How to: support dyslexic employees - spot the signs

How to: support dyslexic employees - spot the signs

Sharon Goldie, consultant at iansyst Ltd (www.re-adjust.co.uk), looks at how to recognise the signs of dyslexia and offers simple strategies which Human Resources can utilise to ensure they create a dyslexia-friendly workplace.

 

What do Richard Branson and Steve Jobs have in common with Walt Disney, Salma Hayek, John Lennon and Pablo Picasso? In addition to being extremely successful in their chosen professions, each of them is dyslexic.

A learning neurological disorder which can affect a person’s reading, writing and spelling skills, dyslexia affects approximately one in 10 people in the UK workforce. Within the workplace, the ability to identify its signs and provide support for a dyslexic employee could be the key to finding the next Henry Ford, Thomas Edison or Alexander Graham Bell. 

Dyslexia is recognised as a disability under The Equality Act 2010, and it is the human resources department (HR) that is most often given the responsibility for implementing policies that deliver a dyslexia-friendly workplace.

Although legislation may be the driver for change, it is important for the betterment of the entire organisation that HR understands dyslexia and communicates this to management throughout the company.

Dyslexics often have average or above average intelligence with excellent creative thinking skills which allows them to see a variety of solutions to a problem. However, many companies are still unaware of the impact that this disability can have on an employee’s job or how a few simple strategies can help to unlock their potential.

Recognise the signs
Dyslexia is often referred to as the ‘hidden disability’ as there are no visible physical signs.

It is completely unlinked to intelligence and many dyslexics are innovative and strong leaders across a variety of industries, as witnessed by the aforementioned examples.

It is important that HR understands that dyslexia affects people in a number of different ways and that identifying its signs is vital to both the employee as well as your organisation. The most obvious signs to look out for include inconsistent spelling, poor time-keeping, difficulties understanding written directions, difficulties taking notes at meetings and/or a disorganised workspace. 

As the HR department is responsible for managing internal promotions and staff attendance, less obvious, but no less important, indicators could include an employee regularly passing up promotion opportunities due to extra paperwork or regularly calling in sick due to struggling to work in an open-plan environment.
 
Educate and train management
As previously stated, the HR department is usually given responsibility for ensuring that an organisation meets its requirements under the Equality Act 2010. However, this is only the first step in ensuring that a dyslexic employee is able to reach their potential.

Making the necessary adaptations to the workplace for dyslexic employees will only be successful if the organisation’s management are aware of how best to work with their staff. Therefore, it is vital that line managers throughout the company are given training about what to look for and how best to maximise the work performance of a dyslexic employee. Every strategy and hint that follows will only be successful if an organisation’s management are aware of their employee’s dyslexia and are able to take it into consideration during their regular work schedule.

Communications policies
Many dyslexics have a specific difficulty taking in information that is written down so managers should be trained to look for alternative ways of communicating the same information. Giving instructions both verbally and in written format would be beneficial for a person with dyslexia. Other solutions for overcoming misunderstanding directions include providing them on coloured paper or setting up a computer screen with coloured backgrounds.  Different colours have shown to help a person with dyslexia read and there are short and simple tests to determine the exact colour which works best to alleviate some of their difficulties.

People with dyslexia may often experience difficulty remembering and following verbal instructions. Ideally, any instructions should be given clearly and concisely and if detailed, check that the person understands. This should then be followed up by an email which reinforces the given instructions. The manager also needs to make sure that any instructions that have been given, especially those presented in a group environment, did not require any assumptions on the part of the employee.

Office environment
A number of dyslexics struggle to concentrate in open-plan offices due to the noise and variety of distractions. Therefore, HR should ensure that they are able to allocate a workplace away from doors, phones and loud machinery and, preferably a quiet room for themselves or a bookable room for times when they need to concentrate on a specific task without any disruptions. Furthermore, by allowing the employee to work from home occasionally they will be able to concentrate on their work in a familiar and stress-free environment.

Where possible, other members of staff should be encouraged not to interrupt the employee unless necessary, especially during times where intense concentration is required. Another disruption that could negatively affect an employee’s production is in trying to juggle multiple tasks so HR should liaise with management to ensure that the employee is completely each individual task before the next one is begun. 

Workload and time management strategies

With the prioritisation tasks being the responsibility of the line manager, HR needs to ensure that they understand how to get the best out of the employee. By providing something as simple as a wall planner can often have significant benefits. Ensuring that each day starts with a brief planning meeting, both the manager and employee are fully aware of what tasks are expected to be completed during the day. Furthermore, having a layout of regular tasks will help empower the employee to feel in control of their workload.

As part of the daily planning meeting, the employee should be reminded of the day’s important deadlines and meetings. Therefore, the employee should be encouraged to use the calendar and alarm features found on almost every computer system, such as Microsoft Outlook. By reinforcing the day’s priorities, the manager has provided the support the employee needs while also giving them the responsibility for ensuring each target is met.

Utilise available technologies
There are a number of basic and specialised technological strategies currently available, which when utilised appropriately, can greatly increase efficiency. These range from simple processes such as using voice mail for basic communications rather than email or written memos to advanced text-to-speech software. In addition to text-to-speech software, onscreen word banks and predictive software can have a significant impact on improving the written work of a dyslexic employee. Furthermore, for those employees who are especially articulate and expressive verbally, voice recognition software can allow them to have their ideas converted from the spoken word to text quickly but this software will not suit all dyslexic employees.

Funding
Access to Work (AtW) is a Government-funded grant operated through Job Centre Plus which can help. If an employee applies for funding within the first six weeks they are employed with you, AtW will cover up 100% of the costs of the reasonable adjustments. If the application is made after the six weeks, then AtW may cover a significant amount of the costs but this is dependent on the type and size of your organisation. Check this out at www.jobcentreplus.gov.uk.
 

Comments

Hi Sharon

Thank you for this interesting and informative article.

I see from your organisation's website that you specify "dyscalculia" separately from dyslexia.  Are you able to clarify whether "dyscalculia" is a separate technical diagnosis and which tests are applied to identify this, or is this just regarded as further symptoms of the dyslexic condition, identified through the normal screening process.  Where has the academic research got to on this?

I understand that for the terms at least, one is a difficulty with literacy and the other with numeracy, but understand that it is aspects of the same underlying symptoms, which may cause the person problems with both.

Do you or does your company offer or are you aware of organisations that offer specific dyscalculia related strategies and or courses and techniques to assist people overcome difficulties with learning in this area, as distinct from the dyslexia side of things?

There was an interesting and positive programme recently on the television, which set out how Kara Tointon was affected by dyslexia and the steps taken to make her life easier.  It illustrated for example that it took her substantially longer to learn her lines for each episode of East Enders than her non dyslexic colleagues.  Some simple techniques and different approaches to learning the lines meant her life and job was made much better.

I like the list of examples of people that have dyslexia that you have used.  It is worth mentioning that there are many others; Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill, both Nobel Laureats are two others, though not all would meet with universal approval as role models.  For anybody interested, there are a number of websites that highlight them, but Xtraordinary People is one worth checking out.

http://www.xtraordinarypeople.com/celebrity/

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