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Mark McCusker

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TrainingZone interviews: Mark McCusker


Mark McCusker, Chair of the British Assistive Technology Association (BATA) and CEO of Texthelp Ltd discusses the effects that dyslexia has on employees in the workplace and the simple but highly effective changes that employers can make to support them during Dyslexia Awareness Week (14-20th October 2013).

How would you describe dyslexia in the workplace?

Dyslexia is defined as a disability in the Equality Act 2010. Essentially, it affects the learning process in reading, spelling, writing and numeracy. Employees with dyslexia may also process information slowly and have poor short-term memory which could affect their performance within a team.

According to the British Dyslexia Association, 10% of the British population are dyslexic; 4% severely so, which means one in ten people in an organisation can be affected.

Dyslexia, being a ‘hidden disability’, is not always obvious to others and it can lead to untold stress in the workplace for employees affected by the literacy difficulty. With the right tools and support however, it is easy for organisations to bring out the very best in employees with dyslexia.

What can employers do to help staff who may have dyslexia?

It is important that employers inform all employees what dyslexia is and what it means if one of their colleagues is affected by it. By understanding how those with dyslexia can be affected, they can adjust their communication methods to work effectively as a team.

Dyslexia is different for everyone and so what works for one employee may not necessarily work for another. Therefore some may prefer verbal instructions and others may prefer instructions given in writing. It is always best to ask employees which they prefer and then deliver instructions according to their preferred channel. Either way, it is important to focus on the objectives of the tasks and remove any other information that is irrelevant. The clearer the message, the easier it will be for the employee to understand.

What supporting tools are available?

Technology is an important tool that can be used to support dyslexic employees with their reading and writing and there are several options that employers can implement to help them address any literacy difficulty. However, dyslexia affects employees in different ways and it is important to find out what works best for each individual.

Literacy software is one of the most important aids that employers can provide for employees with dyslexia. Text-to-speech software such as 'Read&Write Gold' from Texthelp sits as a discreet toolbar on Microsoft office applications and helps users read and understand documents as well as write their own material.

Layout and presentation can also be very important and this is where background colours and fonts play an important part:

  • Background colours – avoid using white as a background because it can be too ‘dazzling’ and therefore distracting. Changing the background colour to green or a pastel shade will help the reader. Microsoft Word is a good resource as it allows you to change background colours.
  • Fonts – encourage your employees to experiment with fonts to find out which one is easier to read. You can download a free specialist font such as ‘OpenDyslexic’ which can run on Microsoft software. This font adds gravity and weight to the document and makes each letter appear thicker at the bottom. Dyslexics who find characters invert or ‘swim’ should try using this font.

How can organisations support training and development?

When it comes to training and development, using photos, illustrations and other visual aids to cover topics can be highly effective for comprehension and retention.

Most training involves some amount of reading which means that employees who are dyslexic may be at a disadvantage. However, the use of literacy software provides the support needed to complete the required training and development to progress in the organisation.

Dyslexia can be a sensitive topic and there are many cases where individuals themselves don’t realise that they have the condition. Line managers can host one-to-one talks with employees to determine if they need help in this area. Below are a few questions they can ask and if an employee is dyslexic, then the organisation can create a work plan to help them.

  • Do you find it difficult to read?
  • Do you feel that you spend more time trying to read the words rather than understand the meaning?
  • When reading, do you easily lose where you are on the page?
  • Do you struggle with left and right?
  • Do you get numbers mixed up for example when dialling a phone number?
  • Do you mix up days and months?
  • Once you have read something, do you have difficulty remembering what you read?


For information on dyslexia in the workplace please email


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