Although this week was dyslexia awareness week I had not planned to write a blog on the topic. However like all good blog topics the theme of this one started by a remark made by a colleague. During a group discussion a colleague highlighted that they thought individuals with support tutors for Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs) had an unfair advantage to learners who did not. After all the support tutor was writing the essay for them. On hearing this comment my outward reaction was to acknowledge that this was not my experience but I could not speak for all tutor/ tutee relationships. Inwardly I was rather taken back. Did this mean my colleagues’ thought that I was perhaps getting an unfair benefit as someone with dyslexia currently undertaking a higher degree?
Revisiting my Personal SpLD Experience
I decided to look at my personal journey to see if there may be a link. I have spent ten years of my adult life in some form of further or higher education environment attaining various qualifications. In that time I have accessed tutor support for a total of three academic years. During those particular times I have achieved mostly grades between the 75% and 95% mark. This compares with times I have not accessed support and have achieved in the 65% range.
For the two years of my Doctorate I have not accessed tutor support (10 hours in total per academic year). All 120 credits have been pass or fail, all of which I have passed. So I looked at the feedback on those assignments and some themes emerged. Sequencing of ideas, spelling, and grammar and sentence structure. I then looked at rejected articles for journals. In this case there is no tutor support. Again the themes previously listed were highlighted.
From here I pulled out my educational psychologist report and it clearly states that the themes listed above are in keeping with dyslexia. Furthermore I have a working memory weakness so transferring information from short to long term memory takes time. Hence reasonable adjustments of extra exam time, altering submission dates and tutor hours are recommended. The report also acknowledges that without these I would still be ok averaging 60% in course work however I would not be achieving my full potential which, through various testing, has been highlighted as being much higher than this.
My Ramp Looks Different
It seems odd to me that if I had a physical disability, i.e. was in a wheel chair, it would not be an expectation for me to get up the stairs without an adjustment. I would be offered a ramp or a lift. However with an invisible disability, in this case SpLD, offering a reasonable adjustment such as a tutor is not seen as “fair”. I suppose it goes back to the medical view of disability- you are the problem and tough luck if society is not set-up to deal with it. This is in contrast with the social model of disability whereby society is not setup to deal with the disability hence this needs to be adapted to support the individual. I know which definition I prefer.
Leveling the Playing Field
To pick up the issue with blind peer reviewing. I work for an organisation that has the two ticks mark. Hence I can declare my disability and as long as I meet the essential criteria will be offered a job interview. I have not come across a system like this for writing for journals. I am not suggesting that an SpLD should give me an advantage, but it may encourage reviewers to look at the bigger picture of the work, the ideas being discussed rather than sentence structure or spelling. It may just level the playing field. I only get tutoring support while I am on a course of study, an article is completed with no support. Academia is tough…..not having a reasonable adjustment in place makes it much tougher for individuals with a SpLD.
More than Writing Essays
Finally for anyone who thinks having a tutor is an “advantage” then please take a look at this article by @diverselearners Kerry Pace and colleagues, “Dyslexia Tutors: We Do Not Write Essays For Them”
https://my.rcn.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/613317/1.2.1-Pace.pdf. Like many roles there is much more than meets the eye for those who support people like me to realise their full potential.