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I'm a CS undergrad. As undergrads are prone to do, I worked an internship at a tech company last summer. They seemed to like me, so I got a return offer.

I'm back this summer, but the company's intern program has changed slightly, to include a final writeup of what I've done this summer (as well as a few other written projects). They tell me that these papers have a large effect on the final determination about whether I receive a return offer.

My problem is that I have dyslexia. I think most people have heard of dyslexia, but it's not a very commonly understood condition. Basically, I can't read or write well. I often have to read documentation very slowly, and have a hard time proof reading my own writing.

I'm afraid that if I don't tell my manager, my semi-regular spelling mistakes, tendency to miss parts of documentation, etc. will be held against me. None of this affects my performance, but instead creates the impression that I may have a poor attention to detail, or work ethic.

But I'm also concerned that if I tell my employer, it will reduce my chances of receiving a return offer.

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    Based on my experience reading and writing here on Stack Exchange, I find your written communication exemplary. I up-voted the 'talk to your manager' answer below but wanted to compliment your well-formed question nonetheless. – JasonInVegas Jul 6 '17 at 0:43
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Jul 8 '17 at 22:47

13 Answers 13

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You should talk to your manager or HR contact to make sure that they understand your situation. In many cases, if you are in good standing and a valuable (potential) employee, they will work with you on accommodations for this.

I do disagree with one of your claims though, and it is important that you represent yourself accurately.

None of this affects my performance

I think this does impact your performance, although there is a legitimate reason and possible ways to work around it. Taking longer to review documentation, missing parts of the documentation and possibly having to redo work, and taking longer to write your own documentation are all examples of lower performance.

If you say it doesn't impact your performance and they compare you to others, you may come up lacking. Instead of saying it doesn't impact your performance, explain why and show how you would like help on improving performance in those areas. Now they will be in a position to fairly evaluate you. If your coding and problem solving skills are good, they can work on the other aspects with you.

A company that will not hire you if you are up front about this is probably not a company that will react well if they find out on their own. You're better off knowing how they react right from the beginning.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Jul 8 '17 at 22:47
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As they say in the Military, "Never lie, but never volunteer information that you were not asked for." This is my opinion based on my 35 years in the workforce, 25 of which has been in technology.

Your dyslexia is irrelevant if you can perform your job well. Your ability to perform your job has to do with what results you can produce. Whether or not you have dyslexia is besides the point!

So, there is no need, nor obligation, to disclose anything like this to an employer unless you are talking about a VERY sensitive position for which it might actually be relevant. Do your best, get evaluated on your performance. Let that be your career path.

Yes, your path will be harder, and your difficulty doing some things will be brought up. That is simply the way things are. Don't use your disability as a crutch, or as a way to get sympathy, otherwise you will never learn how to truly overcome it, and you will also get far less respect. If you can, never mention it. Just try harder, find ways around the problems.. do anything except lean on a disability like this.

As an aside, you may be surprised how many very successful software engineers have dyslexia. This is almost a joke, as we all know how readable Unix man pages are sometimes :-)

  • All totally correct! – Fattie Jul 6 '17 at 1:31
  • Risk being fired, yes. It is up to the individual to evaluate that risk and take the action they believe will result in the best outcome. However as far as I am concerned, there is no ethical requirement here. An employer doesn't need to know, unless you are applying for a sensitive position in leadership, or where such a problem would endanger others. Employer's can fire you for anything they like in the states, so I feel no need to give them this sort of information. – T. B. Jul 6 '17 at 7:23
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    @Thunderforge That is grossly innacurate - In Brazil you have to undergo an admissional medical exam, but the proceedings of the exam that reach the employer is only able / unable to work on the position. The acutal medical records and conditions are protected by law, also Brazil has laws in place to protect workers from discrimination based on disabilities. Most big-to-medium companies also have quotas to meet on # of employees elderly or with disabilities, so they can meet several incentive programs. There is volunteer information to the employer. Just to the medic. – Mindwin Jul 6 '17 at 16:24
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    @Mindwin Thanks for the correction. I've deleted my original comment. – Thunderforge Jul 6 '17 at 17:05
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I strongly recommend a book called The Dyslexic Advantage which is intended to break the stigma of dyslexia as a disability but rather explain it as different form of mental processing which has weaknesses but also great advantages.

