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By Paul Gerber, Ph.D.
This basic question gets to the heart of the matter. The invisibility of LD is very perplexing for most people, including employers. In essence, if you cannot see it, how can you understand it? It can seem very abstract. The most easily understood disabilities are ones that are sensory or physical in nature. It is easier to comprehend the challenges of blindness or deafness, as well as impairments that require use of a wheelchair or crutches. Moreover, accommodations for those disabilities are easier to grasp, as well. So, it is important to be specific about one's own LD whether it is dyslexia, auditory processing, attention deficit, memory deficit, or another disorder.
"Learning disabilities" (LD) is an umbrella term encompassing many issues. The term has been part of the national conversation for a good number of years, but unfortunately it's still not well understood by the general public. The key for the young person is to know exactly what her learning disability is and be able to describe clearly to an employer how it manifests itself, and which compensations or accommodations she uses to "work around" it.
A 2000 Roper-Starch poll revealed that the majority of people in this country thought learning disabilities were the same as mental retardation. But nothing could be further from the truth. Each is a cognitive disability, but the prospects for adjustment to the demands of daily life are markedly different between the two conditions. By definition, a person with LD has average to above-average intelligence. A person with mental retardation, on the other hand, has below-average intelligence and faces significant challenges in adapting her behavior to meet the demands of daily life. Consequently, the vast majority of persons with LD will engage in competitive employment, while those with mental retardation will not.
Many employers are eager to be good corporate citizens, so they are willing to provide reasonable accommodations for persons with LD. However, they are not LD specialists and they must rely on employees with LD themselves to know or figure out the accommodations they need in order to perform productively at work. Accommodations might include the use of assistive technology, or the kinds of accommodations that worked for learning and testing during the young person's school years.
Since all employers have an eye on productivity, they are most interested in facilitating workplace conditions that promote effectiveness and efficiency. It is the responsibility of the young person with LD to know what she does best, and under what conditions she does her best work. In addition, she needs to be fully aware of challenges to productivity caused by her learning disability so she can arrange for job accommodations. Employers seem open to new ways to accomplish tasks, but they rightfully monitor how tasks are accomplished in the workplace, in order to maintain smooth processes and procedures.
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