Is Dyslexia a Disability Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

Dyslexia qualifies as a protected disability under the ADA when it substantially limits reading and learning.

By , J.D., UC Berkeley School of Law

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with disabilities, including dyslexia, from employment discrimination. The law applies to both employees and job applicants with disabilities.

What Is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a neurological disorder that interferes with a person's ability to process language. Adults with dyslexia usually have difficulty with tasks like:

  • reading or engaging in activities that involve reading
  • writing and taking notes
  • spelling, learning, and memorizing words
  • staying organized and meeting deadlines, and
  • sometimes doing math and memorizing numbers.

Dyslexia can vary in severity from mild to extreme. If your dyslexia is severe enough to substantially limit your ability to function in one of the areas above, that likely meets the ADA definition of disability (see below).

How Does the ADA Protect People With Dyslexia?

The ADA requires employers to make job accommodations for qualified employees with disabilities as long as the accommodations are reasonable and wouldn't create an "undue hardship" for the business. You're a qualified employee under the ADA if you can perform the job's essential functions, with or without accommodation (42 U.S.C. § 12111(8)). (More on this below.)

The ADA defines disability broadly. Rather than providing a list of conditions that always qualify as disabilities, the ADA definition focuses on how your condition affects you.

What Qualifies as a Disability Under the ADA?

Under the ADA, a disability is a physical or mental impairment (including a learning disability) that substantially limits one or more major life activities (42 U.S.C §12102). Major life activities include basic activities that the average person can do with little or no difficulty, such as:

  • seeing, hearing, and speaking
  • reading and learning, and
  • thinking and concentrating.

The ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) clarifies that whether a person has a disability is not intended to be a high hurdle. But not everyone who's limited in performing a major life activity has a disability. The limitation must result from an impairment (42 U.S.C. §12102(1)(A)). For example, if you have extreme difficulty reading due to poor education alone, you don't meet the ADA definition of disabled. But if your difficulty reading stems from dyslexia or another recognized learning disability, you're probably protected by the ADA.

Dyslexia as a Disability Under the ADA

Dyslexia limits the ability to learn, read, and process information—major life activities. So, unless an employee has such mild dyslexia that its effects are barely noticeable, it should qualify as a disability under the ADA.

Rather than focusing on whether a person has a disability, the main question in most cases should be whether the employer discriminated. This change is intended to result in a more inclusive definition of "disability" so that the law protects more people.

(Learn more about cognitive and mental disabilities protected by the ADA.)

Reasonable Accommodations for Dyslexia

The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. But to be protected by the ADA, you must be otherwise qualified for the job and able to perform its essential functions, with or without the accommodation.

The ADA's Undue Hardship Exception

Employers aren't required to provide an accommodation that would create an undue hardship for the business. The ADA defines undue hardship as an unreasonable burden or expense, given the accommodation's cost and the employer's size, resources, and nature (42 U.S.C. §12111(10)).

For example, providing a full-time assistant to read aloud and write for an employee with dyslexia would likely create an undue hardship for most employers.

Even affordable accommodations can create undue hardship for certain types of businesses. For example, voice-recognition software might be an effective accommodation for an employee with dyslexia. But it might not be reasonable in a library or other work environment that must maintain silence.

Employers Required to Try to Find a Reasonable Accommodation

Just because one accommodation would create an undue hardship for an employer doesn't necessarily mean the employer is off the hook. The ADA requires employers to engage in an interactive process with the employee to try to find an accommodation that is both effective and reasonable. (29 C.F.R. § 1630.9 Appendix.)

Consider the example of an employee with dyslexia who works in a library. To avoid disrupting the library's quiet, the employee could use headphones along with a reading app or perform keyboarding activities using voice-recognition software in a separate office with a door that can be closed.

Other accommodations for an employee with dyslexia might also be effective. For instance, word prediction software can help an employee with dyslexia write required reports. And simple changes like allowing an employee with dyslexia to view a training video multiple times or providing verbal direction instead of written instructions might be reasonable and effective.

What to Do If You Face Discrimination at Work Because of Dyslexia

Have you been fired, denied a job, or otherwise mistreated at work because of your dyslexia? Has your employer refused your accommodation request? Disability discrimination in the workplace is unlawful under the ADA.

If you've suffered discrimination because of your disability, you should consult with an experienced lawyer. A lawyer can help you assess your situation and determine the best way to proceed, which might include any or all of the following:

Learn more about working with an employment discrimination lawyer.

Updated September 6, 2023

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