Mark McCusker, Chair of the British Assistive Technology Association (BATA) and CEO of Texthelp, discusses how one organisation has taken positive steps to support employees with dyslexia, one of the more common hidden disabilities.

Employers in the UK have a legal duty under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and the Equality Act 2010 not to discriminate against a disabled person in the recruitment and retention of employees, promotion and transfers and learning and development opportunities. In recognition of all these factors, companies have been working towards removing all barriers to work for employees with disabilities.

Dyslexia is a common type of learning difficulty that mainly affects skills concerning the reading and spelling of words. It is important that employees with this disability are given the support they need to help them learn and progress in the workplace.

Organisations tend to rely on conventional methods, involving reasonable adjustments for employees with literacy and other difficulties, such as offering extra time to complete tasks or flexible working. To help remediate dyslexia in its workplace, Transport for London has adopted literacy software tools that are more commonly used in the education sector.

Transport for London

Transport for London (TfL) is the integrated statutory body responsible for the capital’s busy transport system. Its 25,000 staff provide transport services for over 10 million people, 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, via the underground, rail and buses.

As a large employer TfL has long been committed to equality and inclusion for its staff, as well as its customers, and wanted to implement a one-stop solution across the organisation that would remove any barriers to work for those staff with dyslexia.

Taking a step towards being truly inclusive

Following extensive consultation, which included assessing the business requirements along with the identified benefits to ensure that the software would have an impact on the workplace, TfL purchased a corporate licence for Texthelp’s Read&Write Gold literacy support software. Previously support had been provided for individual staff members and this was the first time that software had been made available to all employees.

It brought together many different departments and set a precedent for rolling out other reasonable adjustment software on a centralised basis. Texthelp’s ‘Train the Trainers’ programme was used to develop seven people within TfL to provide local support.

Assistive technology is the solution

There is assistive technology software for people with disabilities including dyslexia, which can be used in the workplace to make office software more accessible. It is important that the software is a discreet solution that does not draw attention to the individual’s disability - dyslexia in particular can be a ‘hidden disability’, which is frequently not disclosed by employees.

Read&Write Gold sits as a discreet toolbar floating above familiar applications such as Word, Internet Explorer, Adobe Reader and Google Docs and can be customised to support reading, writing and research tools. Features include the ability to change the font and background colours, scanning and screen masking, which improves concentration by blocking any text on the page that is not being read.

Functions such as screen tinting, scanning of word documents, an advanced dictionary and spell checker are useful features throughout the organisation, so every employee will find the software beneficial and nobody using it is identified as being different.

Benefits to employees across the organisation

The fact that the software could be placed on the start menu of every PC in the organisation made it immediately and easily accessible to all staff - conventional systems requiring filling in a form to request access can be a significant barrier to use, particularly for dyslexic staff. Furthermore, because the software comes in a single version, TfL’s support teams are able to offer standardised support.

There are a wide range of settings that can be customised to meet an individual's specific needs to help improve competency in both reading and writing. Particularly popular is the text-to-speech feature, which allows users to upload documents and have the text read out loud so they can listen to the words instead of struggling to read them.

The software is also useful in supporting staff with needs outside the dyslexia spectrum, for example those with other literacy difficulties, visual impairments and those with English as an additional language.

Expanding the use for training and career development

The installation of literacy software in organisations not only helps with day-to-day tasks but employees can also use the tool when training or on courses. Something as simple as changing the background colour of a PowerPoint presentation can completely change someone’s experience in the training room as some people with dyslexia are affected by the colours.

Using the software screen masking option allows the presenter to tint all active screens in their employee’s preferred colour and stops individuals going home with tired eyes and headaches from squinting. Without these options development programmes can often be quite challenging for users with dyslexia.

For example, Alasdair Andrews of CPD Bytes, a company that specialises in online teacher training courses, said: ‘Reading is an integral part of anyone’s day-to-day working life and using literacy software opens a door, allowing people like me to access the written word in a very original way. Essentially, it has normalised something that was once marginalised.

‘From a personal perspective, I believe that software tools are very important to users with literacy difficulties. In this day and age of technological advancements, when most if not all communication and work is done on a computer, text-to-speech tools have become essential to help users overcome their difficulties to progress and grow in their work environment.’