​Dyslexia at work: what should employers do?


​Dyslexia at work: what should employers do?

Employers must make reasonable accommodations, where they can, to avoid disadvantaging dyslexic people, including job applicants. In particular, they should make sure dyslexics are not disabled by the recruitment process.


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Mention ‘dyslexia’ and people immediately think it’s an issue for kids with learning difficulties. But dyslexia affects adults too. It can remain a challenge throughout life, and can be a major barrier when it comes to employment.

Dyslexia is a specific learning difference with a neurobiological origin. Like most things, it’s on a spectrum and can be mild, severe, or anything in between. It does not mean a person is stupid or just lazy – on the contrary, dyslexic individuals are often highly intelligent, capable and talented. But they are ‘neurodivergent’ – meaning that their brains function, learn and process information differently.

These differences make word recognition tricky. This is a problem for children learning to read and write, but for adults it can also be a killer when it comes to the job application process.

Many people find it a somewhat stressful experience to apply for a new job, but for the estimated 10 percent of the population who are dyslexic, completing a written application or having to pass any type of written test or assessment is especially problematic.

A UK survey in 2018 by the Westminster AchieveAbility Commission found evidence of systemic barriers to the employment of dyslexic people. The obstacle of the application process meant 43% of the people interviewed felt discouraged from applying, and 52% said they had experienced discrimination during interview or selection processes.

Dyslexia, disability and the law

In Australia, dyslexia is recognised as a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992: the Act’s definition of ‘disability’ includes ‘a disorder or malfunction that results in the person learning differently from a person without the disorder or malfunction’.

This has been acknowledged in a number of court cases where a prospective employee has complained of discrimination in the recruitment process.

For example, in a case heard before the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, a dyslexic man had enrolled in a training course in sports massage run by a training school. The training school required him to complete a written theoretical examination in the same two-hour period as the other students. The school made no allowances for his dyslexia and did not offer him the alternative of an oral examination.

The training school claimed that the man had not done enough to bring his dyslexia to the school’s attention before the examination. Though the man had been a little diffident in this respect, he had told his lecturer about his condition, and given the school a copy of a report from an educational psychologist in which specific recommendations for modification of examination requirements for the man were made.

In the view of the commissioner, he had done enough to mean that it was not reasonable of the training school to fail to make any accommodations such as giving him an extra half-hour to complete the exam, or offering him an oral test instead of a written one. The man narrowly failed the exam, and as a result he suffered a delay in his career and a significant loss of self-esteem.

The commissioner found that his complaint of indirect discrimination was substantiated, and ordered the training school to pay him $3000 to redress the loss and damage he suffered.

Employers’ responsibilities in relation to dyslexia

The laws prohibiting work-related discrimination on the basis of disability mean that employers should make reasonable accommodations where they can, to avoid disadvantaging dyslexic people, including job applicants. In particular, they should make sure dyslexics are not disabled by the recruitment process.

This involves a careful consideration of the extent to which a facility with word recognition is an essential requirement of the job. If the work involves dealing with large quantities of written material on a daily basis, dyslexic individuals would probably not be well-suited to it. But if ease and comfort with the written word is not a core requirement of the job, employers should make sure the recruitment process does not present an unnecessary bar for dyslexics.

It should be remembered that this is in the employer’s best interests too, since dyslexics potentially have so much to offer a business. They have been described as the ‘untapped resource’ of the labour market, as the dyslexic brain’s different style of processing information can confer specific talents such as greater creativity of thought.

To make the workplace more inclusive, some organisations are actively embracing assistive technologies and adjustments for workers with dyslexia as part of their working life. Such technologies include computer software that enables a person to write using their voice instead of typing, device screen readers that can read back text so the person doesn’t have to read text off the screen, and smart pens that record audio and digitise notes.
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