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After encountering problems finding work, graduate Scott Bryan looks at the obstacles facing other people with the disorder and offers advice
I discovered I had dyslexia when I was 20, during my second year at university studying English language. I couldn’t keep up with the workload, and my essays and exams were so incoherent they didn’t make sense to me, let alone my examiners.
After being diagnosed by the university’s dyslexia support service, I managed to pull through with a 2:1, by having the basic rules retaught by a language tutor, as well as through having access to lecture notes and being allowed time extensions in exams. It was a daunting, frustrating experience, but when I graduated I assumed that my worst experiences we over. I was wrong.
It has been a struggle to find a job since graduating; not just because less full-time jobs are available for graduates, but also because it can be time consuming and difficult to find appropriate roles, and to discuss my skills and abilities in writing. It’s not just a case of errors in grammar and spelling. Gail Alexander, a dyslexia practitioner at the University of Southampton says that dyslexia does not manifest itself in the same way for every candidate. They may have problems with “ordering their ideas, clearly structuring sentences and giving explicit examples of qualities and experiences.”
John Walker, a jobseeker with dyslexia, also has problems with his search for work. He explains: “I can read a question one way and it would mean something to me, but every other person on the planet could read it and then get a completely different question.” He also says that he’s a slow writer, which makes applications forms difficult. “You get questions such as ‘explain a situation when you have been in this’, and it’s sort of like ‘right, how do I word this properly?'”
So how can candidates with dyslexia overcome these obstacles?
It’s important to make sure that you apply for jobs that match your abilities. Alison Bryant, from the charity Dyslexia Action, says: “a lot of [people with dyslexia] have great strengths … they may be more creative, they may be more entrepreneurial, they are big thinkers, they may be more visually strong, but they may not know what sort of jobs may suit their strengths.”
James Uffindel, chief executive of Bright Network, says that while dyslexia is not a barrier to success, applicants should “think carefully about their suitability for the role by looking at what is involved on a day-to-day basis, and whether or not this plays to their strengths. In particular, if a candidate has dyslexia, they should be looking to excel at any part of the selection process that requires creativity, to show that dyslexia can deliver some significant advantages in the workplace.”
If finding the right sort of job is proving to be difficult, Jobcentre Plus does provide disability employment advisers, who are trained to help applicants with dyslexia find work that matches their skills.
Once you have found a role, writing applications can still be deeply frustrating, and the support may not be as comprehensive as at school or university. Alexander recommends contacting your university careers service, even if you have left. “Universities are keen for their students to find work,” explains Alexander. “‘Employability’ is the buzzword – and there will be people at university who can advise, either in the support or careers service or academic tutors.” The job centre can also do the same.
The next challenge is whether to declare your dyslexia in your application. People with dyslexia can define themselves as disabled in applications, which would cover them under the Equality Act 2010 as it can have a “long-term adverse effect” on a person’s ability to carry out their normal day-to-day activities. However there is no legal obligation to declare this, and some candidates with dyslexia may be reluctant to do so, for fear it may affect their application. As Walker says: “The other thing that worries me is that if you tick ‘yes’, they will think ‘well if you have a disability that is going to affect you at work, you’re not going to be capable of doing the job so we’re not going to hire you.'”
Declaring yourself as someone with dyslexia is not always straightforward either. According to Alexander: “Some applicants may not know if dyslexia will affect them until they start a job and feel that they don’t want to suggest problems that won’t happen”.
However, if you do declare yourself it can be an advantage; support, such as more time for tests during the application process, can be given. Alexander says: “Disclosure also shows an open and honest approach. It allows the applicant and the employer to enter into negotiation. Applicants needs to be clear about their weaknesses and what the potential employer can do to help.”
Uffindel agrees: “While applicants may not need to disclose their dyslexia, recruiters can only provide support and make the necessary adjustments if candidates inform them as early as possible. This will help recruiters put into context any issues around any selection tests.”
You do not need to shy away from discussing your dyslexia. “It helps if applicants show self-awareness and market themselves positively,” Alexander says. “The secret is turning a potential ‘weakness’ into a positive by showing the steps he or she has taken to overcome difficulties.” In an interview someone could talk about the skills that they had gained from dyslexia support at university, and how transferable that it can be for the workplace. For example, “developing note taking skills in lectures will have an application in all those meetings at work.”
So, there are options. You can have your worked checked, you can mention your dyslexia and you can have considerations given in the interview stage. It’s just a shame that the first step in the application still depends upon candidates with dyslexia mostly having to still express their strengths via one of their weaknesses.