Dyslexia at Work

It is virtually impossible to find a job that does not require some level of reading, writing and remembering, or some use of the computer.  Adults with dyslexia sometimes also struggle with time management and organisation at work.  Planning and organising, setting out timetables, distinguishing between the important and the urgent, remembering appointments, passing on telephone messages from memory and meeting deadlines can be exceptionally difficult for many people with dyslexia.  Some people may get bogged down, overwhelmed by the workload and stressed.

The employer has an obligation under disability legislation to ensure that all efforts are made to support the individual with dyslexia.  This means making reasonable accommodations where necessary.   For example, it is very important that the initial job training provided takes into account the specific needs of the adult with dyslexia.  This requires flexibility in the approach to training, provision of information in alternative formats, multi-sensory learning techniques, more time and repetition of information when necessary.

The Workplace Equipment Adaptation Grants (WEAG), administered by INTREO (www.intreo.ie), are available to employers to help cover the cost of reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.  In order to avail of this grant contact your local INTREO office and ask to speak with the person responsible for reasonable accommodations in the workplace.

Whether or not you should disclose your dyslexia to your employer is a very personal decision. Everybody has his or her own preferences and you are not obliged to disclose dyslexia.  The following information might helpful should you find yourself in this situation.

Very little research has been done on employer awareness of dyslexia in Ireland.  What little exists bears out what Gavin Reid, says of the UK: “It has been suggested that employers may be less sensitive to dyslexic type disabilities than they are to other, more visible disabilities”.  Therefore, the job seeker who declares his/her dyslexia on application for a job is taking a gamble.

 

It could turn out that the employer or human resources manager is aware of dyslexia and operates a system of equal opportunity.  If the applicant does get the post, it is very probable that support will be provided to facilitate the employee.  If, on the other hand, an applicant does not declare dyslexia before accepting a job offer, it could be difficult to request support or facilities at a later stage.

The biggest fear that job applicants have is that if they declare their dyslexia they may never get to the interview stage, never mind getting a job offer.  If an applicant decides to raise the matter of his/her dyslexia at interview stage then it is important that they present their situation positively, telling the interviewer just what they can do and the qualities they would bring to the job.

An individual who felt that he or she had been discriminated against on the basis of a disability, such as dyslexia, could consider taking a case to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (www.ihrec.ie).  The IHREC can be contacted for informal information and advice on any matter relating to equality, human rights and discrimination. They have excellent information available on Employment Rights and on Equal Status Rights.

 

AHEAD, the Association for Higher Education and Disability, have produced a very good booklet on disclosure to help people to make the best decision and consider all the pros and cons. The booklet is available on their website www.ahead.ie. They also have lots of other resources to help in college/further education, and at work.

Tips For Managing Tasks at Work

Reading

Reading for work, or study is different than reading for pleasure.  It is important to get the facts right, to remember the relevant information and understand what the writer is saying.  It is important to get comfortable – have the right light and a quiet place.  Have pencils and highlighters to hand.

A useful method for reading is to use the Scan, Question, Read, Remember, Review, otherwise known as the SQ3R method.  This method was first developed by Francis Robinson in the 1960s, and has been used for many years. Below are some tips on how to do this:

  • Scan – look through the text quickly for key words, diagrams or graphs.  Important information is often highlighted in a text box or in bold or italics.
  • Question – ask yourself what information you hope to get from your reading.
  • Read – read the text fully.
  • Remember – write down the main points.
  • Review – read again to check if you have remembered correctly.

The section Technology provides information on useful technological aids for reading.

Writing

Next to reading aloud, writing is probably the activity most disliked by adults with dyslexia.  Obviously, different types of writing tasks will need different levels of skill, but many can be handled with a bit of thought and creativity from the worker and flexibility on the part of management.  Many letters, memos, invoices, bills, appointments, orders and acknowledgements can be dealt with by creating a template or form letter.  Try, wherever possible, to have relevant words and phrases stored on your computer or written in your personal notebook, so that you can include them in correspondence.  If there are words which you have trouble spelling and which you need in your work, then these can be added to your personal list.

Make a PLAN.  Decide what you want to say, identify the main points.

Set deadlines for yourself.

Make time for reading and research; writing; revision; printing and time for unforeseen events such as computer or printer breakdown.  Write your plan down on a time sheet and stick to it.

Organise your thoughts.  Workplace reports usually have a recognised format: Introduction; Discussion; Presentation of facts; Conclusion; Recommendations; and References.