The book breaks down these advantages into four main areas which are summarized here. A dyslexic person may excel in one or more of these areas.

Chances are that being dyslexic, you'll be able to solve problems in ways that other people can't and this will be an incredible asset to your employer. You will also, of course, need to understand the weaknesses (e.g. getting easily distracted or bored) and learn how to minimize them. You might also need to explain your strategies for minimizing them to your employer.

Given that being dyslexic has advantages, I think you're much better off declaring it (along with a clear explanation of the strengths) rather than risk being written off as having poor attention to detail, etc.

Good luck - learn your strengths and make the most of them.

  • I couldn't agree more. I am not dyslexic, but I just won't waste my time reading manuals or writing bumpf doco. If some contract or whatever asserts we have to pour through some doco, I walk off. Being dyslexic is no problem compared to having a bad attitude. – Fattie Jul 6 '17 at 12:38
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    @Fattie: Is your last sentence a self-deprecating acknowledgment of the implication of your first three sentences? – ruakh Jul 8 '17 at 23:15
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I'm afraid that if I don't tell my manager, my semi-regular spelling mistakes, tendency to miss parts of documentation, etc. will be held against me. None of this affects my performance, but instead creates the impression that I may have a poor attention to detail, or work ethic

This is your opportunity to prove the bolded claim. During your career, you will be asked to perform a detailed read of highly complex documentation. You will be asked to write not just code but explanations, descriptions, documentation, reports, etc. You will have to present your work to peers, higher-ups, and customers.

Your disability doesn't affect your performance, if and only if you're able to complete your assigned tasks, even when your disability makes them harder than they would be otherwise.

Your ideas, your problem solving skills, your ability to write clean, readable, reusable code, and your ability to communicate are largely independent from your disability and far more important to your success. Even the stuff that seems related to your disability is 90% mental and 10% execution. The 10% might be a bit harder, but the 90% is unaffected.


With that said, if you need accommodations, you should request them. That may be a formal request or it may be setting good expectations and pushing back when necessary.

If someone sends you a long, complex email and then shows up at your desk and wants to hover over you while you read it so it can be discussed, set some boundaries.

If someone "demands" that you write an email to a higher-up explaining some issue and it MUST be there in 5 minutes! Push back and set a reasonable expectation.

In most normal work situations, if it takes you a few extra minutes to write an email because you want to double/triple check your spelling, grammar, etc. That's not a big deal. If it takes you longer to review documentation or read a debrief, no one will notice or care.

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There can't be much reasonable expectation that you might be able to hide that forever, they are going to find out anyway, and the later they do the more they might feel uncomfortable with you hiding that, so there can't be much doubt about what to do.

Just tell them upfront and do that while exhibiting an "I know I'd be good for this or other companies so I'm not particularly concerned about my professional future" demeanor, and then enjoy the added bonus of the karma points that will result from doing so, no matter you get hired or not. Mind the point made in the last sentence of @cdkMoose answer: A company that will not hire you if you are up front about this is probably not a company that will react well if they find out on their own. You're better off knowing how they react right from the beginning.

You want to be known as the guy who does a good job dyslexia or not; you don't want to be known as the guy who tries to hide his dyslexia when looking for jobs.

Also, some dyslexia symptoms are going to show up at some point, and you don't want your colleagues to start wondering about the reason for those symptoms and coming up with guesses, you want them to know that's just because of your dyslexia.

If you choose not to tell, I would also thoroughly research the legal side of hiding your condition from your employer.

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Speaking as a child to a person with dyslexia and dyscaligraphia (trouble forming letters).

I just want to add that dyslexia is very common, and depending on where you live and context, there is a possibility that no-one would even bat an eye at it.

