The Benefits of Employing People with Dyslexia
Dyslexia is regarded as a handicap in our society. It’s a mental deficiency that can make reading and maths extremely difficult for even the most talented and bright among us. Someone with dyslexia could be extremely high performing in certain areas and exhibit an excellent IQ, but they may struggle with something seemingly simple like remembering which way letters or numbers are supposed to face while writing. Just like conditions such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), those with dyslexia are often labelled at school or work as being ‘underperformers’. It’s a disorder that’s been stigmatised for years, but what if we started to think about dyslexia in a new light? What if our negative labelling of individuals with this condition was the only thing holding them back?
It’s true that reading and writing form the cornerstone of education here in the UK, but what if we’re simply looking at things the wrong way? After all, many children with dyslexia find ways to live with their condition that sees them flourish as gifted storytellers, inventors or creative designers. It suggests that a dyslexic brain isn’t a ‘bad’ brain; it’s simply different. If workplaces, in particular, and disability jobs recruiters learned to nurture and recognise the benefits of a dyslexic brain, such as Exceptional Individuals, a dyslexia-specialist recruitment agency, they’d have a wider pool of talent to choose from and may even find an employee of the year in waiting.
What exactly is dyslexia?
Dyslexia isn’t uncommon. Around 10% of the UK population are dyslexic; 4% of them severely so . There’s a very good chance that a member of your family or someone in your social circle is dyslexic, though they might not necessarily like to lead with it in conversation. Dyslexia affects an individual’s ability to learn to read and spell, which can pose problems at a young, primary school age. Sometimes their ability to solve simple maths calculations can be affected too, but only in certain cases.
When we’re learning to read and write, we use phonetics to help us. Often you’ll see primary school teachers and parents holding up letters or saying parts of words and sounding them out with the class. Those with dyslexia struggle to make the connection between how a word sounds and what they see written down, which can make this method of learning extremely difficult. Often, remembering lists of names or recalling something they’ve overheard can be tricky, but dyslexic individuals often show strengths in reasoning, visual and creative fields.
The most important thing to note about dyslexia is that it is not connected in any way to general intelligence, and it affects everyone differently. It can be mild or severe, and an individual’s own strengths and weaknesses may affect how the dyslexia manifests itself.
What are the benefits of employing someone with dyslexia?
Getting a job can sometimes be difficult for a dyslexic individual. It draws such negative connotations in the workplace that candidates with the disorder are often overlooked or immediately discounted. While it’s true that school years can be tough for those with dyslexia, and performance in exams can suffer as a result, it isn’t an accurate reflection of their capabilities in the workplace. Here are just some of the advantages that are often found in those with dyslexia:
● They’re often highly innovative with a strong creative drive
● They can be persistent and incredibly conscientious
● Grasping new concepts is usually quick and simple
● They can spot patterns, connections and similarities that others miss
● Often they’re excellent puzzle solvers
● Thinking outside of the box tends to come more naturally
You see, dyslexia isn’t necessarily a learning disability. It’s more of a learning difference. Making your workplace dyslexia friendly can have an extremely positive effect on the morale of your team, and give particular individuals a chance to thrive and grow. You can improve loyalty, motivate your staff and make the office a less stressful place to be for them.
How do you create a ‘dyslexia friendly’ workplace?
Developing a culture where dyslexic individuals feel secure and confident is essential to get the most out of your workforce. It’s also worth bearing in mind that it’s currently against the law to discriminate against someone who may be living with dyslexia in the workplace. Some of the things that companies can do to make their workplaces more dyslexia friendly are:
● Publishing company-wide newsletters or announcements in multiple formats, including audio and large print.
● Enable your staff to have their choice of colours, themes and fonts on their work computers.
● Assist with time management, organisational skills and offer one-on-one tutoring to help overcome any difficulties
● Assistive software such as voice recognition and word prediction can help, as well as advanced spell checkers and auto-corrects.
What you need to know about employing someone with dyslexia
Dyslexia isn’t something that only certain bosses need to worry about. Over 6 million people have dyslexia in the UK, so if you’re a moderately sized business the chances are you already have a dyslexic person on your team (even if you’re not currently aware of it). Because dyslexia is classed officially as a disability, as part of the Equality Act 2010 it’s, therefore, imperative that your business takes every step it can to eliminate discrimination. Discriminating against someone with dyslexia in the workplace means that you haven’t provided the necessary tools for them to apply for a job, or fulfil their job role, without difficulty. Often this is unintentional and innocent, but the effects on an individual with the disorder can be career-ruining. That’s why it’s important that all businesses take steps to raise dyslexia awareness and act when someone with the disorder expresses concern.
