A supportive environment that promotes educational and professional progress must be provided to enable dyslexic individuals to flourish to their full potential. It encompasses acknowledging and using the word dyslexia, understanding dyslexia, providing proper supports and accommodations, and allows for the use of assistive technologies. The people working with the dyslexic person need to understand that he or she is not stupid, and certainly not lazy—often dyslexics are ones to 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 even into the workplace.
In the Classroom
A dyslexia-friendly environment in the classroom encourages dyslexic students to follow their strengths and interests, and while it holds high expectations for dyslexic students, it allows for reasonable alternatives to demonstrating their knowledge other than timed tests and text-heavy materials. When tests are necessary, a teacher allows for extra time, or gives a shorter test, for the dyslexic students in the class. When grading a creative writing assignment, a dyslexia-friendly teacher looks at the content and creativity when grading, and not spelling errors. On the other hand, when a grammar or spelling test is given, then the teacher will need to grade a dyslexic student’s abilities in spelling and grammar; however, the teacher can work with students and parents to develop dyslexia-friendly study skills, like using colors to highlight different parts of speech and other grammar items, or using flashcards and computer games to help a student find ways to memorize spelling words.
Varied teaching methods, using visual aids, technology, and creativity help bring life into learning. When these teaching strategies are employed, they only help dyslexic students learn better, but also engage all students in the class to learn more effectively and solidly grasp the lesson.
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 any student who qualifies for them. Many universities have a student resources department—or something equivalent to that name— for supporting students who need accommodations and/or tutoring. Just like every college or university differs, so do their learning support departments. A dyslexia-friendly college understands dyslexia, and offers students the opportunity to use assistive technologies in the classroom, extra time on tests, and foreign language waivers or partial foreign language waivers, like taking classes on the art and culture of Spain, in lieu of taking Spanish.
However, even if a college is dyslexia-friendly, a dyslexic student will find that he or she needs to do more of the legwork when it comes to informing professors and learning support services about his dyslexia and acquiring accommodations for it. 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; the student needs to do that part. Students will need to learn how to advocate for themselves and their needs, and be part of the process in creating a dyslexia-friendly environment. Where the high school informed all instructors of the student’s disability and required accommodations, the college, while providing accommodations, seeks to protect the student’s profile and does not reveal the disability unless accommodations are required and in those circumstances, only reveals the needed accommodation, not the disability. In many schools, a student will need to actively report to someone 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 any other environment friendly to dyslexics, a dyslexia-friendly workplace relies on an understanding and acceptance of dyslexia. Employers and managers need to know how dyslexia can impact a person’s day-to-day work, but also understand that often having an employee who is dyslexic can bring a great deal of creativity, energy, and problem-solving solutions to the organization. Small changes to company protocols and communication can go a long way to supporting dyslexic individuals, and in turn will bring greater morale and loyalty.
Allowing for the use of assistive technology like Dragon dictation software, or a SmartPen that can help take notes in meetings will help a dyslexic employee put more energy into utilizing his or her strengths to meet organization 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 linearly. Creating an environment that supports them will go a long way in unlocking their full potential.
More on dyslexia in the workplace: