Though learning disabilities are often framed as a childhood issue, there is currently no known cure for them.
Learning disability in adults is a life-long condition, and many people face issues stemming from their learning disability well into adulthood.
Only under 5% of children in Canada are diagnosed with a learning disability. The total number of Canadians who have a learning disability is difficult to discern, as many people who have them go through life without receiving a diagnosis.
Though many people with learning disabilities go on to have long and fulfilling careers, that’s not the case for everyone.
There are many types of disabilities, and it can make it more difficult for some people to find work and maintain steady employment.
That’s not to say that people with learning disabilities cannot work.
People who have learning disabilities are typically of average or higher intelligence and extremely capable of performing most jobs given the right tools, support, and work environment.
People who have learning disabilities often experience a significant gap between what they’re capable of and their achievements due to a lack of support in their workplace.
As an employer, it’s important to ensure you’re offering all the right tools and accommodations for your employees with disabilities to ensure they’re maximizing their potential.
Let’s dive into more about disability in the workplace and hiring people with disabilities.
what are learning disabilities?
Learning disabilities are genetic or neurobiological factors that impact the cognitive processes related to learning.
Because those with learning disabilities appear otherwise normal, they’re sometimes called ‘hidden disabilities.’
A learning disability can impact someone’s ability to learn basic skills such as reading, writing and maths and impact traits such as organization, abstract reasoning, short-term memory and attention span.
Learning disabilities should not be confused with physical disabilities, such as being deaf or visually impaired, or issues stemming from emotional trauma or socio-economic disadvantages.
People are typically born with learning disabilities and do not develop them. Here are a few types of learning disabilities:
- dyslexia - impacts reading and language-processing skills
- dysgraphia - impacts a person’s handwriting and fine motor skills
- dyscalculia - impacts a person’s ability to understand numbers and maths concepts
- non-verbal - impacts a person’s ability to read and understand non-verbal cues like body language and facial expressions
current laws in canada
In 2012, Canada’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a student with a learning disability had the legal right to receive an education that allowed him to ‘develop his full potential’ and that to do otherwise constituted discrimination.
Though the ruling related to education, it validated that learning disabilities are, in fact, disabilities under the law.
The ruling also emphasized the importance of providing ‘meaningful access’ to opportunities for people with learning disabilities and rejected a one-size-fits-all approach to disability.
For employers, this precedent also applies when hiring people with disabilities.
Employers must make reasonable accommodations to support employees with learning disabilities in the workplace. Employers must ensure they have the tools and support needed to perform their jobs.
how to support employees with learning disabilities
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- eliminate tests
Some employers like to use written tests and performance reviews to grade employees’ skills because they believe these tests are objective and eliminate biases.
Unfortunately, many types of skill assessments put adults with learning disabilities at a disadvantage.
Adults with learning disabilities often perform poorly on written or timed tests. Test results do not accurately reflect their skills and abilities in a workplace setting.
You’re much better off assessing your employees’ skills holistically in action to understand their capabilities.
- create structured processes
Building a routine and putting in place structured processes generally make it easier for people with learning disabilities to complete challenging tasks.
Repeating walking through a detailed step-by-step process builds confidence and ensures that everything important is noticed and remembered.
This makes it easier for people with learning disabilities to feel confident in their abilities.
- allow everyone to work at their own pace
Permit your employees sufficient time to work at their own pace to help increase mental health and a positive work environment. This is the best way to ensure everyone turns in high-quality work.
Setting arbitrary deadlines or tracking how employees spend every minute of their time is counterproductive and leads to decreased productivity.
Not only does this create an unhealthy and micromanaged workplace, which can affect people's mental health, but it can also unnecessarily punish employees with disabilities.
People with disabilities may take slightly longer to perform some tasks..
- offer ongoing training and support
Focus on building confidence and familiarity. For adults with learning disabilities, anxiety about their abilities is common, and routine changes can exacerbate their concerns.
You can alleviate some mental health stress by simply offering support and understanding your employees’ needs and preferences.
When changes need to be made to processes or work habits, offer training materials and guidance from leaders to ease into the changes and ensure that everyone understands what needs to be done and how their work will be impacted.