Key facts about learning disability
- A learning disability tends to affect the way a person remembers, organises, understands and/or expresses information and in more than one area
- Another commonly used term is 'learning difficulties'
- Learning disabilities are not the same as intellectual disability. Most people with learning disability have an intellectual capacity within the normal range
- Learning disability is a lifelong condition and often goes unrecognised for a long time. It is sometimes more noticeable during times of stress or change
- People with learning disabilities can and do successfully learn and academically achieve with good support and management strategies
- There are a wide range of learning disabilities, including these common ones:
- Dyslexia – difficulty with language processing
- Dyspraxia – difficulty with fine motor skills or coordination
- Dysgraphia – difficulty with writing, spelling or composition
- Visual processing disorder, eg. Scotopic sensitivity
- Auditory processing disorder
Affects and adjustments
Common affects of a learning disability at work
Remember! No two people with the same disability experience the same affects at work!
Employees with disability are not likely to have all the listed disability features OR affects at work! Most people have just a few of those listed; you'll only know by asking the person directly.
Here are some examples of how an employee with a learning disability may be affected at work. They may have difficulties with:
- Requiring more effort and time to read through written materials and/or process numbers.
- Receiving and processing new and/or a lot of information orally.
- Adapting to changes in processes and/or duties.
- Staying focused in very long sessions of group meetings, training or written work without a break.
- Making oral presentations in public.
Possible workplace adjustments for people with learning disabilities
The following examples of workplace adjustments are only examples! These examples will not suit everybody.
In each case the best supports in the workplace can only be discovered through conversations between employer, employee and, if needed, a disability specific employment specialist.
Some examples of workplace adjustments that have been used for people with a learning disability include:
- Presenting instructions both in writing and orally.
- Breaking new tasks into smaller steps.
- Allowing regular breaks, especially in meetings or group sessions.
- Allowing time for clarification and questions.
- Providing written materials for meetings in advance. Using 'To do' lists and checklists on a daily basis to help organise work tasks and manage time.
- Giving advance notice and clear information about changes at work.
- Use of a Personal Digital Assistant, eg. Blackberry, iPhone, to help keep track of tasks and make reminders.
- Screen reading software – eg. Jaws.
- Speech recognition software – eg. Dragon NaturallySpeaking.
- Proof reading assistance for written and/or number based work.
- Providing professional development opportunities (mentoring, coaching or training courses) in the areas affected, such as work organisation, running meetings, oral presentations, using helpful computer software.
For more information and suggestions on making workplace adjustments for employees with specific types of disability visit the government website Job Access.
Tips for communicating with people with learning disabilities
- Speak and write clearly using uncomplicated language and sentences; avoid jargon
- Rephrase information if it is not understood, or present it differently
- Consider using visual aids like diagrams or pictures
- Read aloud the key points and/or a summary from any lengthy written document
- Always provide opportunity to answer any questions
- Use email more frequently to confirm verbal discussions, instructions and/or new information. This gives the employee the opportunity to process the information with extra time, use any specific assistive technology; and/or return to the information whenever they need to refer to it in the future
- Avoid placing the person in a public situation that highlights any areas of difficulty with reading, writing, public speaking or mathematics.