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Delaware Assistive Technology Initiative

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Vol. 10, No. 3 Summer/Fall 2002

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In the Workplace: Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities (LD) are neurological disorders that interfere with a person's ability to store, process, or produce information. The causes are unknown, but the effects on performance can be profound, despite the fact that individuals with learning disabilities generally have average or above average intelligence. Learning disabilities can affect a person's ability to read, write, speak, or compute math, and can also impede social skills and development. Performance can be inconsistent, with marked difficulties shown on certain types of tasks, but above average performance on others (National Center for Learning Disabilities, 2002).

Learning disabilities are primarily thought to be a school-related issue. This is understandable since common learning-related problems such as dyslexia are usually first identified in early grade levels. Improved screening and better awareness on the part of teachers has resulted in identifying as many as six to ten percent of students as having some form of learning disability (U.S. Department of Education, 2000). There are over 2.8 million school-aged children who receive special education services each year for learning disabilities (National Center for Learning Disabilities, 2002). Other students with LD are not formally identified; they get by with assistance from regular education teachers or learn to adapt as best they can.

What about implications in the workplace? The common misconception is that this is only an academic problem, not a lifelong concern, but learning disabilities do not go away after graduation. The Foundation for Children With Learning Disabilities (2001) estimates that there are at least six million adults with learning disabilities. Many are underemployed and are passed over for advancement. Many select manual or physical work that requires little reading or comprehension of complex information. Since employers are generally not very aware of potential LD issues, functional deficits can create job performance problems after individuals are hired.

Is assistive technology the answer?

Learning disabilities, which are often subtle, hidden disabilities, are not one of the first disability areas where assistive technology resources would be considered. In the past ten years, there has been increasing awareness of the benefit of technology as a tool to help deal with specific functional needs. One of the interesting developments is the recognition that some technologies developed for other applications may also be useful to people with learning disabilities. OCR (optical character recognition) reading systems are a good example. These tools were developed to enable persons who could not see text to be able to listen to it. This technology has proven to be effective in dealing with functional problems of persons with learning disabilities.

Here are a few applications of other technology that might address LD needs in the workplace:

Technology specialists that are familiar with LD issues can work with rehabilitation counselors to analyze work tasks and determine specific problem areas that an employee may have. Technology specialists may also be useful if involved early in the rehabilitation process so that their knowledge of possible accommodations can help employees look beyond previous academic frustrations when formulating their vocational plans.

For more information on learning disabilities:

National Center for Learning Disabilities
Comprehensive resource on LD

LD OnLine
School-oriented site that also offers interesting discussion boards for possible work-related applications

Misunderstood Minds
Special Public Broadcasting look at learning disabilities that focuses on students with LD, but has relevant content to relate to work issues.

This material was provided by Tech Connections, a project funded by a grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research of the Department of Education. For more information, visit

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