Working with learning disabilities (Guest commentary)

Don't miss out on the intelligence that resides in the unique minds of those with learning disabilities
By Dave Chalk
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 08/04/2006

For too long, learning disabilities have been considered a weakness. So it may come as a surprise that, according to the Learning Disabilities Association of British Columbia, 10 per cent of Canadians in the workplace have some form of learning disability. It may also come as a surprise that some of the world’s greatest revolutionaries and thinkers have been diagnosed with — or exhibited symptoms of — some form of learning disability: Winston Churchill, Charles Schwab, Andy Warhol and even Bill Gates. That’s why organizations should think of a learning disability such as dyslexia or Asperger’s syndrome as an opportunity.

Individuals who recognize a learning disability and embrace it are capable of achieving incredible professional successes. I know this because six years ago I was diagnosed with an acute cognitive brain condition that causes a severe form of dyslexia. It makes it difficult for me to process sound and vision translation in my brain and puts me just short of Asperger’s, a learning disability similar to autism. Instead of seeing my disability as a limitation, I’ve embraced my condition. This has allowed me to channel my disability into entrepreneurial success. It hasn’t been easy, and some days it’s still a challenge, but the acceptance of my condition by peers and colleagues, and the recognition this condition is more of a gift than a hindrance, can give hope to many people in the workforce and the people who hire them.

Learning disabilities make easy tasks incredibly complicated. For someone with dyslexia, simply reading a newspaper can be an exercise in futility. Words are blurred and distorted and complex sentences are impossible to decipher. The brain often misspells visually similar words, making sentences and paragraphs difficult to follow and making reading tedious, time consuming and confusing. It’s also common for someone with dyslexia to have difficulty speaking and expressing ideas. Another challenge includes staying organized and on top of schedules, assignments and meetings. Because of these symptoms, people with dyslexia are often shunned and stigmatized as slow and inadequate learners, incapable of handling pressure on the job.