By Dr Melanie Thorley, University of Greenwich and FACE Executive Member
Whilst the new academic term does not start until September, I thought it would be timely to share our top tips for transition for disabled and dyslexic learners. University can be very daunting and/or scary for many learners, but this can be more extreme for disabled learners. Being prepared is out biggest tip!
Here are six top tips for transition as suggested by previous and current disabled university learners:
1. Different names in universities
Schools, colleges and universities have different names for the same sort of things. At school, you often hear about special educational needs or SEN; most schools have a SENCO who arranges class support. Some universities also refer to SENCOs, but not very many. Instead, universities have disability advisors and dyslexia tutors. The names of these roles depend on which university you go to. The disability and dyslexia support team is normally located in Student Services, Student Support or similar.
Some universities also have a section specifically for D/deaf and hard of hearing support services. Not every university will have specialist staff dedicated to supporting these students but will know how to arrange for notetakers, interpreters and communication support workers (CSWs). The best thing to do is to look at the websites of the universities you are interested in to find out what support they can provide.
2. Visit the universities you are thinking of going to
Without visiting the university campus, it is difficult to see how accessible it is, and how big it is. Some universities have very big sites with lakes and parkland as well as classrooms and accommodation. Others are smaller and more compact. You may need to consider the size when you are making your decision, especially if you get tired easily or if you have difficulty moving around.
3. Visit the disability, D/deaf and dyslexia support staff
While you are visiting the campus, try to visit the staff who are responsible for making sure that all disabled students are supported properly. This will give you an idea of what support you can expect if you enrol there. Some universities use other students to provide support whilst other universities try and employ qualified staff only. You may also want to know if the support staff will have any knowledge of the subject you want to study, for example, having an engineering student taking notes for a sociology degree may not be very successful.
In general, universities have access to specialist dyslexia tutors. These tutors can provide advice and strategies to ensure dyslexic students can access and understand what they need to do when they are studying. Tutors can also work with students essay structure, revision techniques and organisational skills.
Mentoring schemes in universities are also becoming more popular. This type of scheme usually involves having a mentor who is also a student who may be able to provide tips on university life you may not get from a member of staff.
4. Specialist equipment and exam arrangements
The majority of disabled and dyslexic students are entitled to a variety of support which may help them with their study. Technology such as specialist software can make studying at university a bit easier. A blind or partially sighted student may benefit from voice activated software whilst a dyslexic student may benefit from a digital recorder for lectures.
Students may also benefit from extended time in exams, either because they require a scribe or because they prefer to use a computer instead of writing by hand.
5. Applying for the Disabled Students’ Allowance as soon as possible
This is probably the most important top tip. The Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) is the funding which pays for all of the specialist equipment and support staff. The allowance provides funding for equipment such as specialist software and human support, such as dyslexia tutors. It is vital to apply for this funding as soon as possible. Although some universities will provide support if the funding has been delayed, unfortunately, not all universities will do this. Again, this is something you can check with the disability and dyslexia staff when you visit.
6. Join STAART: Support Through *AccessAbility Retention and Transition.
This is a unique model of transition for disabled university students. Building on our previous projects, we have realised that a number of disabled students who had accessed our outreach support wanted to continue their relationship with us as they entered their university of choice. We have social media, workshops on site, workshops in schools/colleges, external events and transition days. More information and a link to book a place can be found here: https://www.gre.ac.uk/for-schools/activities/accessibility-project
Dr. Melanie Thorley
*AccessAbility and STAART Lead
University of Greenwich M.Thorley@gre.ac.uk