Learning Disabled Adults in the Workplace

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Learning Disabled Adults in the Workplace. JGI/Jamie Grill/Blend Images/Getty Images

Before special education programs existed, students with learning disabilities were too often regarded as slow learners, mentally disabled, or lazy. Few of these students graduated from high school or continued into postsecondary education. As a result, many adults with learning disabilities were never diagnosed and did not receive appropriate instruction for their disabilities. The result of all this is a lack of training, self-confidence, and ability to leverage strengths to increase the odds of success in the workplace.


Depending on the type of learning disability involved, adults experience their learning differences in various ways. Nevertheless, having experienced a learning disability as a child, many adults have developed skills that other people may lack.  For example, they may have learned how to work around difficulties, seek out answers from experts, or come up with new ways to meet goals. Many learning disabled adults have at least some of  these strengths in common:

  • They are often creative problem-solvers;
  • Their skills in non-disability areas are just as strong as, or better than, other adults; 
  • They are frequently very resourceful and can use and adapt materials and processes in creative ways.
  • They may have stronger-than-average strengths in such areas as spatial reasoning, "big picture" thinking, and personal empathy.

Depending on their personal goals and abilities, people with learning disabilities can become business leaders and entrepreneurs. Their willingness to think outside of the box can lead to the development of new, marketable ideas and products.


Of course, having any type of disability creates problems, and learning disabilities can be particularly challenging because they are invisible. In addition, in some cases, the feelings of inadequacy that start in childhood can continue to create problems in adulthood. These feelings can be exacerbated by:

  • Lack of understanding and support from employers;
  • Difficulty with promotion and advancement opportunities;
  • Being forced into low-paying jobs;
  • Lack of assistive technology or adaptive equipment at work.
  • Lack of technology to allow them access to continuing education courses and reading materials.

Learning Disabled Adults Can Succeed With Appropriate Resources

While adults may struggle with their learning disabilities, many can thrive with appropriate supports in the workplace. To ensure that such supports are present, though, learning disabled adults must learn self-advocacy skills.  It's also important to know where to turn for training, financial resources, job coaching, and other supports that are available through state and federal agencies. Learning Disabled adults who need support in their careers should:

  • Learn their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504, Equal Employment Opportunity Laws, and Rehabilitation Act of 1973;
  • Contact their state or local office for vocational rehabilitation;
  • Contact non-profit organizations for information and to develop a support network of other adults with learning disabilities and advocates; and
  • Take advantage of area public service agencies that offer to tutor in the area of learning disabilities.
  • Learn how to deal with discrimination in the workplace.
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