A supportive environment that promotes educational and professional progress enables dyslexic individuals to flourish and reach their full potential. Such an environment embraces the use of the word dyslexia; promotes a clear and scientifically valid understanding of dyslexia; and provides proper supports and accommodations, including allowing the use of assistive technologies. A supportive work culture understands that dyslexic individuals aren’t stupid, and certainly aren’t lazy. Instead, it recognizes that people who are dyslexic often work much harder and longer than their peers, provided they are given that opportunity. The dyslexia-friendly environment should extend from elementary, middle and high school, through college and into the workplace.
In the Classroom
A dyslexia-friendly classroom environment encourages dyslexic students to follow their strengths and interests. While it holds high expectations for dyslexic students, it allows reasonable alternatives beyond timed tests and text-heavy materials to demonstrate their knowledge. When tests are necessary, teachers allow extra time or provide shorter tests for dyslexic students in the class. When grading a creative writing assignment, a dyslexia-friendly teacher focuses on the content and creativity of the paper, and not spelling errors. When a spelling or grammar test is given, teachers do grade a dyslexic student’s abilities in those areas but also work with students and parents to develop dyslexia-friendly study skills. These include using colors to highlight different parts of speech and other grammar rules, or using flashcards and computer games to help a student memorize spelling words.
Visual aids, technology and creativity help bring life into learning. When teachers use these strategies they not only help dyslexic students learn, but engage and improve learning for all students in the class. Additionally, a dyslexia-friendly environment allows educators to be alert to problems and identify children who might be dyslexic. (The Shaywitz DyslexiaScreen makes identifying dyslexia quick and easy.)
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act colleges are required to provide fair and reasonable accommodations (reasonable is defined as anything that doesn’t alter the nature of the program) for all qualifying students. Many universities have some type of student resources department to support students who need accommodations and/or tutoring. But learning support departments can differ dramatically from one college or university to the next. A dyslexia-friendly college understands the nature of dyslexia and offers students appropriate supports, including the opportunity to use assistive technologies in the classroom, extra time on tests, and foreign language waivers or partial foreign language waivers, such as taking classes on the art and culture of Spain instead of taking Spanish.
Even if a college is dyslexia-friendly, dyslexic students will likely need to do a lot of the legwork when it comes to informing professors and acquiring accommodations. It’s not that the college or university doesn’t want to help, it’s just that the law does not allow them to disclose the disability. Students have to do that part themselves. Students will need to learn how to self-advocate and become part of the process of creating a dyslexia-friendly environment. This can be a big change from high school, where the school informed instructors of the student’s disability and the accommodations needed. By contrast, if accommodations are required for a particular class in college or set of circumstances, only the accommodations, not the disability, are shared with the instructor. In many schools, a student will need to actively report to someone (most likely at the college’s learning resource center, but it can vary) at the beginning of each semester that support services and/or accommodations are needed.
Read more about advocating for yourself in college in this article by Judy York, Director of the Resource Office on Disabilities at Yale University.
Read about a parent’s perspective, with helpful hints for students.
Learn how colleges are expanding their efforts to assist students with dyslexia: Colleges Step Up to Meet Dyslexia Challenge.
In the Workplace
As with school environments, dyslexia-friendly workplaces understand and accept those with dyslexia. Employers and managers recognize how dyslexia impacts a person’s day-to-day work, but they also understand that dyslexic employees can bring a great deal of creativity, energy and problem-solving to the organization. Small changes to company protocols and communication can go a long way toward supporting dyslexic individuals, and are likely to increase morale and loyalty.
Allowing for the use of assistive technology like Dragon dictation software, audio recordings or a SmartPen to take notes in meetings will help a dyslexic employee put more energy into using his or her strengths to meet organizational goals. Other simple strategies that will help all employees include keeping communications brief and to-the-point, sending out agendas ahead of meetings, and giving easy access to information needed to do one’s job. Dyslexics are often the first ones to solve a problem and provide innovation because they don’t think in a linear manner. Creating an environment that supports them will help unlock their full potential.
In turn, dyslexic individuals need to advocate for themselves by asserting their strengths and assets, delegating where necessary, and finding assistive technology that helps them overcome their dyslexia. Charles Schwab, a highly successful entrepreneur and dyslexic, offers this advice: “A lot of people who are brilliant entrepreneurs think they can do everything. They don’t develop the team that they need to have in order to accomplish their growth as a successful company…. I have been able to recognize my strengths and my deficits and build up around me great people in the deficit area.”