Please let me introduce you to Aaron.
Aaron is a final year undergraduate, studying for a PR degree at the University of the Arts. His degree is entirely self-funded and he has successfully juggled his full-time degree course with part-time work in a Wellbeing Business Centre. Aaron is no different to any other student, but he is dyslexic and that affects his studies.
His dyslexia means it takes him much longer to process and remember information, affecting his reading, writing, and his organisational skills. The wiring of Aaron’s dyslexic brain means he has difficulty taking notes in class and can experience “information over-load” in lectures.
Aaron wishes he had been diagnosed earlier. As a child, he struggled with conventional learning in school and was considered to be, “not as bright as other children. I got diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 19, however, my mum thought I had it from a very young age.”
We met Aaron at a Charted Institute of Public Relations event last year. Impressed by our live captioning, which was being broadcast on the public screen, he approached us to discuss how useful he would find this support in his own lectures.
Since our encounter, we have met many university disability practitioners throughout the country – all of whom have reinforced Aaron’s view that, by helping a dyslexic student take notes, it allows them to fully engage with their lecturer without the pressure of trying to write simultaneously.
We now appreciate that by far the largest percentage of disabled students in universities are dyslexic. In fact, their often heightened three-dimensional spatial reasoning and mechanical ability, as well as their stronger ability to perceive relationships and subtle patterns in complex and constantly shifting data, means being dyslexic can in fact work to their advantage. Studies have shown that in fields such as engineering, architecture, art and entrepreneurship, the percentage of dyslexic students studying these subjects is over twice the percentage of dyslexic individuals in the general student population.
We began a quest to create the perfect ‘dyslexic-friendly’ notes. Acknowledging that our usual verbatim captions and transcripts, designed for deaf students, wouldn’t be quite so helpful to Aaron, we decided to experiment and deliver a more ‘concise’ version. The concept of ‘simplifying’ our captioning isn’t new to Ai-Media as we already deliver ‘Simple Text’ in ASD schools. When delivering Simple Text, our captioners are trained to re-speak while simultaneously removing figurative speech or metaphors and presenting the text in a clear way.
We thought this might just be the thing we were looking for, and contacted Aaron to ask for his help in our research. With his consent and that of a willing lecturer, Aaron watched our ‘live’ Simple Text captions, displayed in OpenDyslexic font on his iPad in a lecture theatre and then studied the transcript produced after the session. He was really pleased with the results, telling us “it takes the pressure off note-taking in the lecture – I could really engage with the lecturer and his visuals without worrying about writing it all down and missing something. Some of the lecturers use minimal visuals and talk a lot, I really can’t keep up and I struggle learning from audio recordings. These notes would be incredibly helpful in that situation and also give me a foundation to improve my note-taking.”
Like those with ASD, dyslexic students also learn better when rules and procedures are broken down into more easily mastered steps and demonstrated clearly. However, that’s where the similarity ends. In fact, generally, dyslexic learners show strengths in interpreting messages that are ambiguous, complex or figurative, so, it is vital to get the balance right in summarising a transcript.
Aaron also explained how he would use our ‘concise’ notes, by adding his own thoughts, moving the layout around, personalising the text by highlighting key words and even importing the photos he takes of the PowerPoint slides from the lecture. It would become his own workable document, a powerful way to reinforce and process the information – all part of the learning experience.
Since our case study with Aaron, we have gained an even better understanding of dyslexia by seeking advice from Sally Foister at Anglia Ruskin University and Janet Godwin of Oxford Brookes. We are about to embark on some very exciting trials with the dyslexic specialists at BDA accredited Birmingham City University, who have agreed to help in our research development. Working with Nick Gee, a Senior Disability Tutor, we will be testing our service in the Faculty of Health, Education and Life Sciences. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience in this field and we really appreciate their collaboration.
Calling all dyslexic students seeking ‘dyslexic-friendly’ notes…please contact us for more information!
Answer: In case you haven’t guessed – yes, Sir Richard Branson, Jennifer Aniston and Jamie Oliver are all dyslexic!
Written by Katherine Innes, UK Business Development Executive
You might also be interested in reading: Supporting Readers with Dyslexia