According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, approximately 15 million people have learning disabilities in the United States. Specific Learning Disabilities has been defined as disorders that affect the ability to understand or use spoken or written language, do mathematical calculations, coordinate movements, or direct attention.

Learning disabilities are divided into three broad categories: developmental speech and language disorders, academic skills disorders, and other (such as coordination disorders). Some of the more common specific disorders are described below.


A person with dyslexia generally has average to above average intelligence, but has deficits in visual, auditory, or motor process, which interfere with reading and reading comprehension. The individual may also have difficulties with learning to translate printed words into spoken words with ease.


A person with discaclula generally has average to above average intelligence, but has difficulty with numbers or remembering facts over a long period of time. Some persons have spatial problems and difficulty aligning numbers into proper columns. Some persons may reverse numbers, and have difficulty in mathematical operations.


A person with dyspraxia has problems with messages from the brain being properly transmitted to the body. Though the muscles are not paralyzed or weak, they have problems working well together. Dyspraxia might also cause speech problems, poor posture, poor sense of directions, and/or difficulty with hand/eye coordination.

Auditory Perceptual (or auditory processing) Deficit

The person with this specific learning disability has difficulty receiving accurate information from the sense of hearing (there is no problem with the individual's hearing, just in how the brain interprets what is heard). He or she might have problems understanding and remembering oral instructions, differentiating between similar sounds, or hearing one sound over a background noise.

Visual Perceptual (or visual processing) Deficit

Someone with visual perceptual deficit has difficulties receiving and/or processing accurate information from his or her sense of sight; he or she might have a problem picking out an object from a background of other objects or seeing things in correct order.

Learning disabilities are usually recognized when the child reaches school age, but they are a lifelong condition; they are not outgrown or cured. People with learning disabilities may experience a number of limitations which will vary among individuals. These limitations could affect their work performance.
LD and the Americans With Disabilities Act

Some learning disabilities meet the definition in the ADA and some do not. The ADA does not contain a list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, there is a general definition of disability - “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such impairment, or is regarded as having such impairment.”

The real test is that the impairment substantially limits one or more major life activities that an average person can perform with little or no difficulty. Various court cases have agreed that walking, seeing, speaking, hearing, breathing, learning, performing manual tasks, caring for oneself, and working, sitting, standing, lifting, or reading are all considered as major life activities.

If an employee discloses to his or her employer that a learning disability has been diagnosed, it is the responsibility of the employer to accommodate him or her. Not all people with learning disabilities will need accommodations to perform their jobs because they have developed coping techniques through special education, tutoring, medication, therapy, and other personal development.

When the employee discloses a disability, it is perfectly acceptable to require documentation of that disability from a health care provider. It is also acceptable to ask that the health care provider give specific information about how the disability limits their ability to perform their current job.

Questions to consider are these:

What limitations is the employee experiencing?
How do these limitations affect the employee's job performance?
What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
Do supervisory personnel and co-workers need training regarding learning disabilities?

Examples of Accomodation

While not all people will require the same accommodations, the following list might be helpful in identifying reasonable ways to accommodate employees.


People with learning disabilities may have limitations that make it difficult to read text. Because it can be difficult to visually discern letters and numbers, these characters may appear jumbled or reversed. Entire words or strings of letters may be unrecognizable.

Reading from a paper copy:

Convert text to audio
Provide larger print
Double space the text on print material
Use color overlays to help make the text easier to read
Provide materials that are type-written, in a font that is not italicized; if handwritten, use print, not cursive
Have someone read the document aloud to the individual
Scan the documents into a computer and use Optical Character Recognition to read information aloud
Use a reading pen, a portable device that scans a word and provides auditory feedback

Reading from a computer screen:

Use voice output software, also known as screen reading software, to highlight and read aloud the information from the computer screen
Use form-generating software to computerize order forms, claim forms, applications, equations, and formula fields
Use manual or electric line guide to help individuals "keep their place" on the computer monitor
Adjust the color and font on computer screen to suit the individual's visual preferences


People with learning disabilities might have difficulty spelling, which can manifest itself in letter reversals, letter transposition, omission of letters or words, or illegible handwriting.

