Is dyslexia a disability?

Is dyslexia a disability?
Read and Spell Blog
Is dyslexia a disability?

In the UK, the definition of disability is covered under the Equality Act of 2010 and hinges on how “substantial” the effect of the disability is deemed to be. It includes provisions for people with dyslexia who implement coping strategies but also considers workplace contexts and situations in which said strategies cannot be used.

In the US, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) discusses how a disability affects the individual, specifically if it interferes with their “life activities.” Dyslexia is currently evaluated on a case-by-case basis and most dyslexic individuals are considered to have some impairment in learning, reading and/or writing.

In 2008, the ADA was amended by the US Congress to update the definition of disability after it had been narrowed by a number of Supreme Court hearings. The new act specified that the definition “shall be broadly construed and applied without extensive analysis.”

In 2016, an additional rule went into effect that included detailed guidance for employers and educational institutions on providing accommodations to people who have a disability. It stipulated that people with a disability do not have to undergo repeat testing to prove their dyslexia to new employers and schools, while also increasing the number and kinds of tests that can be used to establish a diagnosis.

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that affects literacy skills. No two individuals will be affected by dyslexia in the same way. Some dyslexic people struggle with reading and writing, while others experience difficulties manipulating numbers. They may also have trouble with planning skills, organization, and concentration. In certain cases, dyslexia can co-occur with dyspraxia, ADHD and dysgraphia.
Studies have shown that dyslexia is frequently hereditary and estimates suggest that 1 in every 10 people is dyslexic, with 40% experiencing a severe form. Regardless of the severity of symptoms, with an early diagnosis, the right strategy training and appropriate accommodations, every dyslexic student can achieve their full potential in the classroom. 
It’s also important to remember that dyslexia is not related to intelligence and many dyslexic individuals go on to lead highly successful careers. In fact, 50% of NASA employees identify as dyslexic. It is even reported that individuals who receive an early diagnosis say they would not change their dyslexia if given the choice because they see it as a source of creativity, problem solving skills and determination.

Learn more about the strengths associated with dyslexia.


Working with dyslexia

Disability or difficulty? 

The language used to discuss dyslexia can affect how a person views his or her own dyslexia, as well as the reaction of classmates, coworkers, teachers and employers. For example, branding dyslexia a disability implies it is a negative condition which limits or handicaps an individual.

Dyslexia is simply an alternative way in which the brain processes language, which often results in difficulties with decoding in reading and sound-letter mapping in spelling. That’s why many people prefer the term learning difference or specific learning difference as it suggests dyslexia poses a literacy challenge that can be overcome vs. a lifelong impairment.

Working with dyslexia

UK law discusses accommodations that should be made by employers so disabled employees are not at a disadvantage, citing they must be “reasonable.” It also defines workplace discrimination as not providing opportunities for training, limiting upward mobility, not hiring a qualified candidate in the first place or unfairly terminating an employee because of a disability.
US legislation protects against discrimination in hiring and requires employers to consider all job applicants equally. However, there are a few caveats, namely that you must be qualified for the position and be able to perform the basic duties of your job with or without access to accommodations.

If accommodations are recommended in order to improve job performance, they must be paid for by the employer with the understanding that associated costs are within reason and do not cause the employer to incur any severe economic hardship.

Both in the US and in the UK it is not required that employees report dyslexia on their CV and in some cases in which dyslexia symptoms are quite mild, an employer may not even be aware of the disability. The British Dyslexia Association’s 2014 Handbook reports that disclosure rates for dyslexia in UK workplaces are quite poor and that private employers rarely pay for a diagnostic assessment.

Getting a diagnosis and getting treatment

It’s important to identify dyslexia as early as possible to prevent a person from experiencing low-self esteem or suffering a lack of confidence due to perceived educational or occupational failure. There is no one size fits all solution for dyslexia treatment and tests are diagnostic to measure performance in literacy and numeracy tasks, and language, memory, visual and cognitive processing skills. 
When dyslexia is present, individuals need access to a comprehensive support system that provides them with strategy-based solutions to overcome the unique challenges they will face in reading and writing, accommodations that make it easier to perform day-to-day tasks and plenty of encouragement.

Because dyslexic individuals often need to work harder than their peers to achieve the same results, it’s extremely important to help them stay motivated, even if this means allowing individuals to switch off from time to time or take frequent breaks from a task. Another approach to motivation is recognizing successful people, including celebrities, who have not let their dyslexia hold them back. 

