at their own learning strengths, and then tap into it to overcome problem areas such as spelling, sequencing, taking notes, reading and the like. It is in use at the UK Probation Service.
However, while technology can be very helpful, Heather Hardie, a director of the Adult Dyslexia Consultancy, insists it is only a tool.
“You cannot give employees software with minimal training and expect their difficulties to be resolved,” she says. “In fact, it is often better to ensure people use the normal features on computers properly – for example, spell-check with autocorrect, cut/copy/paste and coloured backgrounds. This includes touch type tuition, if possible. Technological aids need to be appropriate for each individual – which is why an expert assessment is important – and ongoing training needs to be in place to ensure that it is really helpful.”
Malpas says that frequently, simple and inexpensive changes can make a huge difference. This includes using sans serif fonts at a minimum point size of 12 and coloured folders.
“What you’ll find with text-to-voice software, though, is that it would make any manager’s life easy,” she adds.
This is a point echoed by Hardie. Ultimately, adjustments for one employee can improve every employee’s working life, and so benefit the whole organisation.