How to spot the signs and support dyslexic employees this coming Dyslexia Awareness Week (1-7 November 2010)
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.
‘Hidden Dyslexia’ is the theme of Dyslexia Awareness Week 2010 (1-7 November), raising awareness of the challenges faced by employees with a disability that presents no visible physical signs to the outside world.
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. As an employer, 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. 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.
Sharon Goldie, consultant at iansyst Ltd, looks at how employers can recognise the warning signs that an employee may be dyslexic and provides some simple steps for your organisation to ensure a dyslexic-friendly workplace.
1) 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.
Dyslexia affects people in a number of different ways and 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. Less obvious indicators could include an employee passing up on a promotion opportunity due to extra paperwork or regularly calling in sick due to struggling to work in an open-plan environment.
2) Educate and train management
Often, it is the human resources department that is 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 your dyslexic employee reaches 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 trained 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.
3) Give verbal rather than written instructions
Many dyslexics have a specific difficulty taking in information that is written down so managers should 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.
4) Communicate slowly and clearly
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.
5) Office environment
A number of dyslexics struggle to concentrate in open-plan offices due to the noise and variety of distractions. Therefore, 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.
6) Workload planning
Prioritising tasks is usually the responsibility of the line manager and providing something as simple as a wall planner for some can have significant benefits. By building planning time into each workday, both the manager and employee are fully aware of what tasks are expected to be completed during the day. By providing a layout of regular tasks will help empower the employee to feel in control of their workload.
7) Time planning
As part of the daily planning meeting, remind the employee of the day’s important deadlines and meetings. 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.
8 ) Limit interruptions
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 the manager should try to ensure that each individual task is completed before the next one is begun.
9) 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.
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 6 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.