Learning Disabilities in the Workplace

Employer consulting with employeeLearning disabilities may make it difficult for an individual to learn, work, or behave in the manner that ordinarily would be expected.

A learning disability is an impairment of neurological origin that impacts on specific areas of learning. The following are major types of learning disabilities:

  • A sequencing disorder is a difficulty with the order of a series of things. It may lead to problems with prioritizing, organizing, doing mathematics and following instructions.
  • Language disorders are difficulties with receptive language (understanding and remembering) or with expressive language (oral or in writing).
  • Visual perceptual and visual motor disorders are difficulties with processing in-formation visually, thus leading to problems with reading, spelling and writing. This is sometimes termed “dyslexia”.
  • Auditory disorders are difficulties with processing sounds, such as distinguishing words that sound similar.
  • A memory disorder is a difficulty retrieving certain information from memory within a reasonable time.
  • Gross motor and fine motor disorders interfere with coordination. A problem with fine motor coordination could lead to difficulty with handwriting.

A learning disability is not an emotional disturbance, intellectual disability, or sensory impairment. It is not the result of environmental deprivation, inadequate parenting or lack of educational opportunity. Individuals with learning disabilities also have strengths. They can be successful in the workplace. Employer, family and other social supports, combined with a willingness of the individual to advocate for himself, are key elements in achieving success.

Reasonable Accommodations – Employers

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (RA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) provide that employers covered by either of these laws make reasonable accommodations for qualified individuals with impairments that substantially limit a major life activity, such as learning. To show that a person has a disability under these laws, it is necessary to establish substantial limitation in a major life activity compared to most people.

Accommodations for an individual with learning disabilities depend upon the particular learning disabilities involved in the individual case. Generally, the successful accommodations are ones which will 1] provide clear guidance as to workplace expectations, both for the “hardcore” work tasks and the more broadly social ones inherent in the workplace, 2] provide clear and repeated work instructions, both orally and in writing, and 3] respond with specific aids to the particular learning disabilities.

Possible specific accommodations include: checklists to assist with organization, periodic meetings with supervisors, frequent and specific feedback on meeting expectations, modified examinations and training programs, and modified work schedules.

Strategies – Employees

It cannot be stressed too strongly that the process of achieving success is a two way street. Individuals with learning disabilities and employers should work together for their mutual benefit.

Individuals with learning disabilities should inform themselves. They may obtain evaluations from professionals in the fields of psychology, medicine, education, and career counseling which may assist them in selecting suitable employment, designing helpful strategies and, if appropriate, requesting accommodations which are truly suited to their needs.

Possible strategies include: 1] take notes or use a taper recorder during meetings, training courses and seminars, 2] use a day planner book or electronic scheduler to make a “to do” list and to make notes, 3] keep work space orderly and clean, 4] leave early for work, interviews, appointments and meetings, and 5] set aside 15 minutes at the end of the day to plan your work for the next day.

Each individual with learning disabilities is unique and has particular learning disabilities and strengths. Accommodations and strategies should be tailored to individual needs to maximize success in the workplace.

Authors: Peter S. Latham, J.D. and Patricia H. Latham, J.D.