Supporting employees with dyslexia not only requires offering emotional and practical support to those affected, but also educating other members of staff so everyone benefits.
Dyslexia is predicted to affect approximately 10% of the British population, according to the British Dyslexia Association (BDA). Subsequently, around 2.9 million workers are living with this learning difficulty, meaning it’s incredibly likely that a current or future employee will be dyslexic.
Understandably, revealing a learning difficulty can be a daunting prospect in the workplace and this anxiety can prevent those with dyslexia asking for help.
This means behaviours can occasionally be misunderstood as a lack of ability, dedication and inattention. But, those with dyslexia bring as many strengths and qualities to a business, as those unaffected, which means it’s incredibly important to encourage people to speak up about it.
Encouraging an open conversation about dyslexia will ensure that those living with it can reach their full potential.
Most commonly, symptoms of dyslexia include struggling to formulate thoughts quickly enough to participate in conversations, to confusing words within sentences and letters within words.
Also, struggling to schedule work, make deadlines and recollect and record the contents of meetings and messages are frequent signs of dyslexia.
Recognising these signs and encouraging an open conversation about dyslexia will ensure that those living with it can reach their full potential and enjoy work, whilst feeling fully supported by their employers.
Here’s a few ways you can unleash the potential of employees with dyslexia, courtesy of the wellbeing experts at CABA.
1. Set up a mentoring scheme
The first step in unleashing potential in an employee with dyslexia is to encourage those suffering in silence to come forward and ask for help. Because, if you don’t know, you can’t help.
A mentoring programme can offer a range of tailored advice and support for anyone who may be suffering with anxiety, mental health or any other form of learning difficulty in the workplace, not just dyslexia.
2. Diagnostic assessment
Everyone has different needs and learning styles, including those suffering with dyslexia. So, in order to offer the best support to a team member, diagnostic assessments would be truly valuable in understanding their specific needs.
3. Create dyslexia friendly content
Once you know the best way to support your employee, then you can start to tailor how you work with them, including creating dyslexia friendly content.
By recognising that an employee has dyslexia, small changes can be made to help employees navigate through work content. This may mean using an easily readable font such as Arial or Comic Sans.
It’s also important that you don’t use small fonts or italics, which can cause letters to appear more crowded. It can be useful to use headings to create structure and to avoid background patterns or pictures that could easily be a distraction from the text.
4. Adapt your communication style
In order to ensure any employee thrives in the workplace, then you need to communicate with them in the right way and the same goes for an employee with dyslexia.
It’s worthwhile asking your team member their preferred method of communication. This is because if the individual is a visual learner, you could work using a mind map or flow chart, to best get across important points.
Remember, everyone works differently, so ask the individual what works best, to ensure you get the most out of them.
5. Training services
In order to ensure that any employees struggling with dyslexia continue to flourish, then ongoing support is usually recommended. The British Dyslexic Association and the Helen Arkell Dyslexia Centre offer a range of services to ensure that the right support and advice is given to both business leaders and the individual.
Why not speak to your HR team to find out what budget is available for additional training services? If you’re the one in charge of setting the budget, then ensure you set aside enough to invest in resources to help aid people with dyslexia.
6. Assistive technology
There are a number of technological devices that can make work life easier for those with dyslexia. For example, speech recognition software allows speech to be converted into text, and vice versa – cutting out the task of reading and writing which can often take much longer for a dyslexic employee.
7. Raise awareness
Symptoms associated with dyslexia can seem like a hindrance at work, however, if harnessed correctly they can be extremely beneficial to any business.
Why not run a dyslexia awareness course for all staff, using a qualified and experienced dyslexia specialist who has experience training in the work environment? This will help to clarify any misconceptions about dyslexia and help to make all employees feel comfortable in dealing with it.
8. Alternative workspace
Loud and busy environments can make it hard for dyslexic workers to concentrate, so to help them, it can be beneficial to offer alternative work environments.
For example, allowing these employees to use a meeting room, to help them focus when they really need to. If this is not possible, then providing headphones or earplugs can be a useful alternative.
9. Encourage the use of calendars and alarms
Dyslexics can benefit from seeing things more visually, so using calendars and alarms can help to track time in a more visual way. In turn, this will help employees stay on schedule, and help them to plan their day and week.
Also, the use of diary invites and desk calendars, can be used to remind them of important deadlines.
10. Specialist stationery
Finally, traditional stationery is not always suitable for dyslexics. For example, black text on white paper can be problematic as the whiteness can be dazzling and make it harder to read. So, paper of softer tones like yellow or pink may be preferable. As well as thicker pens, like gel pens which allow a team member to better understand their writing.
Organisations need to accept that everyone works differently and must look to adapt to individual needs – because those with dyslexia will range in their abilities. It’s important that business leaders create an unrestricted and honest environment to allow their employees to talk freely about dyslexia and other learning difficulties.
You may need a test and learn approach, but by creating an environment where this is acceptable, you’re much more likely to get the most out of all your employees, including those who suffer with dyslexia. Remember, employees are better able to perform and be more productive when they have the correct support.
About Laura Little
I am an experienced learning and development professional with a background in psychology supported by a Degree and Masters in Psychology. I have over 10 years’ experience of production and delivery of training courses to a range of different client groups. I have previously worked with young offenders, delivering both group work and one to one work, as well as training staff in the development of resilience and the complex nature of human behaviour.