Understanding the student journey towards DSA funding

At the age of four, I contracted meningitis and had a swollen brain. The trauma affected my ability to read and write and, following a formal evaluation, I was identified as having dyslexia and dyspraxia.

Despite my identification with dyslexia and dyspraxia, I have never given up and continue to pursue my passions, one of which is a degree in Criminal Psychology from the Open University. Because dyslexia works differently for everyone, understanding my dyslexia inspired me to become a telephone support counselor and event volunteer with Dyslexia Scotland, helping me with support to understand the barriers of having a learning disability. I provide valuable information and guidance to people, from young children attending education to adults in the office.

Early identification for long-term support

One government initiative that has helped me is the Disabled Student Allowance (DSA), a grant program available to higher education students that covers the costs of studying. If you are an undergraduate or postgraduate student like me and have a disability that affects your ability to study, you are eligible for this funding. Proof of your learning disability or condition must be presented to your funding institution before funding can be applied for. The funding will give you access to a wide range of assistive technologies to enhance your learning experience and help the barriers of learning difficulties. But before I discuss my journey through this, I want to talk about diagnosis.

Diagnosing dyslexia in schools is a key step towards long-term success. Hiring an educational psychologist to evaluate young children is highly recommended and will allow for more support for the child in the long term. Although schools may have structures in place to support dyslexia, the process of choosing an educational psychologist is not always the first port of call.

Ongoing evaluation and support

A common problem I face in my role for Dyslexia Scotland is that there is not enough information about the support available to students. Hence, it is no surprise to me that only 40 percent of students are aware of DSA before starting their college course.

The DSA process requires you to complete an application form and submit it to the funding body. If you are unsure of any procedure, you can call the British Dyslexia Association or Dyslexia Scotland helpline, the friendly staff will direct you to the correct support. Following this, you need to provide a needs assessment, if you do not have one, ask the Learning Support Department and Student Association for information. If you are still unsure, call one of the help lines above. The needs assessment will identify key areas of interest and the necessary level of technology and support needed.

It is important that students are helped to understand the difficulties they face. The evaluation report, which can be up to 10 pages long, analyzes your challenges such as working memory and reading speed. However, if you have dyslexia, the relationship can be extremely difficult to understand and a challenge to process the results.

This is why Dyslexia Scotland has set up a post-evaluation package to analyze the results and list the adjustments that can be made to improve the learning experience. If you need information on visual stress, it is vital to ask an ophthalmologist for more details, as this is a controversial topic and not all opticians provide the correct services. I have tinted glasses, again eye strain affects everyone differently, as it affects the way your eyes work.

Technology for more productive learning

It can take up to 14 weeks to get SLD support, which can cause additional problems for students. Since my degree is completed through the Open University, I study from home. This makes organizing DSA difficult as delays can often occur due to the remote nature.

When the DSA application is complete, students are issued a package of assistive technologies and equipment. I have received various devices and technologies to help with my studies, including a reading pen, laptop, printer, and other software, as well as training through Concept Northern on how to use the assistive technology provided. But there is one piece of technology that really stands out: the OrCam Learn DSAa fully DSA approved portable digital player developed specifically for those with reading and writing difficulties, which captures entire pages of text and reads it aloud from any surface or screen.

I find it difficult to proofread and often feel exhausted. This is an important part of my degree, so being able to use this technology to relay text to me makes a huge difference and allows me to focus for longer periods of time. And, once the information is captured, the device allows me to play the information as many times as I want. At my choice of speed and without having to rescan the document. For me, this is a transformative feature that significantly helps me with my academic studies and saves me time as I work.

Having access to technology through the DSA has really improved my grades and allowed me to read more efficiently, saving valuable time and increasing productivity. I just finished my second year of graduation. While it wasn’t always easy, I improved my year-end results by 33% over the first year. This is thanks to the help of this fantastic assistive technology.

Before embarking on my undergraduate degree at the Open University, I was concerned that my dyslexia and dyspraxia would prevent me from reaching my learning potential. By having the life support of funding schemes such as DSA, I have been able to access life-changing assistive technologies to help alleviate the challenges associated with reading. Although the journey to DSA funding can be challenging at times, I would highly recommend it to all my fellow students who are in a similar position to mine. Using this funding, students can turn their ambitions into reality thanks to the power of this transformative technology.

Read more: “AI can play a very useful and supportive role in teaching and learning”

Understanding the student journey towards DSA funding

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