Dyslexia in the workplace: Spotting the invisible disability
Being different is what makes life interesting, but sometimes, when the differences are not recognised, lack of understanding from employers or colleagues can cause problems. So it is for large numbers of working people who are dyslexic. Previous editions having sold out, the TUC has just published a third edition of its advice for trade union representatives on supporting dyslexic members.
Dyslexia affects between four and ten percent of the population, with nearly half seriously affected. That’s nearly three million workers. In the great majority of cases, adjustments can be made to workplaces and working practices that remove any difficulties and harness the abilities of the dyslexic worker – but only if the condition is recognised, the needs analysed, and appropriate adjustments made.
The first obstacle to overcome is the same as the issue confronting workers with other hidden disabilities: recognising that there is an issue is the precondition to tackling it. The second obstacle is harder: asking the employer to make adjustments requires the worker to disclose that they may be dyslexic – or have a mental health issue, or have autism, or have been diagnosed with cancer … or another of many conditions that are not visible. In these examples, the law (the Equality Act 2010) makes it illegal for an employer to treat this worker less favourably than anyone else (this would be discrimination), and also illegal to fail to make “reasonable adjustments”.
But invoking the law means the chance of sorting out a practical solution agreeable to all parties may have gone. Far better than a costly tribunal claim that union representatives should learn how to ask the right questions when (for example) someone is challenged by managers for making mistakes in their work, or starts behaving differently. Being alert to the possibility that the cause is an underlying condition – like dyslexia – switches the focus from the mistakes to finding out what may have changed, and provoked the issue. Instead of a disciplinary meeting about competence or capability, have a discussion about getting an assessment done, to find out if (in this example) the worker has dyslexia, and what changes can be made in working practice to remove the problem rather than remove the worker.
Union reps in almost every workplace will have members who are dyslexic, and members with other invisible conditions. Reps can never be experts in them all: but being aware of them is the starting point for a process that might involve experts that the employer can bring in, if they are to meet their obligations under the Equality Act, and that can lead to a solution being identified. However, because the dyslexic worker may not themselves be aware of the condition, it may fall to the representative to raise the question first. To do that requires knowing at least the basics, and this is where guidance such as the TUC’s can save a host of future problems.
Reps can read the new guidance on the TUC site, or order a printed copy from the TUC or via your union.