How can DSA help students with dyslexia?

“I didn't realise quite how much value this could add to my life" - James

People with dyslexia make up around 10% of the UK population, according to the British Dyslexia Association. 

Nonetheless, there remains a significant attainment gap which is indicative of a widespread need for more “dyslexia-friendly” higher education institutions. Outdated attitudes of lecturers, inflexible assessment methods and a general lack of understanding of specific needs creates daily barriers to learning for students with dyslexia.

Dyslexia is better thought of as a continuum than a categorical diagnosis, it is not possible to specify in advance which accommodations individuals might need”, highlights Christopher Byrne, a lecturer in politics at Leeds Beckett University.

Simply providing automatic extra time for exams/deadlines to every student with a dyslexia diagnosis is not a suitable level of support for such a variable condition. Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA), a UK government grant, can fill gap between students and the over-stretched university disability services by providing specialised, personalised support to level the playing field.

Can SpLD make you eligible for DSA?

DSA covers a range of disabilities, invisible or otherwise, including specific learning difficulties, mental health and chronic conditions, as well as physical disabilities. Medical evidence to support your diagnosis would be required for any additional funding application. For a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia this would mean either a pre or post-16 formal diagnostic assessment, overseen by a Dyslexia Specialist or Educational Psychologist.

Due to a misconception that you are only eligible for DSA if you have a physical disability, along with the fact a lot of students do not consider dyslexia a disability, many eligible students are missing out on vital support. At AbilityNet we worked out that around a quarter of all students we assess are in their second year or above at university, a significant number of which are for mental health conditions linked with an undeclared diagnosis of dyslexia. 

There is a pattern of students not seeking out support or finding out about DSA until they reach a crisis point in their course. If the range of conditions covered and support provided by DSA was more well known, it could save a lot of students worry. One student interviewed in a January 2019 Department for Education survey revealed that “I was starting to think I wasn't good enough, because I had dyslexia there was no way I could be academic... Having it [known about DSAs] earlier would stop that self - doubt.”

How can DSA help? 

Students are more satisfied with support they receive from DSAs than from their university, according to the DfE survey. DSA provides a tailored package of technology and non-medical support to see you through your studies and help you to reach your full potential. 

Students can receive equipment such as a laptop (subject to £200 contribution), a dictaphone for recording lectures and a printer/scanner for students who prefer working from paper. Specialist software can also be invaluable to breaking down barriers, varying from dictation software for writing essays, to text-to-speech software for having dense text read aloud to you and mind-mapping software for planning/organisation. Training is also provided to help students get to grips with their new software and/or equipment.

On the benefit of assistive technology provided through DSA, one student interviewed in the DfE survey stated that “between the 1st and 2nd semester I saw a large improvement in my grades, going from low 60's to high 60's mid - 70s. If I didn't have the specialist software, I probably wouldn't have completed the course”.

Non-medical support recommended might include a one-to-one study support tutor, along with a general allowance for any printing and photocopying costs you might incur. In addition, depending on your university or course, you might be eligible for reasonable adjustments to your exam conditions and deadline extensions.

Support is not one size fits allPhoto of a man and woman sat at a meeting table talking

The most important thing to understand is that support provided differs person to person, and is based on your specific needs, circumstances and course requirements.  One of the steps to receiving DSA is to attend a study needs assessment, which is a one-on-one session with an assessor who will identify your needs and prepare a report recommending the extra support. The assessment is your opportunity to discuss any challenges you face in education, including the ways in which your course is assessed and taught, and is steered by the amount of information you share.

A case study: “I didn’t realise any of this stuff existed, I didn’t realise what it could do and how it could help me."

The following experience of James Cannon is a good example of the variety and type of support you might receive through DSA if you have been made eligible for dyslexia.

James received a laptop, text-to-speech software, a book scanner which plays back audio and a dictaphone. He transformed his grades and graduated with a highly successful 2:1 degree. 

Not sure if you are eligible for DSA? You can find out now with our free Higher Education Support Checker!

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