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Coping with Learning Disabilities in the Workplace

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Being successful at an accounting firm isn't just about knowing how to help clients with tax planning and retirement, and professionals with learning disabilities have an extra challenge: They need to find ways to cope. Kaitlyn Kirkhart of BaCo Tech discusses the tools she uses to ensure her dyslexia doesn't get in the way of success in the workplace.

Jul 1st 2021
CCO BaCo Tech
Columnist
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Ten to 15 percent of the population is dyslexic, and four percent has ADHD.  Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso and Steven Spielberg all have lived with these disabilities, so there’s no question that people can have a learning disability but still be highly intelligent and successful individuals.

As someone who was diagnosed with dyslexia in third grade, I understand the stigma associated with having a learning disability. One thing to note is there are different kinds of dyslexia. But while dyslexia is a learning disability, people who have it are still capable of doing things like decoding data; we just do it a little differently. 

Going Into the Workforce

Transitioning from school to work was intimidating because in school, I always had someone to go to if I needed extra help. Without this resource, I felt lost and disconnected, and I couldn’t understand everything going on around me at work. Most people diagnosed with a learning disability have a lot of resources at school to help them cope. But in the workplace, there are scant resources to help you with the transition. However, if you struggle with a learning disability, I have a few suggestions for making your career more sustainable, happier and more successful.

1. Grammarly

When our CEO, Ford Baker, noticed some grammatical errors in some of my emails, he suggested I try out Grammarly, a cloud-based writing assistant. He was very gentle with his suggestion, and I was grateful he wanted to help me. Paying for a subscription to Grammarly changed everything. My emails became more concise and organized, and my tone became more professional. Grammarly is probably the most important tool I’ve added to my day-to-day work life. It saves me time and energy when writing emails, social content and articles, and most importantly, it makes me appear more professional. With Grammarly, even though I’m dyslexic, I’m still able to be a high-level communicator without any grammatical or spelling errors.

2. “Read Aloud” in Microsoft Word

As a dyslexic, I sometimes read emails out of order or get distracted by the words in front of me. Lengthy emails in particular are overwhelming, and I am sometimes paralyzed just from looking at them. But Microsoft’s “read aloud” feature allows the software to read the text to me, just like when I was a kid in tutoring. This helps me to not only understand what I’m reading, but also to retain the information, thereby allowing me to quickly respond with a concise answer. To have your emails read out loud in Outlook, click the “Home” tab and then select “Read Aloud."  It makes reading lengthy documents or emails so much easier.

3. Colored Highlighting

A common issue with dyslexia is having trouble reading black font on a white background. In school, instructors often give students with dyslexia blue- or red-tinted plastic film that they can put over white papers with black font. The change in color can help to improve their reading comprehension. At work, I highlight the lines in emails so I’m not looking at black font on a white background. Sometimes I do this for each line, and other times I do it for each paragraph. This strategy makes the text stand out, making the words easier to read and comprehend.

4. Downloading Certain Fonts

OpenDyslexic is a font that helps some dyslexics read more confidently. This font uses thicker lines in parts of certain letters. While using this font is not an effective strategy for all dyslexics, a friend of mine who’s dyslexic and a successful engineer uses only this font at work. He says it helps him to read his emails more quickly, giving him more time to work on projects.

5. Using the Dictate Functionality

I’m a content writer, and while I'm able to quickly come up with new content, I get easily distracted by the syntax or spelling in my content. Some tools that help me are the dictate feature in Microsoft and Otter. Dictate in Microsoft lets you use speech-to-text to write content. Similarly, Otter turns text into notes that can be easily searched. It has been a game-changer for me. It’s even how I wrote this blog! I tend to come up with ideas for content when I'm away from my desk, such as while I'm driving, walking my dog or just doing chores around my house, so being able to record my ideas on the fly and have them written out for me is a dream! I'm able to create richer content in half the time, and I can do it from anywhere.

6. Opening Up

As a new employee, I was nervous to inform my employer of my learning disability because of the stigma it can carry, especially in the workplace. I was worried my employer would think I was unable to perform as well as my colleagues. I was afraid to make a mistake in front of my CEO, especially one caused by my dyslexia. However, my employer was very empathetic, which made me feel comfortable talking openly about my dyslexia. My employer understands now why I sometimes struggle when reading an email out loud or trying to spell certain words. This showed me that one of the best ways of coping with your learning disability in the workplace is to confide in your coworkers and supervisors. Let them know that your disability does not define you, but that it does sometimes cause mistakes.

Supporting coworkers who have learning disabilities will foster a more successful work environment. If you have a learning disability, think of it as an opportunity to explore resources and see things from a different perspective. See if the resources mentioned above make a difference in your workflow. If you know someone in your workplace who has a learning disability, find out how you can support them in their work. A person with a learning disability can produce quality work and be a clear, effective communicator.

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