Unlike other learning disabilities, dyslexia is publicly well known and socially accepted. I would avoid using "learning disability" (which sounds really dramatic) when talking to your future workplace and instead use just "dyslexia" (which is a well known term which most people understand).

That said, my parent generally avoids mentioning it, unless they will need some special tool (which in their case means a computer to avoid handwriting and to help with spellchecking).

People misspell all the time. It's not that dramatic. You only got a good reason for it, a reason your boss and/or hr would understand if you explain it well.

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The solution to the immediate problem, the final report, is to get someone to proof read it for you. Then get someone else to proof read that. Between the 2 you should have a clean write up.

Unless you have a need for accommodation then I see no reason to bring up the dyslexia. Being slow and careful when writing up documents and emails is not a bad thing. In fact over time I have had to throttle my self back when writing and frequently review what i write to make sure I am properly communicating it. Until your speed becomes an issue there is no reason to bring it up.

If a manager does say something to you about it, then I would probably talk with them about your dyslexia, and explain that your slower writing speed is how you compensate for it. Until it is an issue, your sharing the details is more likely to cause problems, rather than solve them. As much as we try and want to be free of prejudice, we are human and it is harder to let go of preconceived notions than we admit. Sharing it may lead to your manager assuming problems exist where there are none, and trying to make accommodations you do not want or desire. This could also lead to being passed over promotion not because of your inability to do the job, but because they fear your dyslexia will cause problems. And you will never know if you were passed over because you disclosed your dyslexia rather than because someone else was better for the job.

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    In USA, if accommodations are needed, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires them to be provided, and prohibits "retaliation." However, it's awfully easy to manufacture a legal reason to fire or not hire, and nearly impossible to prove in court that there was another reason. Especially when they can afford lawyers and you can't. And what if you win? Do you really want to answer to a boss you beat in court? – WGroleau Jul 6 '17 at 4:41
  • @WGroleau Agreed... other things it doesn't do is protect them from being passed over for promotion, put them on the teams with the most exciting and important projects, get them the benefit of the doubt at review time, get them choosen to represent the company at trade shows... unless you need accomodation then pointing out your weakness to your boss is just giving them reason not to pick you even if they have to say the reason is something else. I would say the same thing about being socially awkward. Its a percieved weakness in the eyes of a boss. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jul 6 '17 at 12:21
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    Good points. Proofreading by a native speaker of the language is the answer, not to mention just being an expectable level of professionalism, whether the issue is not being a native speaker, or being dyslexic. – Dewi Morgan Jul 6 '17 at 14:51
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Depending on where you live,there may be laws that prohibit employers from making discrimination based decisions when making a job offer. In the U.S., this is the case. An employer cannot discriminate against a prospective employee solely because of a disability (depending on the type of job, however...For example the military, won't hire a person with cystic fibrosis, or heart problems).

It wouldn't hurt to mention it to your employer, but SURELY DON'T put that in your resume...

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    Yes, but if employers knows, nobody prevents them to decline the application just copy-pasting the reason from the previous application they declined, regardless that. – eee Jul 7 '17 at 7:05
  • Correct, nobody can prevent the declination of an application, however, if it is, a formal complaint can be submitted to the department of labor to investigate the situation. – PiGuy88 Jul 7 '17 at 22:59
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Note that in case of some disabilities, your employer has legal obligations to make certain accommodations for you. In that case, it is your duty to disclose your condition, since failing to do so exposes your employer to sanctions.

If this is the case, you will typically receive a form to fill when you're being hired, which will specify which conditions have to be disclosed. In my experience, such paperwork is given to you when you accept the offer, so that the company cannot discriminate against you (if they decide not to hire you at that point, you have a strong case against them).

I wouldn't disclose dyslexia before getting an offer, as that may naturally hurt your chances of being hired.

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Computer works should not be impossible, I have found typing is OK. Writing by hand is really hard though. A good spell checker like Grammarly will sure up many of your spelling difficulties.

