Letter of the week: Dyslexia in the workplace: disability or talent?

I have just read with interest your article on ‘dyslexia training’ (Personnel Today, 15 April). In my experience, there are four distinct challenges involved in creating a dyslexia-friendly workplace.

First, around two million adult dyslexics are not aware of their dyslexia. This is most likely the result of a lack of clarity about what exactly dyslexia is. There is a huge need for non-clinical employer awareness training to give them a direct and subjective experience of what it is like to be a dyslexic thinker.

Second, all the dyslexia support in the world will be of no avail to an employee who is frightened or ashamed of their condition.

And this is the problem with a legal framework that classifies dyslexia as a disability – it intensifies rather than alleviates the immense stigma around dyslexic thinking. Let’s not underestimate the psychological effects of calling a bright and gifted thinker ‘disabled’.

Dyslexia is not a disability, but a thinking style. Dyslexic thinkers excel in visual-spatial tasks involving whole-picture thinking and finding creative solutions.

And while the disability framework for dyslexia is a convenient way of assuring protection to dyslexic thinkers in the workplace, it is also harmful. For the third challenge that we face in the workplace is creating an environment where dyslexic thinkers can grow their skills. Disability support is essentially a series of props that prevent that from happening – because disability theory presumes a person will never be able to master a certain skill.

The fourth challenge is how to harness dyslexic talent in the workplace. When unsupported, dyslexic thinkers can become fearful individuals who may invest a lot of energy in avoiding or deferring challenging tasks and finding excuses why they cannot be done. When supported, however, dyslexic thinkers can be among the most innovative and original contributors to a firm’s success.

For all the above reasons, we have launched a petition on the Downing Street website to reclassify dyslexia as a thinking style rather than a disability. You can access the petition at http://petitions.pm.gov.uk, or go to our blog (www.dyslexia-gift.org.uk) for further details.

Richard Whitehead, The Learning People

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