Difference Between Learning Difficulty and Disability: Boosting Workplace Diversity

Published on: 04 Mar, 2024

Awareness and knowledge are key to initiating change in society. How will we set out on a better path without knowing what we are working towards? In the spirit of awareness, we dive into the differences, causes and overlapping aspects of learning disability and learning difficulty, two terms that are often used interchangeably. Not only will this information help in understanding the obstacles faced by people with learning disabilities, but will also help in boosting workplace diversity. 

Learning Difficulty vs Learning Disability

Let’s first start with differentiating between learning disability and learning difficulty. With the objective of boosting workspace diversity, it’s essential to dissect their intricacies. Despite their frequent interchangeability, the terms learning disability and learning difficulty are two different concepts with particular characteristics. Learning difficulties are the challenges that people might face when trying to acquire knowledge or upskill. These difficulties in learning can take many different forms, including difficulties with comprehension, reading, writing or analyzing. As per the National Health & Medical Research Council, about 10 -16% of the population has learning difficulties. However, learning disabilities are neurodevelopmental disorders that have a substantial effect on a person's capacity to collect, process, store, and use information. They are diagnosed by a medical professional and affect about 2-4% of the world’s population. 

Learning difficulties are commonly caused by environmental factors and can be improved with adequate educational intervention. On the other hand, learning disabilities are neurologically originated and can persist life-long. Slow reading speeds, trouble understanding spoken language, and issues with planning and organising are a few challenges faced by people with learning disabilities. Even with intense training and educational help, learning disabilities are often close to impossible to overcome.

By understanding the difference between learning difficulty and disability, employers can implement effective strategies to accommodate diverse learning needs which helps in boosting workspace diversity.  Embracing diversity in the workplace fosters equality while also utilising the special skills and viewpoints of people with different learning styles, which eventually results in a more innovative and successful company.

Significance of Understanding Differences in the Workplace

Encouraging inclusive work environments is important, particularly when it comes to addressing disabilities and learning challenges. Research suggests that employee engagement is increased by inclusivity when it comes to advocacy and retention rates. Differentiating between disabilities and learning difficulties creates an environment in which every employee feels supported and appreciated. Also, inclusivity improves an employee's work experience by giving them the tools they need to overcome obstacles.

Furthermore, valuing diversity and inclusivity encourages creativity and innovation by utilising a range of viewpoints that boost originality and flexibility. Successful leaders are those who have the ability to advance inclusivity because they are able to set an example of tolerance, transparency, and variety. After all, prioritising inclusion leads to increased profitability, inventiveness, engagement, and organisational success.

Understanding Learning Difficulty

Learning difficulties can arise from a combination of environmental factors and cognitive processing differences. Environmental factors mainly comprise of home environment, educational resources available, and socioeconomic status. Limited access to quality education, inadequate support at home, or exposure to stressful living conditions might cause learning difficulties in children from poorer sections of society. Such environmental factors can hinder cognitive development and cause learning difficulties later in life.

Additionally, cognitive processing differences play a significant role in learning difficulties. Variations in attention, memory, executive functioning, and other cognitive abilities can be possible obstacles in gaining and retaining knowledge. These differences may further become neurodevelopmental conditions.

Identification and Assessment

Early identification of learning difficulties is crucial for providing timely support to individuals. Recognizing early signs such as challenges with language skills, reading, maths, memory, attention, fine motor skills, or social interactions can help flag potential learning difficulties. These symptoms might point to underlying problems that need to be evaluated further by trained specialists. 

Various assessment tools and methods are available to evaluate individuals for learning difficulties. Standardised tests assess academic skills in areas such as reading, writing, and analysis whose results provide standardised scores for comparison. Tests when conducted in different settings and interviews with relevant individuals can offer valuable information about an individual's behaviour and performance. Using a blend of early signs recognition and comprehensive assessment tools, professionals can accurately identify learning difficulties in order to support individuals in achieving their full potential.

Strategies for Supporting Employees with Learning Difficulty

Accommodations and Adjustments: Actions and efforts to support people with learning difficulties can vary depending on the nature of difficulty. This may include offering extended time for tasks, providing written instructions in addition to verbal ones, using assistive technologies such as screen readers or speech-to-text software, or allowing flexible work arrangements. By accommodating specific challenges related to learning difficulties, employers can create a more inclusive and supportive work environment. With a little understanding and support, people with learning difficulties can overcome their challenges and be a productive member of society.

Training and Awareness Programs: Education and awareness are stepping stones towards igniting change. This will help develop understanding and empathy. Employers can host seminars and training programs to disseminate information about learning difficulties, common challenges individuals may face, and effective strategies for supporting them. Embracing  inclusivity and diversity in the workplace can help create a culture of acceptance and support for employees with learning difficulties. 

Understanding Learning Disability

A learning difficulty does not affect a person's intellectual capacity, which is the primary distinction between learning difficulties and learning impairments. The ability to comprehend and interact with words or numbers is present in someone with a learning disability, such as dyslexia, but their dyslexia presents a challenge that must be overcome in order to realise that potential.  

Intellectual capacity is impacted by learning difficulties, and these conditions can create a variety of obstacles in the way of an individual's potential. Learning challenges can be addressed by altering the way material is presented, catering to different learning styles, or even allowing individuals with learning issues more time to comprehend and finish activities than those without them. Individuals with learning disabilities need assistance from others and occasionally from tools to get over barriers and resolve communication problems with each other.

