Yorkshire employers urged to embrace dyslexia awareness

DYSLEXIA experts in Yorkshire have welcomed an employment tribunal ruling that Starbucks discriminated against one of its employees because of her difficulties with reading, writing and numeracy.


The high street coffee chain had accused Meseret Kumulchew, a supervisor, of falsifying documents after she mistakenly entered incorrect information in a roster of temperature readings from fridges and other equipment.

Ms Kumulchew was subsequently given more menial roles and ordered to retrain by managers at Starbucks, who are now awaiting a second hearing to determine the level of compensation.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Her experience is far from unique, according to Sarah Patel of Yorkshire Dyslexia, a Halifax-based specialist consultancy which works with individuals and schools across the county.

“Sadly many employers have a lack of awareness of the issues that people with dyslexia face, which is a very real problem for businesses and employees alike,” said Ms Patel.

“There is also the ongoing issue of diagnosis: some people with dyslexia are still going through life thinking they are just not very clever.

“In a lot of cases, employees who know they are dyslexic tend to keep quiet and not draw attention to the difficulties they have because they don’t expect employers to be empathetic.

“Employers need to be aware of the difficulties people with dyslexia face, because it’s in their interest to have employees working to their strengths. Someone who is happy in their job is always going to more productive than someone who is being expected to carry out tasks they can’t do because of their dyslexia.”

The British Dyslexia Association estimates that one person in 10 suffers from varying levels of dyslexia, a complex and often misunderstood condition which impacts on a wide variety of functions, including reading, writing, spelling, mathematics and musical notation.

Research into the causes of dyslexia are continuing and focus on the way in which the brain processes the information it receives.

Ms Patel, who has taught in and around schools in Yorkshire for the last 13 years, said it is important to acknowledge that dyslexia is not just a condition that affects reading and writing.

“Employers are not always aware of the other issues that come with dyslexia such as poor organisational skills, poor processing skills and poor memory, all of which can impact on an employee in the workplace,” she said.

“For example, a restaurant might employee an excellent chef who is so good at his job his manager starts to give him more responsibility that does not take into account the fact that he has dyslexia.

“As well as working in the kitchen he’s suddenly expected to line manage others, conduct audits, do stock-taking and deal with suppliers: because he’s dyslexic he is going to struggle and without support from his employer will quickly stop enjoying his job, which leads to the quality of meals declining and business suffering.”

The lack of support for adults with dyslexia in the workplace is mirrored by the poor level of understanding about the condition in schools nationally, and Yorkshire Dyslexia believes there needs to be stronger awareness of dyslexia among teaching professionals.

“There isn’t enough training given, especially to primary school teachers, on teacher training courses,” added Ms Patel.

“Some schools still refuse to acknowledge that a child who is exhibiting difficulties is dyslexic: they may have a very high level of understanding but not be able to put things down on paper, or take in and process information very well.

“There is a real flaw with Key Stage 2 sats. It’s quite often the case that when we assess children and look at the mechanics of reading, how they decode words and their comprehension of text, they can understand to a level which is higher than their ability to write it down.

“Key Stage 2 sats tests the whole thing and makes no allowance for a dyslexic child’s ability to communicate their level of understanding and comprehension.

“Some schools are fantastic with dyslexia, they’re really on the ball and welcome us coming in to give assessments and information on children: unfortunately there is insufficient public funding for dyslexia and many schools can’t afford the support.

“If 10 per cent of the population has dyslexia, that’s three pupils in every class who need help. Sadly for many children that help isn’t forthcoming.”

The tribunal in London found that Starbucks failed to make “reasonable adjustments” for an employee who had made full disclosure about her dyslexia, and in an interview with the BBC, Ms Kumulchew was keen to stress that she wanted help rather than special treatment.

“I’ll struggle, but don’t worry, help me and I’ll get there in my own time,” she said.

“I’m not going to affect your business, because for every customer I’ll roll out the red carpet. I love my job. Giving them a coffee may not be a big deal, but I’m making their life, for the day at least, happy.”