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Why an awareness of learning disabilities is vital in ensuring both the workplace and education system evolve effectively

I was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 17. At the time it was not much of a surprise. I had a history of working hard in the classroom but struggling with exams, much to my teacher’s frustration. Even so, it was difficult acknowledging there was something inherently different about me, and I felt aggrieved that I would have to work harder than my peers just to keep up.

Despite this initial reaction, understanding the reason for my struggle proved to be the first step towards a happier, healthier and smarter education. It has also led to my developing interest in how schools and workplaces attempt to diagnose and assist those with learning disabilities.

Why is this important?

Dyslexia affects an estimated 5-10% of the population(1), and results in a difference in a person’s ability to learn and process information. People with dyslexia can have difficulty with reading, maths, spelling and writing, but they excel at reasoning, connecting, exploring, communicating, imagining and visualising. These traits are all attributed to the World Economic Forum’s future work-related skills framework(2). Which highlights how demand for the skills associated with dyslexia is expected to increase. It is therefore important that these traits are recognised and nurtured by schools and businesses.

What is being done?

Support and recognition of dyslexia varies in the current school system(3). Although some schools are very good at recognising and diagnosing dyslexia, a 2016 National Education Union survey reported that 83% of children with special educational needs were not getting enough support(4).

In the workplace, recognition of dyslexia as a legitimate reason for additional help can be limited. This is partly due to a lack of basic knowledge on the subject, as well as a number of common misconceptions. This can lead to dyslexic people being labelled as “lazy and stupid” or passed over for tasks and responsibilities in favour of non-dyslexic peers.

What can we do?

Whilst I do not believe dyslexic people are being discriminated against by the majority. I do believe a lack of knowledge on the subject has led most individuals with dyslexia to be let down by their respective schools/employers at one point or another. Ways to address this might include the sharing of reading material, such as a link to the Made By Dyslexia website, with staff. It may also include extra time and use of a computer in exams. Personally I would have seriously struggled at university and throughout my ICAEW accounting exams should this support not have been available.

In conclusion, an awareness of learning disabilities is vital in ensuring both the workplace and education system evolve effectively. It is only through a conscious effort by employers and schools, to learn who their pupils/employees are and how they think, that they will be able to better utilise a tenth of their students/workforce. It is this re-imagining of the status quo that will improve our approach to the education and utilisation of people with learning disabilities.

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