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By Paul Gerber, Ph.D.
Within the framework of a changing workplace are further options for employees with learning disabilities. Those are self-disclosure and the use of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The decision to disclose one's disability to an employer or to invoke one's rights under ADA brings a new set of dynamics to the employment experience. They place learning disabilities "front and center" in a very important life activity.
Research shows that most individuals with learning disabilities do not disclose that they have a learning disability at the point of job entry, or even during the first few years of employment. There are a number of reasons for this, including fear of being stigmatized, lack of knowledge in society about learning disabilities, and feeling that there is more risk than benefit associated with self-disclosure, even when accommodations guaranteed under the ADA can aid in employment adjustment and success. If a young person with LD can successfully advocate for herself, by articulating how the demands of her work are affected by the manifestations of her learning disability, then she can deal with change effectively and efficiently.
With the choice of self-disclosure and the ongoing process of self-advocacy, the ADA becomes a very important "tool" for the young person with LD, not only for equity, but for support for workplace efficiency and productivity. It's important to remember, however, that the employee with LD must disclose her disability and thereby invoke her rights under the ADA, in order for reasonable accommodations to be mandatory.
ADA is an equal employment opportunity law, and LD is one of many disabilities the law covers. ADA is not, however, an affirmative action program. Therefore, a person with LD cannot be discriminated against in employment because of a disability issue, but she must compete for the job on an equal footing with other candidates. So, In order for her to be protected by the ADA, it is imperative that she be "qualified." That means she must have the "essential functions" (knowledge and skills) to do the job. "Essential functions" is a key aspect of the concept of "best fit" mentioned above.
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