Recently, a reader wrote in to ask if an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provision could help her grandson. “My grandson has a reading and comprehensive dyslexia problem. He is an electrician, and in order to advance in his job, he must pass a qualification test. He has taken the test over and over. But his disqualification problem occurs when it takes him longer to read a question. Because of his disability, he has a problem with time limitations. He is qualified to meet all the job requirements, [but cannot pass] the certification tests. My question is: Is there a provision in the disability act to allow someone to read him the questions?” To get the answer, let’s look at what “reasonable accommodations” the ADA requires businesses to make for dyslexic workers.
What the ADA Says About Dyslexia
According to ADA.gov, “Dyslexia is perhaps the most common form of learning disability.” Dyslexia, a chronic condition which makes reading much more difficult, affects up to 80% of people with learning disabilities. So, we know for sure that the ADA treats dyslexia like any other disability in the workplace. This means that unless it causes “undue hardship” to do so, employers must make reasonable accommodations for dyslexic employees.
What “Reasonable Accommodation” Actually Means
The reader asked whether ADA provisions could require someone to read test questions out loud to her grandson. It’s possible finding a qualified question reader could cause “undue hardship” for his employer. Maybe nobody’s available or willing to read exam questions aloud, for example. But it’s not the only “reasonable accommodation” available. The ADA simply ensures test-takers with disabilities have the same ability to access and process required exam content as test-takers without disabilities.
Reading unaided within a certain time limit is not, to our knowledge, a job-related requirement for most electricians. Other ways the employer could comply with ADA requirements for certification test-takers may include:
- Screen-reading software on a computer that can read every question out loud
- Waiving the time limit requirement for disabled employees only
- Oral exams completed within the same time limits as the standard written test
However, there are still a few other factors to consider.
Other Factors That May Apply to Employees With Dyslexia
First, understand that if the grandson hasn’t told his employer he has dyslexia, that could pose another problem. Many people don’t feel comfortable volunteering information that could be used to illegally discriminate against them in the workplace. This is especially true for workers with an “invisible disability” like dyslexia. What does the ADA manual say about this issue? “In general, it is the responsibility of the applicant or employee with a disability to inform the employer that an accommodation is needed to participate in the application process, to perform essential job functions or to receive equal benefits and privileges of employment. An employer is not required to provide an accommodation if unaware of the need.”
So, step one is informing the employer about the disability (dyslexia). Step two is asking for a reasonable accommodation while taking required certification exams. If the employer refuses to make accommodations because they’re too costly, that may meet the ADA’s “undue hardship” requirement. In that case, the grandson can offer to cover the cost. If both parties can’t agree to reasonable accommodations, ask an employment attorney for advice.
When Should You Get An Employment Lawyer Involved?
In this case, the grandson may have a valid discrimination claim. This is because Chapter 7 of the ADA says that employers must follow “nondiscrimination requirements affecting promotion, assignment, training, evaluation, discipline, advancement opportunity and discharge.” If his disability stops him from finishing exams on time, refusing reasonable accommodations counts as employer discrimination. However, employers with fewer than 15 employees may not have to follow ADA guidelines. Any workers with dyslexia that suffer workplace discrimination should talk to an employment lawyer. It’s the best way to find out if you have a case and hold your employer accountable.