Dyslexia and Discrimination

By: A.C.

I bring to your attention a report that appeared recently,  about a woman who has dyslexia, and has won a Disability Discrimination Act tribunal against her employer Starbucks.    

Messeret Kumulchew was a supervisor at a branch of Starbucks in London, and her duties included taking the temperatures of fridges, water at specific times and entering them in a chart.  The BBC report:

 “A tribunal found Ms  Kumulchew had been discriminated against after making mistakes due to her difficulties with reading, writing and telling the time.”

The Company accused Ms Kumulchew of fraud which, according to the BBC, caused her to contemplate suicide.

Although Dyslexia is a condition that borders our main remit of sensory and physical disability, I feel it is important to highlight this case, with reference to our articles on non- visible disability, and the growing discriminatory belief that the disabled are frauds & shirkers. Yet, when a disabled woman who is in gainful employment, and who has actively told her employer that she has Dyslexia, they seemed not to have any awareness, and preferred to drive their employee to near suicide through inferring fraud.   People who are instinctively honest, upright and fair do not like being accused of fraud. That accusation alone causes great distress.

As Starbucks is notoriously litigious, and protective of itself, I will refrain from making comment.   

However, as yet, the Thought Police from George Orwell’s 1984 have not yet found a way to stop me or the reader thinking or reaching conclusions as to how the higher chain of supervision felt about disability due to ignorance of the condition, or how other discriminatory thoughts or actions fitted into the whole case. Indeed, the BBC report the Tribunal decision as :

“ She took Starbucks to an employment tribunal alleging disability discrimination saying she had always made it known to her employer that she was dyslexic which means she has difficulties with words and numbers, and has to be shown how to do tasks visually.  The tribunal found Starbucks had failed to make reasonable adjustments for Ms Kumulchew’s disability and had discriminated against her because of the effects of her dyslexia.

It also found she had been victimised by her employer and there appeared to be little or no knowledge or understanding of equality issues”

Dyslexia is a learning difficulty, although in many cases it also has elements of visual, auditory and motor coordination dysfunction – which may indicate other difficulties.

In a definition from 2009 at the British Dyslexic Association : 

  • Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling.
  • Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed.
  • Dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities.
  • It is best thought of as a continuum, not a distinct category, and there are no clear cut-off points.

Co-occurring difficulties may be seen in aspects of language, motor co-ordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation, but these are not, by themselves, markers of dyslexia.

A good indication of the severity and persistence of dyslexic difficulties can be gained by examining how the individual responds or has responded to well founded intervention.

In addition to these characteristics, the BDA acknowledges the visual and auditory processing difficulties that some individuals with dyslexia can experience, and points out those dyslexic readers can show a combination of abilities and difficulties that affect the learning process.  Some also have strengths in other areas, such as design, problem solving, creative skills, interactive skills and oral skills. “

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