Identification and Evaluation

Learning disabilities are conditions that make it harder for some people to learn certain things. These difficulties can affect how someone reads, writes, or does math. Common types of learning disabilities include dyslexia (difficulty with reading), dysgraphia (difficulty with writing), dyscalculia (difficulty with math), and auditory processing disorder (difficulty processing auditory information). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is also often associated with learning disabilities due to difficulties with attention, focus, and impulse control.

Signs of learning disabilities can vary widely but may include struggles with reading, writing, math, organisation, memory, attention, or following instructions. Early identification and intervention are important to provide appropriate support and accommodations to help individuals with learning disabilities succeed in school, work, and everyday life.

It's essential to understand that having a learning disability doesn't mean a person can't learn—it just means they may need different strategies or support to do so. With the right assistance and encouragement, individuals with learning disabilities can thrive and reach their full potential.

Overlapping Aspects

People with learning impairments and learning difficulties frequently have similar obstacles in the workplace when it comes to reading, writing, spelling, or math, which can hinder their productivity and job effectiveness. Occasionally, individuals encounter challenges related to time management, organisation, or memory recall, which may hamper their ability to fulfil employment obligations efficiently. People with learning disabilities struggle with tasks that require a high level of complex cognitive processing or attention to detail, which can have a consequential effect on their performance at work.

Furthermore, stigma and prejudices are commonplace in the workplace for those with learning disabilities or challenges. Stereotypes and preconceived notions can affect them negatively as every person is different. Biassed actions from peers or superiors can demotivate people with learning disabilities in putting their best foot forward. Employers need to work on increasing awareness, encouraging understanding, and developing a welcoming and inclusive workplace culture that celebrates diversity and acknowledges the contributions and abilities of every worker, regardless of their learning profiles, in order to combat this stigma and preconceptions. Improving workspace diversity and general performance requires talking about these common issues first.

Enhancing Inclusion Efforts - Best Practices for Human Resources

Recruitment and Hiring:

  • Inclusive Job Descriptions: Make sure that job descriptions are composed using simple, straightforward language that is free of superfluous jargon or unclear terminology. If requested, provide descriptions in other formats, such as plain text or audio.
  • Offer candidates flexibility in the application process by allowing them to submit information in different forms or, if necessary, extending the deadline for completing evaluations.
  • Disability Disclosure: Provide a welcoming atmosphere so that applicants feel comfortable disclosing their learning difficulties on their own volition. Reassure candidates that their chances of being considered for the post will not be impacted by their disclosure.
  • Organized Interviews: To reduce misunderstanding and give candidates with learning difficulties an equal chance to present their qualifications and talents, conduct organized interviews with simple, unambiguous questions.

Training and Development:

  • Tailored Learning Plans: Create learning plans specifically tailored to the strengths, challenges, and learning preferences of staff members who have learning disabilities.
  • Adapted Training Materials: Make sure that employees with learning disabilities can easily access training materials like handouts, presentations, and internet resources. Offer resources in a variety of media, including plain text, audio, and visual assistance.
  • Multimodal Learning Approaches: To accommodate various learning preferences and improve comprehension, incorporate multimodal learning approaches such as interactive simulations, hands-on exercises, and multimedia presentations.
  • Peer support and mentoring: Assist workers with learning difficulties by assigning them to peer mentors or coaches who can offer extra help, direction, and inspiration during their educational journey.
  • Feedback and Progress Tracking: Give staff members regular feedback and chances to assess performance and solve their concerns as they face them.

Legal and Ethical Considerations

The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995: This is the primary legislation in India concerning persons with disabilities. The act provides for equal opportunities, protection of rights, and full participation for individuals with disabilities. It covers a wide range of issues including non-discrimination, accessibility, education, employment, and social security for persons with disabilities. The act mandates affirmative action by the government and private sector in employment, education, and other areas to ensure inclusivity and equal opportunities.

Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Regulations: In India, EEO regulations are primarily governed by the Persons with Disabilities Act of 1995, which prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment and ensures equal opportunities for employment and advancement. Additionally, the Constitution of India prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth, which also applies to employment practices.

Promoting a Non-discriminatory Environment: Employers in India have a legal and ethical responsibility to promote a non-discriminatory environment in the workplace. This includes providing reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities, ensuring equal pay for equal work, and prohibiting discrimination based on disability or any other protected characteristic. Employers are also encouraged to implement diversity and inclusion initiatives to create a more inclusive work environment.

Ethical Responsibilities of Employers: Beyond legal requirements, employers in India have ethical responsibilities to treat all employees fairly and with dignity. This includes providing a safe and inclusive work environment, respecting the rights and autonomy of persons with disabilities, and actively working to eliminate barriers to their full participation in the workplace. Employers should also provide training and awareness programs to sensitise employees about disability rights and promote a culture of respect and inclusivity.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Question 1: Is Autism a learning disability or difficulty?

Answer 1: Autism is neither a learning disability nor a learning difficulty. It is a neurological and developmental disorder that impacts how a person interacts with their surroundings. It can pose problems in understanding environmental factors and affect how the person behaves. People on the autism spectrum might also have a learning disability. 

Question 2: What is the IQ of a learning disability?

Answer 2: Although there are many different types of learning disabilities, three main characteristics are common to all of them: beginning in childhood, substantial impairment of social or adaptive functioning, and lower intellectual ability (often defined as an IQ of less than 70).

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