By: Nathan Thompson, Psy.D., ABPP, Laura Busby, M.Ed. & Dr. Burton A. Clark, EFO
Most people know that dyslexia can affect a person’s ability to read and spell. While this is true, dyslexia is more complex than difficulties understanding the code of written language. Dyslexia affects a person’s ability to learn and process information. These processing differences do bring struggles but also skills that are critically needed in today’s workplace.
Dyslexic thinking is often unique and creative, which leads to the creation of new ideas and solutions to tough problems. Many people with dyslexia have strong interpersonal skills and empathy, making them quite adept at working with people. The experiences of living with dyslexia often bring persistence and the ability to function in high-stress situations.
Success with dyslexia
Many very successful dyslexic people, such as Sir Richard Branson, Dr. Bob Ballard (the explorer who found the Titanic), and Shark Tanks’ Barbara Corcoran, attribute their success to their dyslexic thinking. When given the proper tools to compensate for the struggles, people with dyslexia can be very powerful parts of a successful organization.
Leaders can implement technologies and simple accommodations around the workplace to help people with dyslexia. Numerous assistive technologies, including text-to-speech (audio) and speech-to-text (dictation), are readily available to deal with the difficulties surrounding the processing of written language. Today’s smartphones are loaded with artificial intelligence that can handle written language-based tasks such as note-taking, filling out forms, and writing reports. Tech organizations like Microsoft are actively working to better these technologies as they not only help people with dyslexia but also make these language-based tasks automated and, thus, more efficient, saving time and resources.
Dyslexia should never prevent anyone from working in the fire service. However, academic testing and note memorization have a tendency to derail some individuals with dyslexia. But this should not be the case.
Training to be a firefighter with dyslexia
Training to become a firefighter is an arduous process, but the end goal is to ensure that these individuals can provide appropriate life-saving tools. This is often hard to measure through academics. Allowing for hands-on experience is a great way to measure performance. This is also true after the academy and with continued training. Providing accommodations can often be a great resource to measure performance and knowledge (i.e. having test items read to the individual, allowing them to dictate reports, etc.).
A movement to change the culture of dyslexia from a disability to a valuable way of thinking began in 2004 by Kate Griggs. With the creation of the first dyslexia sperm bank. See this link:
Today, Made by Dyslexia is addressing the importance of dyslexic thinking in the workplace. The fire service can be part of this process. See this link:
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