Allow use of reference materials such as dictionary or thesaurus
Provide electronic and talking dictionaries
Use word prediction software that displays a list of words that typically follow the word that was entered in a document
Use word completion software that displays sample words after someone starts typing part of a word
Allow buddy, coworker, or supervisor to proofread written material


Cognitive Process of writing: People with learning disabilities might have difficulty with organizing a written project, identifying themes or ideas, structuring sentences or paragraphs, or identifying and/or correcting grammar errors.

Use Inspiration software, a computerized graphic organizer
Use Texthelp Read & Write Gold, a software program assisting with spelling, reading, and grammar.
Provide electronic/talking dictionaries and spellcheckers
Create written forms to prompt the writer for information needed
Allow the individual to create a verbal response instead of a written response
Permit use of reference books such as a thesaurus or dictionary

Physical process of writing: People with learning disabilities may have difficulty with filling in blanks, lining up numbers or words in a column, on a line, or within a margin. Handwriting may be illegible.

Provide writing aids
Use line guides and column guides
Supply bold line paper
Permit type-written response instead of hand-written response
Allow use of personal computers, including Alpha Smart, Palm, Tablet PC, and Blackberry
Use Inspiration software, a computerized graphic organizer
Use speech recognition software that recognizes the user's voice and changes it to text on the computer screen


A person with a learning disability could have difficulty recognizing or identifying numbers, remembering sequencing of numbers, understanding the mathematical sign or function (whether symbol or word) or performing mathematical calculations accurately and efficiently.

Permit use of scratch paper or fractional, decimal, statistical, or scientific calculators when testing them
Provide talking calculators, tape measures, and/or scales
Use calculators or adding machines with large display screens
Use construction calculator, such as Jobber 6
Use pre-measurement guides or jigs
Post mathematical tables at desk or in work area

Organizational Skills

A person with a learning disability may have difficulty managing time or getting organized, prioritizing tasks, or adhering to deadlines.

Help employee reduce clutter in work area
Use color-code system to label or identify materials
Use electronic calendars and emails to remind employee of deadlines, meetings, upcoming tasks
Build organization skills by attending time management workshops
Build in "catch up" time into work week or work day

Teach them to make to-do lists and check items off as they are completed
Divide large assignments into smaller tasks and goals


A person with a learning disability could have memory deficits that affect the ability to recall something that is seen or heard. This may result in an inability to recall facts, names, passwords, and telephone numbers, even if such information is used regularly.

Provide checklists to help remember job tasks
Use flowchart to describe steps to a complicated task (such as powering up a system, closing down the facility, logging into a computer, etc)
Safely and securely maintain paper lists of crucial information such as passwords
Prompt employee with verbal or written cues
Allow employee to use voice activated recorder to record verbal instructions
Provide additional training time on new information or tasks
Provide refresher training as needed

Social, and Communication Skills

People with learning disabilities may have difficulty communicating with others, which may be the result of underdeveloped social skills, lack of exposure in the workforce, shyness, intimidation, behavior disorders, or low self-esteem.
To help facilitate communication and eliminate anxiety, provide advance notice of date, time, and topics to be discussed in meeting
Allow employee to provide written response in lieu of verbal response
Provide sensitivity training to co-workers promote disability awareness
Make employee attendance at social functions optional

Once accommodations are in place, it would be useful to meet with the employee with the learning disability to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed.

As a supervisor it is important to provide clear expectations, detailed day-to-day feedback, coaching, and positive reinforcement. Please remember that incidences of inappropriate behavior might occur because of issues with social skills, or memory. Remember to thoroughly review conduct policy with employee, providing concrete examples to explain inappropriate behavior and consequences of such behavior. As reinforcement, recognize and reward specific behaviors that do meet standards.

Always remember, up front, to involve the human resources (HR) or legal representative, who is responsible for legal compliance to be sure you are not violating HIPPA (Health Information Privacy and Portability Act) or ADA.

While dealing with an employee who has learning disabilities can be a challenging situation for a manager, with the help of HR and/or your legal department, you can make accommodations that improve an employee’s ability to succeed at work in spite of his or her learning disability.

Author's Bio: 

Beth Mollenkamp is a human resources professional with a background in working with people with disabilities and their families. She is also an internet marketer and proud member of
Wealth Creations Network.