5 Oct 2021 | 0 min read

How university students with dyslexia can get support

You’ve graduated high school and you’re looking at the next step – congratulations! Do your future plans include university or college?

Many dyslexic students feel apprehensive about going to university. This is understandable since you may have struggled at school or had to battle against the negative attitudes of other people throughout your education. University can seem like a challenging goal. Will I be able to keep up with the work? What if I can’t process all the written information? Can I get any extra help?
University doesn’t have to be a worry or an unachievable dream for dyslexic students. With the right support and a positive mentality, dyslexic people can – and do – thrive at university


What rights do university students with dyslexia have?

In the UK, dyslexia is recognized as a disability under the Equality Act 2010. This Act enforces the rights of disabled people to protection from discrimination, including in education.

For example, it is against the law for a university to refuse admission to a student because of their disability, to indirectly discriminate against a dyslexic student, or harass or victimize the student because of their disability. The university must make reasonable adjustments to make sure this protection against discrimination is enforced.

In the US, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) is an adjunct to the Americans with Disabilities Act and it aims to prevent discrimination in employment and in public and private settings. It allows dyslexic students to request accommodations at college.

If you are attending a US university, it is important to understand that your Individual Education Plan (IEP) or your 504 Plan will not automatically be transferred to your higher education setting.

But you are still entitled to accommodations if you need them to fulfil your potential. You may wish to have a re-evaluation while you are in your senior year so that any observations and data are as recent as possible.

In the UK, to access university support most effectively for your dyslexia, you’ll need a copy of the diagnostic assessment for your condition, made by a practitioner psychologist or assessed by a suitably qualified specialist teacher.

What do dyslexic students get at university? 

Students in the UK can access the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) fund for financial support for studying at university with a disability. The DSA is not means-tested and it is based on your own situation and needs.

Get yourself off to a head start and apply for the DSA when you have been offered a place at university or college. You can apply through the relevant student funding body, such as Student Finance in England and the Student Awards Agency in Scotland. It is best to apply as soon as possible since the allowance may take up to 10 weeks to be processed. You will also need time for the equipment to be sourced, ordered, and set up.

The DSA application comprises a needs assessment after an informal interview to talk about how dyslexia affects your life and how it may impact your student career.

The DSA allowance in the UK and accommodations in the US help with the cost and provision of a variety of measures. These include assistive technology like mind mapping software or speech-to-text programs, or it could fund a photocopying allowance or additional one-to-one tuition.

Additional, non-monetary support can include priority registration, priority access to housing that is convenient for libraries and classrooms, alternate formats for textbooks, verbal instructions and messages, reviews of lectures or classes, and audio transcriptions of books.

In both the US and the UK, the university may offer extra examination assistance for dyslexic students who struggle under exam conditions. You may be allowed to take exams and tests in a more relaxed environment, or in a quieter environment in terms of practical assessments. You may be given extra time for tests and for completing assignments.

Assistive technology for students with dyslexia

Assistive dyslexia technology is invaluable for students at university. Technology can help streamline thought processes and speed up working, minimize mistakes, reduce stress, and provide solid support in an academically rigorous environment.

For example, phonic spellcheck provides more comprehensive support than traditional spellcheck as it offers words based on sound. A text reader allows you to check word meanings more easily without the need for a paper- or web-based dictionary – this is useful when studying large amounts of text in research. Text readers also read out loud from the document to provide a fuller understanding of the work or scan and save the text.

The Connect pen scanner from C-Pen is one example of dyslexic assistive technology. It is suited to the college and university environment with its Bluetooth-enabled scanner which highlights a section of text and saves it to your mobile or computer.

Helpful tips for dyslexic students 

Remember – if you don’t tell your university about your dyslexia, they won’t know! And they won’t realize they need to offer provisions and support. Of course, there is no requirement for you to identify as having a learning disability if you prefer not to.

You may also consider researching the provisions available and support the ethos of the institution before you apply. Getting the right fit from the start may help your college journey progress more smoothly. 

Dyslexia is a recognized and common disability and no one should have to suffer from the consequences of dyslexia without support. Universities should have a disability team or an access department – contact this support team and ask them what facilities they have for dyslexic students. Ask about the type of support you can access. Check if there are student organizations you can approach for extra help and support. 

  • Practice active reading. Before you start a piece of text, think about the reasons you are reading it. What do you want to find out about the topic? What do you already know? How will you use any knowledge gained by reading the text? Then, be selective in which sections you need to read. Write your ideas after each paragraph.
  • Create frameworks for learning by connecting existing knowledge with new topics and ideas. This is easier using pen and paper, or mind-mapping software.
  • Try a cumulative learning approach and make learning multi-faceted by writing, repeating, displaying, and listening to information to help it embed in the brain.

There are some more useful study tips for dyslexic students here.

How to use assistive technology 

Is assistive technology easy to use?

Yes – all high-quality specialist equipment for dyslexic students is designed to be intuitive to use. The C-Pen Connect, for example, is a small device that fits in your palm and is as easy to use as a highlighter.

Can I use assistive devices left-handed?

Yes – most devices are suitable for both left and right-hand use. The C-Pen Connect works for both hands without changing any settings. 

Where can I use my device?

You can use scanners and pens wherever you need to take notes or save written information. Most scanners are wireless and connect with apps on your mobile and PC and have rechargeable batteries.

Can I use different languages?

Yes – different models supports different languages sets.

One final thought – don’t lose sight of your goal. Staying focused on your dreams helps provide that extra push you need when things get tough. Rest assured that with hard work and the right attitude – along with the relevant support – you can fly high at university with dyslexia.