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.

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  1. Sabina Ledesma says:

    Hello I have a reading and writing disability which makes it very difficult for me to find work I am 57 years old and I have been having a hard time all my life I had a few issues with my Head don’t understand why am having such a hard time but I can’t get a job and it’s hard to live is there anywhere I can get help

  2. I am 37, I have been struggling with my learning disability since elementry school. I was on meds through out elementry school and high school for it, and the meds helped. I completed some college, but didnt have health insurance during that time so I didnt have meds. I recently got back on meds due to my new job. I am a vet assistant. I was working for the same clinic for 7 years and they didnt teach me new things often. I would take care of patients, medicate, run lab work, give fluids and injections. Now I work at an all cat practice and they have different restraining techniques they use using towels. I’m having a hard time learning and understanding how to restrain like that. I try, I practice at home with my cats. I had my 60 day review a couple weeks ago and I was told I don’t have self confidence and I’m not catching on like I should be. I said that I was trying, and then I realized my LD was getting in the way, so I told them I had a LD. I was told I may not advance in the job, I wouldn’t get my raise after 90 days and instead of being a tech assistant, I would be just an assistant and do cleaning and not work with the animals as much since I’m not catching on. Or getting fired is a possibility too. I don’t want that so I made a dr appointment and she put me on Strattera. It’s too soon to notice a differenct. But things are already changing at my job for the worse. The drs arent asking me to help restrain, therefore I’m not going to learn or get practice that way. I know I can get the hang of it, I just need longer to practice and get the hang of the different towel techniques. And its especially difficult with fractious cats, they are hard to handle. I know I can do it, I just need more time but I don’t think more time is an option. I don’t know what to do. This is very discouraging.

    • LDA of America says:

      If a colleague is good at restraining the animals, you might see if this person will tutor you after hours to learn the new methods of restraining. Tell your supervisor what you are doing in your free time and that you really want to learn this new technique. Explain how your LD affects you in this situation. Also, if the Strattera doesn’t work, be sure to ask your doctor to try another medication. Different medications work for different people! Also, some local community colleges have certifications for veterinary technicians that you might want to check into.

      • Thank you for the advice. But they let me go. The head Dr had no patience for me. I’m a good employee, I show up early, good work ethic, team player, but I didn’t learn as fast as she wanted me to. Definitely not an employer I want to work for anyhow.

  3. Melissa says:

    I can’t retain any information when it comes to different software products at work even if I write it down I’m learn slow but the employees frown on that when I was younger I used to pick up faster. I am scared to look for job because of this. I have a bachelor degree and years of experience yet I just can’t seem to retain anything I learn in the work place

  4. magaly gonzalez says:

    My husband has a learning disability, he stated that when taking a test for his plumbing license and they did not offer any accommodations is this illegal?

    • LDA of America says:

      Unfortunately, there is not a specific entity that approves accommodation requests for technical tests. Some test publishers have policies regarding accommodations; others do not. However, the technical school that provided the training and testing should have a Disability Services office where your husband can request testing accommodations. Schools are required to provide “reasonable” accommodations upon request. If your husband didn’t request any accommodations, they’re not responsible for the testing problems he had when he chose not to request any accommodations.

      That said, he can take his current documentation to the Student Support Services (or ADA office) office at his school and see what steps he may be able to take to request and receive accommodations at the school in the event that he is allowed to re-do the test.

      If he did request and receive accommodations through that office, but the instructor failed to provide those accommodations, he should talk to the Student Support Services office to determine the correct procedure for filing a complaint.

  5. I live in Ohio in Knox county and I have a learning disability and im always scared to find work because I can not learn like others or that I’m scared cause I’ll get fired. I’m more of a hands on person but registers do not work well with me. I don’t know I’m just scared and being at my age 🙁

    • LDA of America says:

      Contact your local Vocation Rehabilitation office. They help people with disabilities find jobs and get accommodations in the workplace. You can explore their services and locations at https://ldaamerica.org/rehabilitation-services-administration-rsa/. Another good resource is the Job Accommodations Network at http://www.askjan.org.

    • Hey Keith,

      Don’t be scared. You got this!
      Yes, getting fired sucks but you just have to take it as a process of learning. Think about all the amazing people who have/had disabilities that did amazing things and if they gave up we wouldn’t have such great advancements like we do. ie Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and Alber Einstine. You can do amazing things just like them. Believe in yourself!

      If you do ever get fired, reflect upon what lead to being fired and do your best to improve. For example, if you are always late (like I am), then set as many alarms to get you to follow your morning routines to get out of the house on time. Give yourself the accommodations you need at home to help you when you are at work. But most importantly remember don’t let your disability hold you back from being the best version of yourself you can be.

      You got this!

  6. My girlfriend has a son who has a LD. He likes me but seems withdrawn and only interested in video games. He lives with us and I’m wondering how to help. I seem more critical, but I wish he would be more interested instead of recluse. I don’t know if this will strain our relationship because he moved in with us. I want to get him a job but his mom thinks he can do better. I say get your foot in the door, then show you can do more. Just sounding off. Thanks

  7. I’ve had serious struggles myself. I was diagnosed when I was 6. I had a hard time in school and I was even insulted by teachers and claiming I was lazy and not cared when I was really having a hard time grasping the information down and did everything possible to retain it. I had a few teachers that actually took the time and helped me out to make sure I can pass the class with no problem.

