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How I managed with dyslexia as a firefighter

Posted by on July 22, 2016

When I started work as a firefighter, I wasn’t in a position where I had to do a lot writing for or to other people. At school I taught myself how to memorize things in a most amazing way, because I struggled to read. I listened very well in meetings and when I was briefed about something, my memory was phenomenal.

However after two years in the job as a firefighter, I was offered temporary promotion to Leading Firefighter ( Crew Manager ) where I was in charge of a crew at the front of the fire appliance. It was then that I was being made fun of and being discriminated against. It seemed to take forever for me to read documents, and write reports and messages that were often riddled with errors. There were no computers or spellcheckers around then in the early 1990′s.

In 2005, after 15 years in the Fire Service, I completed a Politics Degree at the University of London and in the process I found out that I had the learning difference called ‘dyslexia’ a year prior. I always wondered why I was told that I am intelligent and full of good ideas and on the other hand can be sloppy and slow when it comes to paperwork. Now the penny dropped.

Just because someone has dyslexia, it does not mean that he or she is in any way less intelligent than his colleagues. In fact, chances are, he or she brings creativity, insight and powerful problem solving skills to your team.

According to Ronald Davis, author of the 2010 book, “The Gift of Dyslexia,” dyslexics think “outside the box” and often excel in entrepreneurship, science and inventions. Polar explorer Ann Bancroft, industrialist Henry Ford, and billionaire businessman Richard Branson all fit this pattern. Other famous and high-achieving dyslexics include physicist Albert Einstein, artist Pablo Picasso, movie director Steven Spielberg, and five-time Olympic gold medalist rower Sir Steven Redgrave.

With effective support, someone with dyslexia can be a valuable asset to your team. You can create a supportive and accepting environment for a dyslexic team member by adapting your communication styles and by providing appropriate resources. Ask what works best for him / her.

The way that she / he perceives the world is unique and can be a catalyst for innovation and success. But Davis also warns that, if not handled properly, the challenges faced by dyslexics can lead to low self-esteem, stress and even depression, which can exacerbate their condition.

Chances are, as the manager of a dyslexic person, you will have challenges to deal with. Changing his role or duties could cause him or her problems as he or she tries to adapt to new processes, for example, so you may need to provide additional training.

Similarly, introducing new technology can mean that you have to help him or her to adopt new ways of working. However, some new technology may really benefit him or her, and boost her engagement and productivity.

It shouldn’t be necessary in any workplace to hide something like dyslexia for fear of being made fun of or being discriminated against — so here are a couple of tips to encourage and protect people with dyslexia:

Tip 1:

Some dyslexic people are reluctant to disclose their condition. They may worry about how it could impact their employment and career prospects, for example, or out of shame at their difficulty in reading and writing.

Tip 2:

People with dyslexia in the U.S. are protected against discrimination by the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990, and those in the U.K. are covered by the Equality Act 2010. This means that employers need to make “reasonable adjustments” in the workplace so that dyslexic team members have the same opportunities as anyone else.

Wherever you work in the world, talk to your HR department for more information about what legislation applies to your organization.

Dyslexic photo

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