Intelligent and High-Achieving Dyslexic People May Still Be Disabled in Law


Dyslexic people may be both highly intelligent and high-achieving but still be disabled in the legal sense of the word. An Employment Tribunal (ET) made that point in a case concerning a worker whose difficulties were such that she could not recall the last time she managed to finish a book.

The woman lodged a disability discrimination complaint against her former employer, a university students’ union. To succeed in her claim, she first had to establish that she was disabled within the meaning of Section 6(a) of the Equality Act 2010. That question was addressed by the ET as a preliminary issue. The union accepted that her dyslexia was a lifelong condition that impaired her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. It denied, however, that the impairment was substantial.

Ruling on the matter, the ET noted that, despite her obvious intelligence and many abilities, she encounters difficulties in reading, writing and processing information which are only partially ameliorated by coping strategies. She has issues with grammar and spelling; she mispronounces words and names and can take an unusually long time to complete tasks that involve literacy skills.

Noting that it is possible to be both high-achieving and disabled by dyslexia, the ET found that the impairments arising from her condition were substantial, in the sense of being more than minor or trivial. Although she was capable of most workplace activities, she could only do some of them with difficulty and often to a less high standard and taking a longer time to complete them.

Although she also has dyspraxia, resulting in some physical clumsiness and difficulty in performing certain tasks, such as holding a pencil, the ET found that the condition makes a relatively minor contribution to the overall picture of her disability. Taken by itself, her dyslexia was a sufficient impairment to meet the statutory definition. The ruling entitled her to proceed with her discrimination claim.

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