Personal Story: Disclosing LD in the Workplace
Being dyslexic has affected my entire life, however I was never more aware of the extent of my disability until I entered the work force. After being diagnosed with dyslexia in the third grade, I was lucky enough that my parents transferred me to a school that understood the challenges of learning disabled (LD) students and never lowered their expectations of me compared to non-LD students. This enabled me to receive additional time and assistance without questioning my potential to earn an A or attend the college of my choice, which was the University of Pennsylvania. Throughout high school and college I believed being dyslexic was an insurmountable curse. I had to work harder than all my friends, staying up until 4 a.m. on a regular basis, missing out on parties and social experiences, and I could never get past my anger that reading and writing came so much easier to “normal” students.
However, my disability became much more apparent when I started working at an investment bank where my work product affected my whole team and not just my grade at school. Initially I did not mention my dyslexia to co-workers for fear that they would regret hiring me or think less of me. But as time passed I realized that I was doing myself an injustice by not speaking up.
How could I expect my superiors to understand that I took longer to complete a task because of my disability and not because I was procrastinating? Or that I forgot what they just requested because my brain is wired differently resulting in poor short-term memory and not because I wasn’t paying attention to what they were saying?
When I finally told one of my co-workers he turned to me and said, “Ok, I understand what you’re saying, but I’m not sure what you want me to do.” Good question. I had to think: did I want him to treat me differently than others? No. Did I want him to give me less work than others? No. What I wanted was for him to simply understand what I was going through. That’s the thing about having a learning disability, no one can see it from just looking at you and unless you speak up, no one will have any idea. For some people this is the best part of a learning disability…they can hide it from the world! But what good is that doing?
It took me opening up to my co-workers for me to understand that yes, being dyslexic is a disability, but it is also a source of strength. I had to learn at a young age how to overcome setbacks, work extra hard to get where I wanted, and to push against adversity. In turn this gave me an advantage over my peers and has led me to succeed in school and work. Now when I talk about my experience with friends and colleagues they can see my determination and drive and not just my disability.