Following the recent controversy surrounding the employment of a postman who has dyslexia (see an article about it here), my first thoughts while reflecting on it wasn’t just regarding the rights or wrongs of the situation. While some people may choose to argue that a postman with dyslexia seems a bit counterproductive, others believe that the employee had an expectation of reasonable adjustments being made to his role, or if that wasn’t possible, redeployment within the organisation. However, the summary of the arguments is not the point of this blog. I am more concerned with how it must have felt for the individual about whom the article was written and whether such a topic should be the subject of a newspaper article. The last thing I would want to be accused of is hypocrisy in drawing attention to it through this blog, but I think the whole scenario raises many points about privacy and the fact that unfortunately discrimination and dyslexia too often go hand in hand.
While I understand that the person concerned remained anonymous in the reports, that only goes so far. While a great number of people won’t know who this is, a thought has to be spared for him and those who do. It’s not a great feeling to be told you can’t sufficiently do a job for which you are employed, never mind having that magnified and debated by the press. Don’t get me wrong, there are instances where highlighting discrimination due to dyslexia is absolutely the right thing to do – see the example here – but its context, phrasing and timing are crucial. If we compare the two articles mentioned previously, one appears to highlight not only evidence of dyslexia discrimination, but the attempted resolution of the grievances, while the other, the regrettable case of this postman, seems, at least to me, to have left him and other people who have dyslexia open to unnecessary scrutiny. Note that one article uses the language “a wake-up call for employers,” while the other states there was “nothing they could do” to remedy the situation as “that would be discrimination.” The difference in attitudes seems considerable.
Aside from the blatant disregard for privacy evident in that the report suggests that someone was told the postman has dyslexia without his expressed permission, the publication of the article needlessly paints those who have dyslexia in a bad light. Although there are countless success stories about people who have dyslexia – Keira Knightly, Jamie Oliver, Holly Willoughby and Richard Branson are a few examples – people are more likely to remember stories that have negative headlines.
Additionally, when we live in a world where self-worth is often equated with how much you can do and achieve as an individual, no consideration was given to not just this man, but others who may be struggling with obstacles caused by learning differences. The sad fact is that while reasonable adjustments should be made to allow everyone to reach their full potential irrespective of learning differences, it wouldn’t necessarily occur to everyone to take such steps, and stories like this one only reinforce the belief that people don’t have to. Even though the article goes to great lengths to promote a positive message regarding dyslexia and the changes that could be made in this case, a lot of people are guilty of only reading headlines and making snap judgements based on them.
Consequently, the media has a responsibility to consider the ramifications of publishing such content. While some may see this as a good opportunity to highlight the need for equality, others are just as entitled to wonder why it was published at all, given the predisposition of some to automatically assume that the individual with a learning difference is somehow at fault rather than the institutions that should be supporting them being the cause of the difficulty. Despite the irritation that insensitivity to learning differences can cause, there’s a couple of things that need to be remembered. One, the media and the content they produce can be used as tools to aid the eradication of discrimination, of which this article is a great example. Two, without the institution of the media, celebrities who have dyslexia would be unable to inspire readers with their stories of triumph, sometimes in spite of dyslexia, and sometimes because the learning difference allows them to approach situations in a unique way. If nothing else, stories like the ones that have been discussed should encourage people to remember that differences can and should be celebrated, which is no bad thing.
Gemma Bryant, blog volunteer