Online job applications and dyslexia don't mix

The rise of online job applications might be useful for recruiters, but it can be a huge barrier for people with dyslexia

I have had severe dyslexia for about 17 years. For most of that time, I had no real difficulty getting jobs. I would fax or email my CV with a covering letter, and I was registered with an agency that would call me up and regularly ask me for interviews. I worked in housing regeneration as a liaison officer on big local authority projects and private developments.

Then in September 2008, after I finished my master's, the economic downturn and global banking crisis struck. This – combined with the new influx of online recruitment – brought about a huge change in fortune for me.

I'm one of those people with who is very comfortable with talking and communicating verbally, but tasks like processing data, online filing and any kind of administration take me a tremendously long time and cause extreme eye stress. 95% of what I verbally understand, I can't write in a way that would impress a recruiter.


When recruiters use online application systems, which you have to write directly into, I am unable to show my full abilities and skills or even sometimes to complete the forms. To help with this problem, I usually work on a computer using my voice-assisted software, Dragon. But I have found that some online forms aren't compatible with this. I've often called HR departments to ask why; they usually say they don't know and never allow me to talk to their IT department to see if there is a way around it.

The change to online application forms has made it much more difficult for me to apply for these jobs. It's far easier for me to adjust my CV and covering letter each time I apply for a job as these may only need tweaking and I can use my Dragon software to adjust them.

Some people may write their online application forms in a word document and the cut and paste them into the online application. But this isn't easy for me either. The multi-tasking of going in and out of documents overloads my visual short-term memory and causes visual stress – words become blurred, I get tired and need frequent breaks. This means an online application form can take me up to three days to complete and I'll have to rest my eyes for days afterwards.

And this is assuming I can complete the process in time. Online applications often have a time limit before they automatically shut off. I have a slow reading speed – approximately 85 words a minute, according to my dyslexia assessment – whereas other postgraduate applicants should be about 250 (the speed you expect).

To try and get around this, I've asked HR departments if I can send a CV and covering letter, but many have refused. Indeed, one HR person said if I couldn't complete an application form then I wasn't competent to do the job. Some of my friends with dyslexia – as well as some without – have had to turn to other people to complete their application forms; some even pay for this service.

Need for change

Even if I managed to get my online application in, the influx of rejections has knocked my confidence. While I understand the recession reduced the number of available jobs, I wasn't getting any interviews while people far less qualified were going through.

I cheered out loud when the Equality Act of 2010 was passed. But, alas, in my experience there has been little improvement. It states that if your disability concerns processing text or numbers then you can ask to for reasonable adjustments and for it to be produced in an alternative format. But recruiters use often refer to the equal opportunity argument to say online applications are fairer.

With all our advances in digital technology, recruiters need to think more about opening up accessibility to their jobs. HR and senior management need to embrace digital technology in all ways to increase the diversity of their workforce. Otherwise they face losing the talented cognitive profiles which can be an advantage to them in business.

This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. To get more content and advice like this direct to your inbox, sign up for our weekly update and careers ebook.

Claudette Jacobs

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
How to master online job applications
Employers increasingly expect candidates to apply for jobs online. When filling them in, it pays to be organised and prepared

Sarah Archer

05, Dec, 2016 @7:00 AM

MP under fire for questioning existence of dyslexia

Experts say Graham Stringer's views are outdated and 'very, very unhelpful'

Anthea Lipsett

14, Jan, 2009 @1:18 PM

Article image
Graduate view: Job seeking with Asperger Syndrome - part 2

'ASD Grad' on how the guidance - and contacts - of support organisations made it possible to take the first steps into a graduate career

ASD Grad

18, Nov, 2010 @11:08 AM

Article image
Securing work experience as a disabled candidate: our how-to guide

From looking for the right type of employer to discovering what support is available, Robert Maisey shares his tips on securing work placements if you have a disability

Robert Maisey

15, Oct, 2013 @7:30 AM

Article image
Encouraging equal opportunities for graduates at work
Sandra Kerr looks at how employers can ensure they encourage applications from graduates from diverse backgrounds

Sandra Kerr

05, Mar, 2013 @8:30 AM

Article image
Returning to work brings challenges for disabled professionals

The workplace can be a particularly challenging environment for professionals who become disabled during their career. Rich McEachran explores the issues

Rich McEachran

13, Mar, 2013 @8:30 AM

Graduate view: Job seeking with Asperger Syndrome

Finding meaningful employment after graduating can be difficult for many people. However, for graduates with certain disabilities, this process can be particularly challenging writes 'ASD Grad'

19, Oct, 2010 @2:07 PM

Article image
CVs, prejudice and disfigurement: should candidates disclose?

An experiment to see if potential employers would be influenced by a facial disfigurement produced some interesting results. Rich McEachran shares his findings

Rich McEachran

05, Jul, 2012 @11:52 AM

Article image
Class and race in recruitment: how to succeed – regardless of background

A new report finds that application forms and online tests hold back graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds. Rare's Naomi Kellman looks at ways to overcome these barriers

Naomi Kellman

13, Jan, 2012 @10:00 AM

Article image
Graduate jobseeking advice surgery

For help with starting your graduate career and applying for jobs, join our live chat on Thursday 11 July from 1pm to 3pm, or comment now

Martin Williams

08, Jul, 2013 @3:31 PM