It may be that a dyslexic individual keeps their disorder private, but if they choose to disclose to you that they are dyslexic and are finding it difficult to do their job with the tools available to them, you make allowances. Most adjustments are simple and easy to implement and will enable the dyslexic element of your workforce to operate at full capacity, putting them on an even keel with everyone else.
How to avoid discrimination
It isn’t nice to discriminate against somebody. The thing is, many workplaces do it without even realising and in some cases, it can land them in big trouble. From posting a job advert and carrying out technical exams, to interviewing candidates and getting them settled in at work, there are many opportunities for discrimination that you should be careful to avoid.
For job adverts, why not make them audio or visual as well as written? It will reflect well on your business and also make your job advert stand out to candidates from all backgrounds. It’s inclusive and creative. You should also try and write them in plain English without too much technical jargon or hyperbole. Short paragraphs and bullet points are a good way to get things across clearly and concisely, so if a dyslexic person does happen to read your job advert, they’re more likely to understand it. This is the kind of mindset your business ought to get into during the recruitment process.
If you’re running technical tests as part of your recruitment, make them inclusive too. You can do this by applying assistive options such as spelling and grammar checkers. You might also consider using something like Microsoft Word which allows a candidate to alter the colour of the page they’re writing on. Dyslexic friendly fonts such as Sassoon, APhont, Read Regular and Open Dyslexia can also be downloaded to make it easier for those with dyslexia to digest information.
Perhaps one of the easiest times to accidentally discriminate against someone with dyslexia is the interview process. Using overly complex sentences or surprising candidates with on the spot tests can make things very difficult for someone with the disorder. Instead, think of your interview as a fact-finding mission. Keep it simple and ask straightforward questions. If you can, use visual aids such as slides or worksheets to demonstrate ideas and concepts, but keep them short and concise. It’s also good practice to take things slowly, offering water and perhaps even a two-minute break during a longer session. Always inform candidates that they can take their time, and keep the pace measured and calm. That way, everyone gets an equal shot.
Getting the most out of someone with dyslexia
You’ve employed someone with dyslexia or recently found out that several members of your team are dyslexic. What can you do? Naturally, you want to help them reach their full potential for the benefit of everyone. Here are some things you can do to help make that happen…
● Use visual/audio communication. Dyslexics mainly have trouble with information that is written down, so looking at alternative ways to communicate is an excellent start. Text-to-audio software can help with minimal impact to your usual way of doing things.
● Give freedom to customise. Colours and fonts can throw off a dyslexic person, making it harder for them to concentrate. Give them the freedom to customise their own desktops with the fonts and colours they wish.
● Provide training. Where possible, hands-on tutoring can help with time management or organisational issues brought about by dyslexia. Hands-on learning works extremely well.
● Encourage breaks. This goes without saying for all workers, but for those with dyslexia getting away from the screen for a few minutes on a regular basis will certainly help their concentration levels.
● Look at office layout. Open plan offices are full of distractions which can affect dyslexics more than others. Therefore, arrange things so that they can work with an element of privacy
Many of the above can be implemented easily and at little cost to the employer, but they can make a huge difference for someone with dyslexia. Having these options in place will make your workplace more attractive to a wider group of people, and reflect better on your brand. The chances are you already employ somebody with dyslexia, but even if you don’t, having these options in place is an obvious advantage.
Final thoughts and The Equality Act 2010
As we’ve mentioned, the Equality Act 2010 is in place to protect people with dyslexia against workplace discrimination. That’s why it’s essential that your business looks at operations and processes from the ground up to make sure they’re accessible to all. If any of your processes puts someone with dyslexia at a distinct disadvantage and they call you out, there will be repercussions to deal with.
In any case, dyslexia isn’t something that employers should be avoiding. Given that so much of the population currently have the disorder, the likelihood is you’re already going to be working with the disorder somewhere in your team. It’s, therefore, beneficial to take steps to embrace it rather than avoid it. Not only will it keep you on the right side of the law, it will open the door to a pool of incredibly talented candidates who otherwise may not have had the opportunity to work for you.