It’s been 15 years since the Association of Dyslexia Specialists in Higher Education (ADSHE) held its first annual conference. So at this year’s annual get together we decided to test the mood of influencers and educators. We asked what they felt had been achieved and what they hope will be achieved in the past and coming 15 years.

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The Organiser

lisa-cooper_small-optLisa Cooper, Chair of ADSHE

What’s changed in the last 15 years?

I think neurodiversity and dyslexia has less stigma attached to it.

For example, I work in a lot of drama schools and you will find that there’s forty percent of students which are dyslexic or dyspraxic or with an SpLD. It’s actually seen in some arenas now, to be a positive thing that could be embraced, which is always amazing.

Where do you hope things will be in 15 years’ time?

I think what I would love to see, is a greater understanding that it isn’t just a label. Everyone is still an individual and they’re a neurodiverse individual with talent and creativity, but that there are also different kinds of SpLDs and we need to raise their profile to where we’ve come with dyslexia so far.

How does this event benefit ADSHE members?

With all the cutbacks in funding for students. Getting people together, who are passionate about what they’re doing and actually see students one-to-one, and hearing the student voice. Feeding that back to us and networking, we can then take that forward into our consultations and lobbying with the people who make the decisions.

The Dyslexia Tutor

Tom Cakebread, Dyslexia and Learning Support Tutor, University of Roehampton

What’s changed in the world of dyslexia in the last 15 years?

I think undoubtedly there is much more awareness now. I think we might have gone through a bit of a golden period of funding though. I think money was more readily available for support services, diagnosis etc., maybe four or five years back. In the current financial climate, the government will need to cut back. We’re going to have to become a bit more inventive with our budgets.

We’re being pushed towards the inclusive learning environment now. Mainstream students will benefit now from any of the AT solutions.

Programs like Read and Write, Inspiration; they’re pushing to be made available on every computer throughout the counties so it becomes a normal way of working for everyone.

Where do you hope things will be in 15 years’ time?

Fifteen years at most is probably very difficult to predict, I wouldn’t go past four or five years. Finding more intelligent solutions to problems, certainly breaking down the barriers between what’s considered a mainstream student and a disabled student. I hope we make a lot of progress in terms of that distinction becoming far less polarised, that would be my hope.

What are the benefits of coming to this event for you?

It gives me a chance to catch up with some old faces that I haven’t seen since this conference last year. You claim to meet up during the year and then you get too busy. There’s also new faces of course, just had a long conversation with a disability practitioner from a college in London. You get to see their side of the story, how things are working there, share ideas, see if there’s any kind of synergies; any way to keep in touch and improve in my work practices. From my perspective, I think like a teacher, I’m a teacher so I’m always looking for better ways of teaching.

The Exhibitor

nicola-james_small-optNicola James, Director of Lexxic Ltd

What’s changed in the world of dyslexia in the last 15 years?

One thing that’s changed is the recognition around entrepreneurs and dyslexia, and the strength based approach. I set my company up, not really realising I was entrepreneurial, but actually I find it easy to run a company. I find ideas easy. I didn’t realise other people couldn’t do that. I think, with the awareness of the strategies for both IT based and softer skills it’s great, and the IT technology has just improved so much.

Where do you hope things will be in 15 years’ time?

I think it’ll be about, ‘is dyslexia really a deficit?’ I think you see it in America, with a lot of companies like Google recognising things like autism and dyslexia as a strength.

I think we’re going to move towards recognition of strengths, recognition of where people can shine, and recognising that we need every single type of skill in the world so the world can progress. You hear in organisations they’ve psycho-metrically tested people so much, they’ve got the detail people, but they’re starting to realise they haven’t got the people with the critical thinking brains. That’s what an organisation needs to innovate. As we know, a high proportion of individuals with dyslexia have that type of brain. I think people will better understand where they fit and recognise what they can do, rather than what they can’t.

What are the benefits of coming to this event for you?

There are a few benefits, my team is UK wide so I get to network with my team and just catch up with people; people I’ve met, new people and people I’ve met along the way. You get to see what they’re doing. You get to learn about the different technology, and you get to raise awareness of things like our new online dyslexia product. You see all the passion here. It’s amazing. I walked in and you could just feel the passion in the conference. It’s incredible.

The Member of Parliament

emma-lewell-buck-crop-opt Emma Lewell-Buck, MP for South Shields

What’s changed in the world of dyspraxia in the last 15 years?

I came to the

[dyspraxia] sector quite late, I only got elected in 2013 so I don’t know. The Dyspraxic Foundation said that they do get more inquiries now. They said more people do ring their helpline and ask questions. Daniel Radcliffe’s come out and spoke about it, so I think it’s gaining momentum. If you have a platform and a voice, the more people that use that platform and the more people hear something, they get used to it and it seeps in, the same way as dyslexia or autism has done.

Where do you hope things will be in 15 years’ time?

I just think it [disclosing dyspraxia] would be lovely to not be followed up with, “Eh, what’s that?” That would do for me. That would mean we’ve done something, we’ve achieved something because actually people then know what it is.

What’s the benefit of speaking at this event for you?

I just think I want to keep it on the agenda, so if I get an opportunity and I’m asked to come and talk about it, then I will. I find it hard talking about myself. It’s harder talking about yourself than it is talking about constituents or fighting the government on something. It’s quite personal. Every time I’ve done a speech on it, people have got in touch with us and said, “thank you, you’ve helped me.” It’s worth it, even if just one person listening thinks, “Okay, that makes me feel okay and not alone.” Like I said, I thought I was the only person.

The Disability Adviser

angie-venshoud-queen-marys_small-optAngie Venchard, Disability Adviser at Queen Mary’s, University of London

What’s changed in the world of dyslexia in the last 15 years?

I think the positives have been, that those who practice are not now the only ones that recognize the talents that neuro-diverse students have. It’s filtering out. A lot of work has been done, not only by ADSHE but other dyslexia-friendly type associations, to actually try and highlight that students are quite gifted. It’s not about their academic achievements. It’s about what they can achieve as a whole and to make sure that those students achieve whatever their skill sets are.

Where do you hope things will be in 15 years’ time?

From an educational perspective, I’d like to see more specific assessments tailored to the students. If you look at the weighting of a diagnostic assessment, you get the bulk of it being what happened in that assessment and what the outcomes are. I want to see a shift to the recommendations being the bulk of the report so that students have targets and positivity to work on.

What are the benefits of coming to this event for you?

Today I’ve learned how to overcome barriers in educational settings and in a clinical practice. I’m going to go back and implement specific assistive technology and use of devices in placements for our medical schools. I’ve also taken back a lot more understanding of assistive technology across the board and how it should be integrated into study skills.

If you want to attend next year’s ADSHE conference or would like to know more about the association, please go to their website or follow them on @ADSHeDyslexia.

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