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Accommodating Learning Disabilities

Friday, October 15th, 2010

woman holding computer mouse

People often think assistive technology is expensive, but it’s not. Most solutions cost lest than $500, according to the Job Accommodation Network. For people with learning disabilities, the solution can be as simple as using the built-in spell checker in Microsoft Word. Other software items include text-to-speech software that reads aloud electronic text and highlights words as they are being read, word-prediction software, talking calculators and reading pens, like the Livescribe Pulse pen.

If you have difficulty reading and writing, Dragon NaturallySpeaking’s speech-to-text dictation software is a great accommodation for preparing presentations. Another option is to ask for verbal instead of written instructions, or ask that a coworker be assigned to read you important information and documents.

If possible, try to be seated in an office or quiet location, or ask for headphones to block out noise so you can concentrate better. You might also ask to telecommute – work from home – on occasion. People with learning disabilities often benefit from the use of smart phones that help them organize their time and schedule.

The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide “reasonable accommodations” to help employees that self-identify as having a disability perform the essential functions of their job so long as providing the accommodation does not pose an “undue hardship” to the employer. It is the worker’s responsibility to disclose his or her disability to an employer and request accommodations, though employers are not required to provide the exact accommodation requested by the employee.

An employer also has the right to request medical documentation and refuse letters from educational specialists, making it difficult for a person with a learning disability to validate his or her claim. Still, most employers want their workers to succeed and will do what it takes to accommodate their needs as it pertains to the job. If you have a disability and require an accommodation, you should contact the human resources office in your workplace to initiate a request for accommodations under the ADA.

Other avenues for finding assistive technologies are state vocational rehabilitation services, which provide funding for some assistive technologies if it relates to employment. You also can consult the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a free service with a searchable database of assistive technologies. They also provide free consulting over the phone.