Dyslexia: breaking down the barriers

One person in 10 has dyslexia. Nina Paterson suggests ways in which they can be supported in the workplace.

Dyslexia is a complex condition causing an individual to process information differently, particularly around reading, writing and numbers. That said, people with dyslexia often see things in a different way and have strong problem-solving and creative skills.
A recent CSP survey showed that more than half of respondents with dyslexia encountered barriers in the workplace. The most common were not being given time to implement adjustments and negative attitudes.
Where dyslexia affects an individual’s day-to-day activities they are legally entitled to ‘reasonable adjustments’ in the workplace. Even if an impairment does not classify as a disability it is good practice for staff and managers to work together to ensure work gets done effectively as possible.
The CSP Disabled Members’ Network recently hosted a study day on Understanding Reasonable Adjustments for Dyslexia. The learning from it prompted us to create a dyslexia resources webpage for those who could not attend. The day was fully booked and it was great to see members sharing their experiences. We heard from five fantastic speakers including Theresa Awolesi, a recent graduate from the University of Nottingham, and Stephanie Mansell, consultant physiotherapist at the Royal Free Hospital, London, who both have dyslexia. The event was filmed and highlights are available on the webpage.  

What the speakers said

Top tips from the day

  • Early disclosure and communication is valuable to access the support and equipment you may need. New employees should request an Access to Work assessment within the first six weeks of employment. 
  • Think positively about dyslexia – consider strengths rather than weaknesses.  ‘I don’t think of dyslexia as a weakness or a problem, says Stephanie Mansell. I think of it in positive terms and how it has helped me get to where I’ve got to.’
  • Be as proactive as possible in identifying your needs and support required.  Theresa Awolesi explained how she and staff at the university developed templates and strategies to use on placement.
  • Make use of assistive technology. Some are extremely simple and low cost, including iPhone reminders, dictation and use of a coloured overlay on clinical notes. 
  • Make the most of training for software to get the best out of any package rather than ‘muddling along’. 
  • Coping strategies, case studies and resources are all available via the dedicated dyslexia page on the CSP website. Support is also available from the CSP Disabled Members’ Network.

In their own words

Ade Olopade, band 6 physiotherapist at Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust.

‘I have dyslexia and my manager and I have worked together to try a number of strategies to enable me to work as effectively as possible.
‘I find Dragon and ClaroRead software invaluable and also use a dictation app on my phone to dictate assessments and email them to myself. This makes note writing much quicker and easier compared to writing them out longhand. 
‘I have had one-to-one coaching with a dyslexia coach on specific issues such as reading journal articles, which has been really helpful. Previously, if I got stuck on a word or sentence I would find it difficult to keep going to read the whole article. 
‘The most important thing is that members with dyslexia should feel confident to speak to their manager and work together to find solutions to any barriers.
‘Having dyslexia within the workplace has been challenging, including written work – keeping up with documentation and writing reports in a timely manner feeling confident that you are communicating well with other healthcare professionals.
‘My strengths are more practical. The written part is an ongoing challenge and can lead to a feeling of reduced confidence.’

Johanne Watson, a manager at Central and North West London NHS Trust.

‘I was keen to support Ade in the workplace and ordered the appropriate software and training that were recommended by an Access to Work Assessment he had in his previous organisation. 
‘I realised I didn’t really know much about dyslexia, so I attended the CSP study day. My knowledge of dyslexia increased as a result. We heard testimonies from people who have dyslexia and it helped me understand what type of activities are more challenging for them and which are easier. I realised many of our team processes could make work more stressful for someone with dyslexia and that these could easily be changed. 
‘Ade and I worked with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Access to Work team to identify what he needed. As a result, the DWP funded most of the costs for staff involved in his day-to-day supervision to undergo three hours of dyslexia training so they would understand how best to support him.
‘We have worked with Ade to look at the structure of his day and have implemented strategies to decrease the stress of managing a clinical caseload and to help the quality of his written documentation match the quality of his clinical work and clinical reasoning. 
‘Hopefully, I provide a safe space for staff to speak with me about any issues and work with them to deliver the best quality patient care possible, to attain their maximum potential as a physiotherapist and to enjoy their work.’ fl
  • Nina Paterson is a CSP education and continuing professional development adviser.

More information

CPD activity

If you have a member of staff with dyslexia, take some time to consider

  • how can you create a ‘safe space’ for them to discuss how they are affected by dyslexia? 
  • is your knowledge on dyslexia up to date? Use the resources to refresh your awareness and share them with others
  • if staff use assistive technology, is it still meeting their needs?
  • could you change your processes to help staff with dyslexia work more effectively? 

If you have dyslexia, consider

  • are you clear how your dyslexia affects you?
  • if you have adjustments in place are they still meeting your needs?
  • are there any changes to systems or processes (patient assessment, clinical supervision and so on) that may assist you to work more effectively?
Nina Paterson CSP professional adviser

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