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Management: Help For Employees With Learning Disabilities, Part 1
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Management: Help For Employees With Learning Disabilities, Part 1 - Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Help For Employees With Learning Disabilities, Part 1

Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Help For Employees With Learning Disabilities, Part 1

For all the expense and the Americans with Disabilities Act has created for the workplace, it has also caused a remarkable shift in perception and attitude: in most settings, the default mood about reserved parking, wheelchair-accessible restrooms, and other mandated accomodations goes beyond acceptance into a sense of justice. This is not on a level with preferential treatment for the boss or her yes-men, but more like the right thing to do. Accomodations, when they are appropriate, strive to give everyone reasonable access to the workplace; they seldom give anyone a competitive advantage, and despite not being a perfect system--upsetting stories abound for those who need accomodations and for those who must provide them--they seem to most of us like a step in the right direction. Whether or not the shift in public perception was ever a goal, it is a positive, developing outcome.

What many managers may not be aware of is that the ADA also covers some forms of learning disability, and knowing a particular employee's diagnosis may not be sufficient for determining whether accomodations are mandated or helpful. Rather than list specific, named disabilities, the ADA describes limitations, and the need for accomodations is determined by those limitations in each employee, according to the Job Accomodations Network (askjan.org).

If one of your employees is capable of good work in every way but seems to have one or two weak areas in communication (writing, reading, listening, or speaking) or executive function (time management, organization, impulsiveness, or forgetfulness), there is a possibility that the problem is not as simple as immaturity, irresponsibility, or carelessness. Many adults with diagnosed disabilities, such as dyslexia or central auditory processing disorder, are reluctant to share them with employers for many reasons: some feel they can do well enough without accomodations, some don't want "special treatment" at work, and some are worried that they'll be discriminated against.

Many adults with learning differences may simply be undiagnosed. Sure, they have challenges in certain areas, but they've been gifted enough in other areas to make up for those differences without calling attention to themselves. By far, most diagnoses for learning disabilities are made more children in school, and since it is the goal of most children to fit in, a great number of them develop compensating strategies that allow them to get by without notice, despite difficulties with reading or writing. Some employees may not even be aware that they have such individual challenges, simply believing they're slow or just not as smart as their peers.

Because of the need for ADA compliance, you may want to discuss accomodations with a legal expert or a workplace consultant, but consider centering your motivation elsewhere--consider the value of a good employee and how it is in your best interest to receive that employee's best work. You're happy to provide a little more maneuvering space in the restroom for one employee, so why not voice-to-text dictation software for another, or time-management coaching for another? For many employees, simply allowing more time for paperwork, or quiet, distraction-free space can make a world of difference. If the employee has never been evaluated for a learning disability, consider connecting him or her to services where a diagnosis might be possible.

If you or your employee is worried about possible backlash by other employees for preferential treatment, embrace the situation as an educational opportunity. Chances are excellent that others in your office will have relatives or friends with similar challenges, and will vocally support such accomodations. Or, if the employee wants as little attention as possible, make accomodations available to any employee who wants to use them: for example, announce that anyone who wants dictation software is welcome to it if it will help them do their jobs better, or offer the quiet room on a rotating basis to anyone who wants to sign up for it.

Whatever your approach, understand that helping your employees be their best means knowing them as people, not as labels or categories. While people with dyslexia share a few characteristics, no two people are exactly alike, and what helps one employee may not help another who has the same named diagnosis. Few of us today would argue against the value of diversity in the workplace; let us keep in mind that many of the things that make us diverse don't show up in the company staff photo.


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Management: Help For Employees With Learning Disabilities, Part 1 - Executive Leadership Articles

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