As always, pick trough the things you type with a small toothed comb. Don't type important things too fast and read through the things you write multiple times.

When you have to read things, read slowly and make sure you don't read what you think the message is but what is actually written on the page.

Discuss the issue with HR manager, not with any other management. This is a personal issue, the HR people will be more likely to handle it with the necessary sensitivity.

Discussing it at least with someone at the company will also have the added benefit of promoting a feeling of mutual trust with your employer. Divulging such personal details just in case it may affect your work will at the very least give the impression that you take your work seriously.

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I'm a teacher in America, and I get IEPs for all students who have been diagnosed with a disability. I also have numerous students who likely have the exact same disabilities, but whose parents haven't tested them and gotten them a diagnosis. So, while you are "official," I promise you there are others working at this company who have the same struggles as you do, without the official label.

Everyone is good at some tasks and struggles with others. You may have to work late some days if the tasks are reading-intensive, but on other days, you may be the go-to guy and push through a task that would be difficult for others.

I'd say that if you are really able to do the job and modify for yourself (extra time, trading your skills and expertise wtih a coworker who is a good proofreader), there's no real reason to tell anyone at the company you have a disability.

I'd be willing to wager that once you've been working for a year or so, you won't even feel so "disabled" anymore; the majority of workplaces don't require anywhere near the level of reading-writing churn that school does. The real world is mercifully un-school-like.

Good luck!

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There's something you are not appreciating.

Code Complete by Steve McConnell, and practically every other of the best books on programming state that good programmers write code first to communicate with other programmers, and second to get the computer to do something. (Bad programmers only try to get the computer to do something.) Code Complete is scarcely more or less than an applied handbook for good written communication as exercised in the discipline of programming.

I am not saying that a dyslexic can't be a good programmer. There are presumably innumerable good programmers who work with dyslexia. But I do say explicitly that impediment to reading or writing is a first-class impairment to programming the right way. (It does not matter nearly so much for programming the wrong way.)

Now I am writing this as someone who has a disability that is materially relevant and has done some stuff that's truly impressive.

However, it reflects a shallow understanding of programming to dismiss without explanation any implication that impairment in reading and writing written English (or whatever your shop's language is) is irrelevant to programming competency.

You may be able to be highly productive with reasonable accommodation and the right supports. You cannot be a good programmer whose writing impairment only affects a requested written prose report and is irrelevant to writing code that, if it enjoys any success, will almost always be read many more times than it is written.

If I were your boss or HR, I would either waive the request for the writeup, or try to work on some alternative where dyslexia wouldn't be so much of an issue. However, do not confuse "Works well with reasonable accommodation" with "Dyslexia is no impairment to writing good computer code."

  • One additional comment: People can be understanding if they understand there is a reason for something. If someone expects without explanation to go home early on Fridays early during have of the year and even more early in the dead of winter, it may seem an odd request to someone who doesn't see a reason besides a lazy work ethic. But if someone simply explains "I'm an Orthodox Jew and I observe Shabat which in my religion begins at sunset on Friday and I need to be home before Shabat technically begins," no longer appears to be suffering from entitlement issues. – Christos Hayward Jul 8 '17 at 12:45
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No

There is some possibility that this disease will not impact your work productivity. However what even if it would? Some people are more productive than others. Each employer dreams to get the best performing person in the world, but only one can succeed with the goal so ambitious. Others employ the remaining people who are just good enough. Maybe you are good enough, also with your problems. Everyone needs a job so nursing biased stigmas that do not allow to get one should not be tolerated by society.

There are some strictly controlled limitations for cases when your health problems may impact safety of other people: if you are blind both eyes, for instance, please do not apply for a position of the airliner pilot. But everything outside the official regulations should not matter. The requirements to keep health problems out of the way to job are strict. This is why doctors keep secrets.

If you think you are unable to perform a job properly, another story. Visit the doctor then, with him you can discuss what you can do, what you cannot and which job alternatives could be better.

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