The theme for 2015 is 'making sense of dyslexia', to help everyone better understand what dyslexia is, the difficulties it presents and how best to support people with the condition, so that those affected are able to reach their potential.
I’d like to take this opportunity to remind everyone how dyslexia can affect learning, and how learners can use technology to support their own independent study.
What are the effects on learning?
Dyslexia affects memory and processing speed in 5-10% of the population1. The impact on learning is very individual but most people with dyslexia typically experience difficulties with reading or decoding text. It may take them longer to process and understand written information.
So, when they are only provided with learning resources in text formats – which most learning materials traditionally tended to be – they are at an automatic disadvantage to their peers.
Technology allows teachers and tutors to take a more varied approach. Instead of writing their own notes during a lecture, learners may find it easier to follow discussions if they are allowed to record their lessons and listen to or watch it afterwards. If you provide digital handouts, they can adapt these for themselves. They might also prefer to present their learning outcomes in a different way, such as making a video, podcast or mindmap, instead of always writing an essay.
Using technology this way gives all learners - but especially those with dyslexia - the means to work independently and nurtures the digital skills they will need to maintain that independence throughout life. They can take advantage of a range of software and apps on their personal devices to plan or organise their work; meet deadlines and manage assignments and revision – as long as their institution supports them to do so.
It is also easy to make use of multimedia such as audio and video to support understanding and encourage engagement. For teachers and staff, that means knowing what tools are available and being confident in their use. There’s a lot to think about so here’s some tips to help you, help learners to help themselves.
Top tips to help learners help themselves
1. Give learners choice
It’s important that learners have a choice in how they access course materials.
Digital texts are very adaptable, so provide digital textbooks wherever they are available.
It’s also a good idea to make these resources available on the virtual learning environment (VLE) so users can download and customise them to their own preferences.
2. Make use of built-in accessibility options
You don’t need the latest tools or technologies to broaden access to learning resources: make use of built-in accessibility options on computers and personal devices to adjust the keyboard or mouse, and change how content is the displayed, including font type, size and colour, to make typing or reading on screen easier.
Familiarise yourself with what’s possible so that you’re able to support learners to get the most out technology.
3. Use free and open source software
Encourage independence by supporting use of free and open source software (FOSS) like mind-mapping, screen overlays and text-to-speech.
Some people find it much easier to plan and organise ideas visually, or they might benefit from an on-screen reading ruler or just find word prediction speeds up their tying. While particularly good for people with dyslexia, these tools can also benefit those without a diagnosed disability, so spread it around.
FOSS isn’t as restricted by license and can be used by anyone who needs it, even at home.
Our guide to using assistive technology will give you a working knowledge of the different ‘types’ of software available and how they might benefit specific learners.
4. Use text-to-speech tools
Use text-to-speech to improve reading and writing accuracy. For dyslexic learners, hearing information instead of reading it can often make it easier to understand.
Point learners in the direction of one of the range of free audio tools available to let them take written text and have it read back to them. Allow text-to-speech browser plug-ins. It’s also worth encouraging learners to add the Speak button to their Microsoft Word Quick Access Toolbar, so that they can benefit from having text read out to them when working in Word too.
Start planning to be inclusive now
This discussion is extremely timely because proposed changes to the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) in 2016 will withdraw some of the funding available in higher education (HE) for specialist support such as personal note-takers and software. Alongside recent copyright exceptions for disabled people, this places more responsibility on the institution to ensure learners with dyslexia on HE courses can access to all course materials.
That’s why getting the message out to all staff and learners is crucial. If everyone knows how to use technology to create and customise accessible resources, this will help spread the load, focus support where it is needed and promote independence.
See our guide on how all staff can support leaners with dyslexia or please do contact me if you’d have any questions or would like advice about making resources more accessible.
- 1 NHS Choices - Dyslexia http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Dyslexia/Pages/Introduction.aspx