When you break a job down into separate parts it becomes easier.  You can take one bit at a time.  Start with even one sentence for each idea.  You can expand on it later.  Don’t worry about spelling or grammar at this stage.  That can be checked later using the spelling and grammar check on your computer.  If a particular section is hard to write, try talking it out – to a friend or record your thoughts on your phone or computer.  Check carefully from time to time that you are sticking to the topic and not going off into other issues.

See our Technology section for information on useful technology and software to help with writing and editing.

Memory

It is often said that with dyslexia it is not so much that people learn slowly but that they forget quickly.  It is true that people with dyslexia often struggle to remember names, dates, and facts.  Stress and anxiety can make this difficulty worse.

Memory is very complex and we have different memory ability for different stimuli.  Some people with dyslexia have poor working memory so they will remember information better if it is presented with colour, diagrams and visual images.  Other people may find it easier to remember what they hear rather than what they see.  People who are more kinaesthetic or active learners will remember better by practicing and doing an activity, rather than just reading about it or watching it.

The following tips may be helpful for learning and remembering information:

  • Choose the right time of day when you know your memory is at its best.
  • Choose the right place – comfortable and free from distractions.
  • Store information in small chunks, it is easier to remember than in large units, e.g. break a phone number into sections rather than trying to learn it whole.
  • Use mnemonics, a rhyme or phrase which helps you remember something. For example, remembering the verse “30 days hath November, April, June and September” could help you avoid the embarrassment of making appointments for April 31st.  Make up your own rhymes or phrases.
  • It is very hard to remember things which you don’t understand so it’s worth taking some time to make sure you are fully familiar with what you want to memorise.
  • It is easier to remember things which are unusual, so focus on any odd or interesting features.
  • Attach colours or pictures to information if that works for you. You could highlight facts or key words in different colours and then visualise the page with the different colours.
  • Draw a concept/mind map or diagram showing the key ideas; you may find that you can visualise the map and retrieve the information more easily.
  • Most importantly revise the information you want to remember. If you don’t, you may forget most of it within a few days.
  • People with dyslexia are often very creative in working out strategies which work for them.  Mobile phones can be useful to adults with dyslexia, as names, addresses, phone numbers and other brief details can be kept to hand.  Calculators and other applications on mobiles are also very convenient.

Organisation and Time Management

Here are some strategies for getting organised:

  • Make a list.
  • Better still, make a couple of lists.
  • Write down everything you need to do today for work.
  • Write down everything you need to do today for yourself.
  • You could divide your daily diary into two columns, one for work and one for personal items.
  • Put a red mark beside all the really urgent items, e.g. if you have to go to a meeting, or take your child to the dentist then it has to be done today. This is urgent.
  • Make sure you know what is urgent for you and what is important.
  • Do not spend time deleting old files on your computer when a report is required for tomorrow’s meeting. That may be important but it is not urgent.
  • Review your “To Do” list twice a day – at lunchtime and before going home.
  • Update your list when a new task arises, otherwise you may forget it.
  • Enjoy crossing off the tasks you completed at the end of the day.
  • At the end of the day start your new list for tomorrow with the tasks you didn’t do today.
  • Keep a diary with all your appointments. Don’t have two diaries with some appointments in each. It is not easy to concentrate on a demanding job at work if you have an uneasy feeling that it’s your turn to collect your child from school but you are not sure.
  • Get into the habit of checking your diary every morning, and again at lunch time. It is surprising how many people with dyslexia forget about appointments.
  • Put a year planner on your wall in a prominent place.
  • Mark in holidays, birthdays and important dates such as meetings, deadlines for projects etc. on it and look at it often.
  • Use post-it notes if you find them helpful but try to reserve them for reminding yourself of unusual or very urgent things. A forest of post-it notes on your desk or wall can be confusing rather than helpful.
  • Try to keep your files and paper under control.
  • Try to get by with three paper trays on your desk, one labeled “Do Today”, one labeled “Do Soon” and one labeled “Filing”.
  • Be ruthless about disposing of unwanted paper – either file it or bin it.
  • The filing tray should be emptied every Friday.
  • It is worth remembering that sometimes when you feel overwhelmed with work it is because you are overwhelmed. People with dyslexia often feel that any difficulty they encounter is their fault and that others would cope better.  If you find yourself in this situation do talk to a colleague or friend and approach your manager or employer about possibly adjusting your workload.