Dyslexia is a neurodevelopmental condition which mainly affects the development of literacy and language related skills. It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, but the scope and degree of challenges will likely range significantly between each person.
Dyslexia is often regarded simply as a difficulty with reading and writing, but in fact these literacy difficulties are the adverse surface features of the cognitive differences in the areas of short-term memory, speed of information processing and ‘phonology’ – the way a person can manipulate the segments of language.
Employers have a vital role to play, particularly as the Equality Act 2010 makes it a legal requirement for employers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for people with disabilities. The legal framework provides protection for those with dyslexia and related neurodevelopmental conditions.
It is vital that recruitment processes become more inclusive for dyslexic professionals and that line managers, HR professionals and senior management teams work together to achieve this.
Dyslexia Awareness & Advocacy
It is understandable that not everyone can be an ‘expert,’ but HR teams should:
· Become informed about dyslexia and its effects, both practical and emotional
· Become informed about the related syndromes of dyspraxia, attention deficit disorders (ADHD), and visual stress
· Provide mandatory training for all staff about neurodiversity in the workplace
· Have a neurodiversity representative, employee or consultant available to the HR and OH departments, to help assess current practices and advise on meaningful changes
· Make it known that your organisation has neurodiversity policies and training in place, and give assurances of a supportive and inclusive workplace, making your company a more attractive employer
A job advertisement is essential for any organisation trying to recruit. Try not to put applicants off by asking for skills and experience that aren’t required or relevant for the role.
A person with dyslexia, for example, may be put off roles that state ‘excellent attention to detail’ or ‘flawless written communication’ that many roles advertise. There will be certain roles that require this, but not all, and so it is important to prioritise clearly the skills required. It should be noted that with the right supportive assistive technology, dyslexic individuals can produce excellent written communication.
Businesses should clearly state that they encourage applications from all candidates with the right experience and qualifications. They should also encourage individuals to request reasonable adjustments that will help them to perform to the best of their abilities and make them feel more comfortable.
It should always come down to how well the applicant can do the job. Any accidental, unconscious bias or miscommunication will only limit the talent pool, which could include the most promising candidates. This all starts with the job advertisement.
Making reasonable adjustments during an interview could be essential to allow dyslexic candidates to portray their skills and competencies to their full potential.
Generally, if an adjustment is possible in the job itself, then prospective employers should allow that adjustment in an assessment/recruitment process.
Dyslexic candidates may find certain parts more challenging, such as:
· Verbalisation, fluency of speech, and word recall – particularly in the heat of the moment and with ‘on the spot’ questioning
· Memory recollection – they could get in a muddle with recalling events and dates
· Auditory memory (e.g. listening to a new task) – individuals could have slower information processing speeds – consider this when stating an interview task, especially one required for group work
Some candidates will be aware that they require consideration at interview. Others will be less aware that their difficulties are likely to cause underperformance or not even know that they have dyslexic difficulties. It is best to implement best practice either way.
Before the interview
Some useful examples of accommodations that you might want to consider:
· Provide a list of interview questions in advance of the interview
· Notify interviewees that notes are allowed to be brought into the interview as prompts (allow time for the interviewee to look at them during the interview)
· Send over, in writing, any case studies or scenarios that will be used in the interview
· Offer candidates the chance to fill in a brief questionnaire asking:
· If the interviewer should avoid asking about specific dates or times that may be hard to recall, and if instead, they should put questions in context with references
· If the interviewer should avoid asking long or multiple questions, and instead keep to shorter, singular questions
· Instead of non-specific questions if the interviewer’s questions should be more direct and focussed. For example, instead of ‘Can you expand on that?’, they could ask ‘What was your role in the project?’
· If the interviewer should use full titles and names, avoiding acronyms and initials
· If a candidate has problems with visual or auditory distractions, consider ensuring the interview room is free of background noise and movement to allow for better concentration
During the interview
Literal questions and specific examples:
· Avoid general questions. E.g. ‘can you tell me a bit about yourself?’ or ‘where do you see yourself in five years’ time?’
· Avoid hypothetical ‘what would you do if?’ questions. Instead, ask the candidate to give specific examples of relevant situations they have experienced in the past
· Ask candidates if they would like to make notes before providing an in-depth response
The adjustments suggested above do not give an advantage to candidates; they remove the barriers that may prevent some candidates from demonstrating their suitability for the job.
It is hard for individuals to succeed in isolation, and the most successful outcomes are where the employer and the organisation are working together, and the workplace culture is a supportive and inclusive one.
Employers operating in a competitive commercial world may feel it is not easy to create dyslexia-friendly work environments, but it can be done. Many adjustments are relatively easy to introduce and are not expensive.
Katherine Kindersley is a Neurodiversity Consultant at DMA Talent. She is also the director of Dyslexia Assessment & Consultancy (DAC), an organisation which has long specialised in working with adults in employment. DAC works with private and public companies, government organisations, as well as individuals, providing assessment, training, and advice on reasonable adjustments. Katherine and her team run regular training courses for dyslexia professionals on employment consultancy work and for managers on dyslexia awareness.