Unionlearn launches Dyslexia Awareness campaign

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date: October 26, 2011

embargo: no embargo

Fear of discrimination by managers and bullying by colleagues prevents many people from disclosing the fact that they have dyslexia.

A survey of union learning reps found that a lack of understanding of dyslexia is widespread in the workplace. However, two-thirds of those surveyed said that their employer was prepared to make adjustments for workers with dyslexia.

Eight out of 10 reps said that they were aware of colleagues and workmates with dyslexia, however only a third (33.6%) said they had had training in supporting them. Over half (54.6%) of reps said that workers with dyslexia had experienced barriers to training. That is why unionlearn, during Dyslexia Awareness Week (Oct 31st to Nov 6), is launching a campaign to help reps make workplaces dyslexia-friendly environments.

Unionlearn is launching an online information toolkit for reps and will be putting out a series of documents to help them understand dyslexia and to negotiate dyslexia-friendly policies with managers and HR staff. The campaign will help reps set up dyslexia awareness events, arrange assessments and signpost colleagues to expert help. Simple changes can make a difference: using a sans serif typeface, for example Arial, in company materials and manuals, providing voice-recognition software or allowing extra time in written tests or during training courses, can make a big difference.

Comments from reps surveyed included:

'A lot of people who suffer from dyslexia are reluctant to tell anyone in the same way that some lesbian and gay colleagues do not tell because of the office sniggers and people talking behind their back.'

'Often, dyslexia isn't recognised for what it is. Managers seem to think that it is purely a difficulty with reading, when it can also lead to organisational difficulties. It is therefore often misidentified as an attitude problem - as being deliberately disobedient. Plus, colleagues think they are taking too long to do work online and think they are lazy, etc.'

'I suffer from dyslexia but it will go against me if I confess or when applying for job.'

'I am dyslexic. My line manager is very supportive, she proofreads and corrects spelling mistakes in my reports.'

Judith Swift, unionlearn union development officer, said: 'Union reps can play a vital role in making workplaces less daunting for adults with dyslexia and they can negotiate simple changes that will make a world of difference for those with this specific learning difficulty. People should not be afraid of admitting they have dyslexia and should not fear discrimination at work. The good news is that many employers are open to making adjustments that will help.'

Case Study: Carol Warren

'I struggled to read from an early age and was told I was stupid all my life until the age of 36 when I was diagnosed as dyslexic. When my daughter turned five, I wanted to be able to help her with her reading, so I decided to go back to college to do basic English. I was referred to learning support and had a dyslexia assessment; it was confirmed I was severely dyslexic. Once I came to accept the diagnosis, I sought help from a support worker, Glen. He helped me enormously and I ended up marrying him! When I passed my GCSE in English it made me thirsty for more education. I then became a support worker helping adults with learning difficulties. I now have voice-recognition software on my computer and use a Dictaphone to help me with my work. My confidence has increased enormously and I am now a UNISON rep and have spoken twice at national delegate conference. If you think you may be dyslexic, it is never too late to get assessed and get support: it could change your life.'


The British Dyslexia Association estimates that ten per cent of the population are affected by dyslexia to some degree, and that four per cent of the population are severely affected by dyslexia. Research has found that more than half of adults with dyslexia keep it secret.

Dyslexia affects the way that a person's brain deals with information, particularly language information. It is not related to intelligence. There is a genetic element, so it can run in families.

The performance of those with dyslexia can vary from day to day. 'Good' days and 'bad' days are common. So performance at work may also vary.

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for an employer to treat an employee less favourably because of their disability. The Act requires employers to 'make reasonable adjustments' for disabled employees.

The online survey of union reps was carried out between September 21-October 7, 2011; there were 270 responses.

Unionlearn is the TUC's learning & skills organisation. More than one million working people have been given training and learning opportunities via unionlearn. It has trained more than 28,000 union learning reps who act as evangelists in the workplace for learning and negotiate learning agreements with employers.

UNISON, the public service union, is publishing 'Dyslexia in our own words', a series of case studies and advice for ULRs, as part of Dyslexia Awareness Week.

All unionlearn press releases can be found at www.unionlearn.org.uk

Media enquiries:
Frances Rafferty T: 020 7079 6950 M: 07827 813439 E: [email protected]
James Asser T: 020 7079 6942 M: 07769 706104 E: [email protected]

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