Coping with Learning Disabilities in the Workplaceby
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.
Ten to 15 percent of the population is dyslexic and 4 percent has ADHD, which is a large segment of people. 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've come to find when someone says they have a learning disability, it often has a negative connotation to it. One thing to note is there are different kinds of dyslexia. I have phonological and auditory dyslexia, so I don’t see words backwards like most people think of when they hear of this disability.
Dyslexia is, by definition, “is a general term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols, but that do not affect general intelligence.” The definition is clear in that dyslexia is literally a learning disability; however, I’ve come to find, it’s more of a capability than the disability compared to what most people might think. Like those without it, dyslexics minds decode data, but we decode them a little bit differently than others.
Going Into the Workforce
Transitioning from school to work was intimidating for me because, in school, I always had someone to go to if I needed extra help. Without this, I felt lost and disconnected, and I couldn’t comprehend everything that was going on around me in the work environment. When you are diagnosed with a learning disability, from early to higher education, you have a lot of resources at your fingertips to help you cope with your disability in school. As you enter the workplace, there are hardly any resources that help you transition in relation to your disability. That’s why I’ve come up with a few suggestions to make your career more sustainable, happier, and more successful if you struggle with a learning disability. These suggestions have helped me immensely in my personal career.
Ford Baker, our CEO, suggested I try out Grammarly since he noticed some grammatical errors in some of my emails. He was very gentle with his suggestion, and I was grateful he wanted to help me. I used the free version of Grammarly for a while and added it as an extension into my email. I eventually switched to the paid subscription version, and it changed everything. My emails became more concise and organized and my tone became more professional than it was before. Grammarly is probably the most important tool I’ve added to my day-to-day work life. It saves me time and energy in writing emails, social content, and articles, and most importantly, making 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 and/or get distracted by the words in front of me. Emails, especially lengthy ones, make me feel overwhelmed and sometimes paralyzed just looking at them, but Microsoft’s “Read Aloud” function gives me the ability to have the text read to me just like when I was a kid in tutoring. This allows me to not only understand and digest what I’m reading, but also, retain the information, then quickly respond with a concise answer. To have your emails read out loud in Outlook, click the “Home” tab and the “Read Aloud” button. This makes reading lengthy documents or emails so much easier and stress-free.
3. Colored Highlighting
Dyslexics are known to have trouble reading black font on a white background. In school, instructors would give some of my other friends with dyslexia blue or red tinted plastic film that they could cover their white papers with black font. This improved their reading comprehension because of the change in color. Although I didn’t use these in school, I use something similar at work. I use colored highlighting to read my emails so I’m not looking at the black and white anymore. Sometimes I do this for each line, and other times I do it for each paragraph. This method helps separate text and changes the color so it’s easier to read and comprehend.
4. Download Certain Fonts
OpenDyslexic is a font that helps some dyslexics read more confidently. This font uses thicker lines in parts of different letters. I personally don’t use this font, and it’s well known that this font doesn’t help everyone; however, I've got a friend who’s dyslexic and a successful engineer that only uses this font at work. He claims that it has helped him read his emails faster and spend more time on projects.
5. Use the Dictate Functionality
I’m a content writer, and I've come to find I can think of content quickly, but I get easily distracted by the syntax or spelling of my content. Therefore, I’ve started using the “Dictate” functionality in Outlook and Otter.ai. Think of the “Dictate” functionality as the iPhone’s talk texting. To access it in Outlook, go to the “Message” tab and click “Dictate.” Otter.ai has been the biggest game-changer for me. It’s even how I wrote this blog. I tend to come up with content ideas when I'm away from my desk such as driving, walking my dog, or just doing chores around my house, so with the ability to record my content ideas quickly and have them write out what I'm saying is a dream! I'm able to create richer content in half the time and I don’t even have to be in the office or at a computer.
6. Opening Up
As a new employee, I was nervous to inform my employer, Ford Baker, of my learning disability. As I mentioned before, this kind of information has a negative connotation to it, especially in the workplace. Telling my employer or HR had the potential of giving off the impression that I was unable to perform as well as the person competing for my position. I was afraid to make a mistake in front of Ford, especially one related to my dyslexia. But he opened up to me about having ADHD which made me feel comfortable talking about my dyslexia. It’s something I struggle with although not something that overpowers me, but I do have to overcome the day-to-day challenges that dyslexia comes with. By telling Ford about my dyslexia, he can empathize with me whenever I am struggling with something such as reading an email out loud or not knowing how to spell certain words.
The same goes for him whenever he’s struggling with an ADHD challenge. So, I think one of the best things you can do to cope with your learning disability in the workplace is confide in your coworkers and supervisors. Let them know that your disability does not overpower you, but that it is a daily battle and they should be aware of that if mistakes do occur, especially if it’s client related.
By supporting one another in how to cope with our learning disabilities in the workplace, I think it will help us be more successful in the work environment, internally and externally. If you are handling a learning disability in the workplace, don’t stress about it! Think of it as a way to explore new resources and see things from a different perspective. Implement resources like the ones above in your routine and see how they make a difference in your workflow. If you know someone in your workplace that experiences a learning disability, share this blog with them! Start a conversation about it and learn how you can make a difference in their work life. Some of us must cope with learning disabilities in the workplace, but it doesn’t hold us back from performing quality work or being clear, effective communicators.
Kaitlyn Kirkhart is a communications professional specializing in client-facing relationships and creating efficiencies in the public accounting industry. Kaitlyn has a proven track record in public speaking, organizational communications, social media, sales, and business administration in public accounting. She's had published content on...