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Recognising and supporting colleagues with dyslexia

10% of the UK’s population are believed to be dyslexic,1 so it’s likely that all but the smallest businesses will employ some dyslexic colleagues.

The Equality Act 2010 states that dyslexia is a ‘recognised difficulty’.2 This means that employers must ensure those with the condition are not treated unfavourably and are offered reasonable adjustments or support.

So how can you recognise colleagues with dyslexia and what can you do to support them, while at the same time creating a culture that encourages disclosing dyslexia?

Yvonne Roberts, Vocational Rehabilitation Consultant at Unum adds: 

“Encouraging employees to disclose if they are dyslexic and reassuring them that you will support them is a positive approach to take. There are many organisations that provide support once dyslexia is identified, and this can often be funded through Access to Work.”

What is dyslexia?

The NHS defines dyslexia as ‘a learning difficulty that can cause problems with reading, writing and spelling’.3 It’s important to note that it is a ‘specific learning difficulty’, meaning that while it causes problems with certain abilities, intelligence is not affected.

What are the signs?

Dyslexia affects different people in different ways. Here are some of the common characteristics:

  • Spelling that is unpredictable and inconsistent
  • Putting letters and figures the wrong way round – such as writing "6" instead of "9", or "b" instead of "d"
  • Confusing the order of letters in words
  • Reading slowly or making errors when reading aloud
  • Answering questions well orally, but having difficulty writing down the answer
  • Slow writing speed
  • Poor handwriting
  • Difficulty planning and writing emails or reports
  • Trying to avoid reading and writing whenever possible
  • Difficulty taking notes or copying

Associated signs

People with dyslexia may also experience associated problems not directly related to reading and writing:

  • Difficulties with numbers (dyscalculia)
  • Poor short-term memory and struggling to remember things such as a PIN or telephone number
  • Problems concentrating and a short attention span
  • Poor organisation and time-management
  • Difficulty carrying out a sequence of directions
  • Physical coordination problems

Other aspects of dyslexia

While there may be a tendency to think of dyslexia as presenting a challenge, there are frequently aspects of the condition that can be of real value to a business.

Dyslexia can also be characterised by combinations of strengths such as creativity, problem-solving, the ability to recognise patterns in information and the ability to think ‘outside the box’. People with dyslexia can also demonstrate high levels of empathy and warmth.

Supporting staff

Dyslexia isn’t a one-size-fits-all condition. Support for staff with dyslexia should be assessed on a case-by-case basis, following a formal dyslexia assessment (see below). 

Once the nature of the individual condition is understood, steps can be taken to help the employee maximise their potential. These may involve:

  • Finding alternatives to written communications
  • Printing on coloured paper or using computer screens with coloured backgrounds to aid reading and comprehension
  • Giving clear and concise instructions then checking for understanding
  • Following up with written instructions
  • Creating a working environment without distractions or giving access to quiet areas to allow concentration
  • Consideration of the benefits of working from home in a quiet and stress-free environment
  • Using suitable technology such as project management tools, online calendars and organisers, digital recorders and voice recognition software
  • Build planning time into each day to help the employee manage their time and feel in control of their workload4

Enabling managers

A key element of any organisation’s dyslexia policy is suitable training and support for managers. It is only when senior staff are aware of the issues around dyslexia that they can start to identify it, understand their responsibilities, seek input from HR or other departments and move on to assessment and practical support.

Dyslexia Vocational Evaluations

A workplace dyslexia assessment can establish whether an employee is dyslexic and identify areas of learning difficulty. This then allows for measures to be put in place to help the colleague.

Assessments may also be necessary to help clarify issues around performance management and absence from work.

Such assessments are normally carried out at work. They involve a range of tests as well as conversation with trained assessors. A report is then written explaining the nature of any disability and making suggestions on how the employee could be best supported.

Unum’s Group Income Protection customers have access to Dyslexia Vocational Evaluations through the Vocational Rehabilitation service, helping you to understand your employee’s needs and offer support.

The team of Vocational Rehabilitation Consultants (VRCs) can help with many aspects of absence management and advice on supporting employees.

Learn more here or email:


Unum is not responsible for any third-party content.

British Dyslexia Association
The Dyslexia Association
British Dyslexia Association: Reasonable adjustments

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