Accommodations in the workplace

Making small changes to the way you work can increase your efficiency and enhance your productivity. It can also reduce anxiety and frustration at the office, which in turn improves working relationships and makes the workplace a more enjoyable environment.
Accommodations don’t have to be costly. In some instances creating a dyslexia-friendly office can benefit all employees, not just those with a disability. It also helps to promote a culture of tolerance and acceptance and put employees who struggle with a learning disability on more equal footing with their co-workers. 
Try this list of tips for starters:

Make use of voicemail.

While email is the preferred mode of inter-office communication these days, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and make a call. Reading can be especially taxing for dyslexic employees at the end of a busy workday, so leave a voicemail to ensure your message is both received and fully processed. 

Utilize recording devices.

For employees who like to take notes during meetings, use a smartphone or handheld recording device instead of trying to write everything down. This saves you the cognitive strain of recording what’s been said and allows you to pay more attention to new information. Playing back recordings at the end of the day is also a great way to strengthen your memory.

Look into dyslexia-friendly fonts.

Having a language-based disability can sometimes entail visual processing difficulties, which make it more difficult to identify letters that are built out of the same core shapes. However, printing signs and memos using a dyslexia-friendly font can ensure inter-office communication is easier to read. If you don’t like the typeface of Open-Dyslexic, you might opt for Arial or any other sans-serif font. Learn more about fonts.

Encourage staff with a disability to customize their screen display.

Many people with dyslexia are not aware of the benefits of increasing the contrast between background colors and text. It can make it much easier to read emails and is also important for individuals who struggle with visual impairments. Black on white printing can be especially problematic. Try using an off-white tint on your default screen page instead.

Provide information in multiple modalities.

When providing new tasks or specifying the details of a job, repeat instructions verbally and provide a written record. This is good practice regardless of if you are working with employees who have a disability or not. When giving directions, incorporate hand signals to differentiate between left and right.   

Accommodations in the workplace for individuals with dyslexia

Use a computer for writing tasks.

Word processors open up access to spell-check and auto formatting which can be of great assistance for anyone with a learning disability like dyslexia. Computers also allow you to use a keyboard to type instead of writing things out by hand.

Master the art of touch-typing.

Learning how to type can lead to an improvement in spelling skills and writing fluency for individuals with dyslexia as it automatizes letter formation and uses muscle memory in the fingers to log a word’s written form. Learn more about touch-typing for dyslexics.

Grant access to language programs.

If an employee struggles with a language-based disability, there are plenty of self-study programs that can help strengthen language skills. It is even possible to find bespoke courses that reinforce vocabulary in a particular field.

For more tips, have a look at this article on navigating dyslexia in the workplace.

Touch-typing and dyslexia

It is estimated that 75% of individuals who receive a dyslexia diagnosis have some form of phonological dyslexia which interrupts their ability to split words into their component sounds. This makes it hard to spell and also interrupts decoding in reading.

Touch-type Read and Spell has developed a program which uses a phonics-based multi-sensory approach to help people with a language disability improve their spelling, sight-reading and decoding skills while they learn how to touch-type.

Learn more

Learning how to type makes you faster and more efficient at work and may even boost confidence and self-esteem.

Alexis, Adult learner with mild dyslexia

Read full testimonial

For adult learners

TTRS is a program designed to get adults with learning difficulties touch-typing, with additional support for reading and spelling.

About the Author 

Meredith Cicerchia

Meredith Cicerchia is a freelance writer who covers topics ranging from speech and language difficulties and specific learning differences, to strategies for teaching English as a second and additional language. She is also an education consultant, an applied linguistics researcher and a former teaching affiliate at the University of Nottingham.
Reviewed by 

Chris Freeman

Chris Freeman has a BA cum laude in Sociology, and has undertaken post grad work in education and educational technology. She spent 20+ years working in public health and in the charity sector.

TTRS has a solution for you

An award-winning, multi-sensory course that teaches typing, reading and spelling

Learn more

How does TTRS work?

Developed in line with language and education research

Teaches typing using a multi-sensory approach

The course is modular in design and easy to navigate

Includes school and personal interest subjects

Positive feedback and positive reinforcement

Reporting features help you monitor usage and progress