REVIEWED BY NUMBERDYSLEXIA’S EXPERT PANEL ON NOVEMBER 02, 2022
A learning disability (LD) is a neurologically originated deficit that significantly impacts areas of learning, functionality, cognition, and even other life aspects. Living with a learning disability is not easy in any facet of life and areas like education and line of work are especially struggling. LDs affect how a person learns, understands, communicates, and remembers information.
Due to these deficits, individuals face many challenges in finding an appropriate job as well as living with it every day. Although the government and many organizations recognize these struggles and have attempted to provide accommodations and support for the same, persons with LDs do well if the right strategies and efforts are in place.
What is it like for adults with LDs in workplaces?
Learning disabilities often affect important aspects of a workplace like acquiring, organizing, retaining, understanding or using verbal or non-verbal information. This also includes areas related to language and speech, reading, writing, or mathematics.
Workplaces that have an inclusive environment and approach and finding a job that aligns with the strength of learners and their abilities can be hard to look for. Many jobs often for long working hours and demand various deliverables. For those with difficulties in learning it can be a struggle to find work that they can build on their qualities and areas of expertise.
Adults with learning disabilities face many challenges due to limitations in functioning. There are many aspects of communication involved in the workplace where learners struggle such as processing information in meetings, emails, and documents, etc. Similar experiences were stated by Isabel Shessel, in a research. The study examined the life experiences of 14 adults who had an LD. Based on the assessments, the study explored both, the positive and the negative impacts of living with LDs as an adult. The study concluded that the negative aspects of having an LD as an adult were – a challenging daily life, social isolation, and harm to emotional health, apart from other physical factors like a few barriers on the job.
Attitudes and stereotyping in the working environment by employers and co-workers can affect adults with LDs and their confidence significantly. Judgments and assumptions about persons with disability can prevent them from getting hired and even having a positive experience in the workplace. These attitudes can lead to prejudice, stigma, and discrimination. Employees can be categorized based on these and be deprived of certain assignments and projects which may actually help them grow and use their skills.
Difficulty adapting to new limitations can also become troublesome for employees. This may be in effect by needing time to learn how to use some kind of assistive technology, such as speech-to-text or dictation devices. Limitations may also occur in the standard and set systems of the organization that follow a particular way of working, the software that is used throughout the organization that sustains the same paradigms and guidelines across all levels.
Laws and Accommodations
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) makes it unlawful to discriminate in employment against a qualified individual with a disability. It also outlaws discrimination against a qualified individual with a disability in State and local government services, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications. Under the ADA, all employers, including State and local government employers, with 15 or more employees, are required to make reasonable accommodations based on the specific needs of individuals with learning disabilities.
Reasonable accommodations refer to the changes in the workplace that enable people with disabilities to effectively perform the tasks associated with their job such as in the case of difficulties in reading, writing, remembering, and other functionalities. Accommodations provided can be in the form of modifications to how information is presented or the provision of certain devices and support that make the tasks assigned easier. These accommodations may look like some that are mentioned below.
- Getting voice output on the computer
- Getting oral instructions instead of written ones
- Use of various means of work communication such as messengers which provide options of voice messages instead of emails.
- Obtaining taped versions of documents
- Provision of a visual explanation of information and data such as drawings, diagrams, and flowcharts.
- Provision of assistive technologies such as grammar applications and other software that help keep in check spelling mistakes.
- Flexible work hours for the completion of tasks
- Elimination of obligatory tests
At the same time, many have concerns about whether a person with LD can be fired from their workplace. There are many laws that protect employees from getting fired because of their learning disability. The ADA law, discussed above, is one of the laws that protect employers from being terminated. At the same time, this law also protects individuals from getting rejected on the mere basis of having an LD.
Another law that acts in the favour of these individuals is The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This law too allows qualified employees to take time from work to take care of the family for medical reasons. Hence, the simple answer to whether an adult with a learning disability can be fired from their workplace for having the learning compromise is NO.
How to make it better- Tips and strategies
1. Building on their strengths and character
For adults with LDs in workplaces and their underlying difficulties and challenges, being aware of their strengths and weaknesses is crucial. Coming into a workspace after knowing what they’re good at and what may be a shortcoming can help them invest in those tasks in which they can do fairly well. This way, developing and growing strengths and focusing on the positives helps take the idea of stigma out of the conversation. Building character and identifying their own virtues lead to fulfillment, feeling engaged, and finding meaning which would further help them contribute effectively at work.
2. Assistive technology and services
Adults facing difficulties in phonological processing, hearing, reading, and writing should actively take help from assistive technologies like software and devices like laptops that make it easier for them to carry out tasks assigned to them. Other devices such as voice-to-text, hearing aids, and calculators can be incorporated into the workplace to help minimize the challenges affected employees face in the workplace.
3. Ongoing training and support
Regular training instead of just the training provided before beginning the job can be a game changer. It can help employees in staying familiarized and revise the workings of the job which especially helps persons with learning difficulties, as these individuals can often find it challenging to process and retain information. Ongoing training will also help build confidence and support from coworkers and facilitators and will help alleviate mental stress.
4. Reaching Out
With the evolving world that we live in today, we are required to brush up our skills every now and then and cope with its swiftly changing dynamics. In this case, it can be difficult for persons with LDs to cope with new challenges and trouble they face adapting to their environment and deliverables due to which they may not be able to carry out the same tasks that they used to. Seeking help and accommodations for the same increases comfort and productivity. For instance, one might need a better-adapted dictation device because the current one does not catch words accurately. Advocating for one’s own needs will lead to finding themselves in a better position to work.
Developmental learning disabilities affect the lives of affected learners in majorly all aspects and transitioning to workplaces from educational environments can be particularly hard due to the lack of support from guardian-like figures such as special and general educators. Even though adults develop quite a few coping mechanisms throughout the years of living with LDs, they face different challenges in workplaces as there is an added pressure of delivering work which is required for an organization to function. Government laws do protect employees and ensure their necessary needs are met, and many organizations also offer accommodations to employees.
- Shessel, I., & Reiff, H. B. (1999). Experiences of Adults with Learning Disabilities: Positive and Negative Impacts and Outcomes. Learning Disability Quarterly, 22(4), 305–316. https://doi.org/10.2307/1511264
- Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410–421. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066x.60.5.410