Cognition – Managing literacy barriers at work

Literacy skills, reading and writing

Literacy skills like reading and writing can be hard for some people to develop. The ability to read and write is needed in most workplaces. People who find reading and writing hard can have increased stress at work, especially if they choose not to tell their employer. It is important to recognise and help people at work who lack the literacy skills needed to do their job, as this can have serious impact at work, including job performance and safety.

Workplace adjustments and solutions

  • literacy assessments can be done by psychologists or speech pathologists to identify literacy barriers. There are a range of training options, services and aids that can help people who have difficulty with literacy, reading and writing at work
  • always confirm a worker’s understanding by asking for a demonstration, or that they repeat back in their own words, what was said
  • develop a glossary of common terms and acronyms so that jargon and technical information can be better understood
  • develop brief written material that includes relevant pictures, diagrams, bullet points and summaries to replace complex written descriptions
  • use simple language, use dots or bullet points where possible, use large print and colour code text
  • provide training materials in different formats such as audio or video to allow learning through this medium if preferred
  • provide important written information such as procedure manuals in an audio format. Alternatively have a suitable workplace representative read important information to the worker
  • use alternative communication styles, for example, role play or demonstrate the instructions, including the 'do’s' and 'don'ts'. It might be necessary to provide the instructions more than once, and then allow the worker the opportunity to practise for themselves while provided with appropriate feedback
  • support access to available software programs specifically designed to assist in reading, comprehension skill development and writing
  • support use of dictionaries and thesauruses
  • consider the use of adaptive technology which can scan written text or instructions, and convert it into verbal information
  • use co-worker editing and proofreading to help improve a worker’s written expression skills.

Support Services

Australian Government employment service providers, like Disability Employment Services (DES), provide a range of help and support to people with disability and their employers including coaching, mentoring and support on the job. To find a DES provider near you, go to our list of DES providers.

A cognition and communication specialist or speech pathologist may also be able to help with verbal communication in the workplace. For more information, visit the Speech Pathology Australia website.

Easy English interpreters may be able to help a person with a cognitive impairment to better understand work related written material by changing complex information into simple language, without the use of jargon or technical terms.

The Reading Writing Hotline is a national telephone literacy referral service for adults, that can assist people who may need assistance with reading, writing or basic maths. This is done by linking them into an appropriate group, one on one training or distance training. The hotline number is 1300 655 506. For more information visit the Reading Writing Hotline website.

Training courses available through a Registered Training Organisation may help to develop and improve reading and comprehension skills. Part-time study can be done outside of work hours, or study leave may also be possible. For more information, or to search for a course in your area, visit the myskills website.

Related Links

Australian Council for Adult Literacy
Department of Education and Training

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