One of the heart warming facts about my PhD experience so far has been the dyslexia support I have received from the University of the West of England (http://www.uwe.ac.uk). Last December I had my very first official test and diagnosis of dyslexia, with visual stress syndrome. I had been told at school (in the 80’s) that I was dyslexic and then been left to muddle my way through school. Over the course of my student and working life I developed various tactics to overcome problems or hide it from employees and tutors. One of the most successful was the recruitment of friends and family in proof-reading before sending any work into the outside world. The other was pouring over the dictionary combined with a thesaurus, and then of course, a God-send, was spell check and computers.
After a fairly stressful assessment, consisting of three hours of tests I couldn’t do well. I had an official diagnosis. In the report was a long list of help, support and recommendations I should have when studying (and working). Initially the list made me burst into tears. Here was a list of things I had done for myself, without support (for example getting handouts for lectures well in advance of the lessons). It was an emotional experience, to finally have recognition that I had some specific needs around spelling, reading and writing. Since then I have received a grant from student finance England, and been given some amazing software. I am currently using ‘mind view’ to write the first draft of my literature review. This allows me to write in the form of a mind map, rather than creating the usual messy word document and drawings on paper. I have been given proof-reading software, including a dictionary that has pictures. And as a musician, aural-note taker is very interesting, its software to write aural notes whilst listening to a recording. This has potential for other areas, such as song-writing, and music therapy clinical notes.
Probably the most useful equipment has been using coloured overlays to read black and white text. Last week when reading music (now green) I didn’t get lost in the notation, the notes didn’t bounce around. I am due to buy a set of green glasses, provided by student finance England. Having green text is making a huge difference to my speed when reading, and to my stamina. In addition I have some software, that is text to speech (claro-read). This makes it possible to listen to papers whilst doing other things (my kitchen cupboards are very clean).
Overall, having this support is making PhD work a lot smoother than some of my other educational experiences. It’s a relief to use software which is geared towards creativity and visual thinking, and great to finally have the support I need when studying.