    College I did pretty good. The community college I went to accommodates people with a learning disability and have tutors for you which was fantastic.

    The work force…. was a different story. I started off in retail in a department store (cashier/Salesfloor) which I can handle. Because to me it was easy. Then I was learning more thing to work my way up the ladder. I was doing okay because they let me take my time and wanted to get it right. And I did well until new management came along and wanted to get rid of me.

    Then I finally got a job in my degree. And I got excited. I started making mistakes and reading and comprehending things wrong because of the way it was written in the directions. Then I got complained I was slow and I wasting company money.

    Found a new job after and left…

    This job I was counting money and I was under pressure and was insulted by my boss and when I disclosed that I had LD thought it would save my job… after that I worry and had bad panic attacks each day before I went to work and before I go to bed, if I was going to have a job. Month later, I was released from the job.

    I found another retail job that suited me well and a family friend was the manager. Was in a pretty good environment and I was taught EVERYTHING and wanted to make sure I was doing my job right. Then management changed around and the person I got was someone I wouldn’t expect to work for the company. I was treated horribly and was insulted because he claimed I didn’t know to do a lot of things. Also I didn’t know I was supposed to know this stuff at the level I was at. Only good thing that came out this person was that my LD was accommodated and helped me become a better manager. I left the place due to harassment.

    The job I have now my boss has LD. I’m also a manager here. I thought this would help me, nope. I get in trouble/yelled at almost everyday and I’ve been written up 5x because of my work performance and I’m on probation. I’m trying to do everything right and stay positive but not happening. I now worry if I will have a job or not.

    I’m from NJ, but I don’t know if there’s any jobs for me that will pay me reasonable with benefits and a 401k to take of me and my mom and will accommodate my LD

    • LDA of America says:

      You definitely have had a lot of employment situations that were difficult! My recommendation would be that you call the folks at JAN (Job Accommodations Network). Their web address is: https://askjan.org/. Their phone number is (800)526-7234. While they probably won’t know about specific jobs in your state, they could help you with understanding what types of accommodations you need at work and how best to request those accommodations.

    • Sounds like what I go through it’s pure hell. I’ve been with my company for 12 years now and now they have a problem with my LD. The union is aware of what’s going on but the constant stress of everyday wondering if you’re going to have a job if you’re going to be written up for job performance is excruciating. And we’re told we’re not supposed to disclose that we have a disability to the manager because they will use it against us it’s so messed up. I’m not going down with the fight and that’s discrimination if they are harassing you and insulting you. It’s good to know you’re rights.

  8. I have a learning disability or face some challenges with my job and school (college currently). I got written up at work for forgetting. I am located in Detroit (or Warren) Michigan. Looking for a job gear towards those with learning challenges. Please help! I’m close to quitting my job. (But can’t afford to quit). Looking for state assistance to live (independently) and work from minimal wage.


  9. Robert Ruelas says:

    I have worked for ups for 20 years and was recently fired for what I was doing,I didn’t realize the impact I was causing,in my mind I was just protecting my clothes. If someone would have warned me I would have stopped. But I was givin no warning. Can anyone help me ? As to what I can do to get my job back. I am a adult with learning disabilities and I can use some help.

  10. For 30 years I’ve been a teacher. Two years ago I had a physical and mental breakdown and lost my job. I have worked hard to recover and am teaching again. But, now I have slowed down in my ability to process paperwork. I can still do it, just not as fast. My boss is attacking me about it. Can you help me?

    • Just want to say that you are not alone. I feel like I struggle keeping my head and sanity above water for years. Knowing my supervisor doesn’t even try to work with me and could any minute try to fire me. She’s tried it before, and I still don’t know why. I think it’s basically because she doesn’t like me. She not good at giving guidance or direction and told me “I can’t teach you”. I’ve been trying to find a career change for years with no success. I guess I limit myself since I’m a federal employee and since I’ve been in the system for years there is no reason to leave not (financially) and I’m very limited with my type of degree. Doesn’t seem there is any support out there, or at-least knowing where to turn, in the area of assistance in our disability. It would be nice if there was a step by step process of what to do (where to turn) when struggling in certain areas of my life. I’m grateful that I have a supportive wife, but she doesn’t have any comprehension of all the struggles I face. (work, esteem, memory, speech, friends, etc.). It’s nice to know there are support systems for the children and others that have a severe LD, but the adults not really. (especially us who are educated). I have a BS. It took me 7 years to get my degree and my grades were still poor. When getting into a job it still requires a significant amount to learn the job more than others. I’ve gotten to the point where I can train others, but like I said, I looking for a career change and I’m scared. I’m just glad I have some friends in church that lift me up. They still don’t know all the struggles I face, but I’m relieved to know that they are there for me.

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