ESOK-hanke 2006-2011


Dyslexia and higher education

Dyslexia is a special learning disability with a neurobiological basis. As study and work environment, higher education institutions can have a significant effect on how diverse learners can participate in class and how various studying strategies can be utilized.

Dyslexia in higher education can be

  • a slowly emerging difficulty one faces when assignments become more difficult
  • a re-emerging difficulty that comes up, for example, when one studies in a foreign language
  • a hidden difficulty, because "there are no dyslexics in higher education institutions"
  • a difficulty a higher education teacher doesn't know but runs into while grading exams or assignments with unexplainable spelling errors.

Every student's situation is unique. A higher education student's dyslexia can manifest itself as

  • spelling errors
  • slow reading speed and errors in reading
  • difficulties in understanding the text you are reading
  • difficulties in producing text
  • possible other difficulties with other matters such as recalling things, learning foreign languages and mathematical awareness.

It might not be easy to talk about dyslexia. Nonetheless, students and staff can be encouraged to discuss challenges of studying and various ways of learning.

Dyslexia can be brought up, for example,

  • when discussing the student's personal study plan (HOPS, henkilökohtainen opintosuunnitelma, in Finnish)
  • in tutoring
  • while giving out instructions for group assignments and directing students in them
  • while giving feedback on learning assignments.

Interaction and communication

Remember to utilize multisensory methods in all your communication and teaching. Present things in writing, talk them through and show or do them as well.

In communication and teaching materials you should use

  • concise and clear standard language,
  • the minimum font size of 12
  • a sans-serif font that is easy to read, such as Arial
  • styles in Word documents as well as style-sheet files on websites.

Class and lecture

In class and counseling situations there are many ways you can help the student to learn and focus:

  • Give the written lecture structure and the associated reading material to the students in advance.
  • Separate your presentation or lecture into coherent units. Present the main points at the beginning and revise them at the end. If the presentation is long, revise the main points in between as well.
  • In your teaching, use examples, stories and discussions related to the topic at hand.
  • Demonstrate and show your point in practice - don't just talk.
  • A calm rhythm of speech rate helps students to learn by listening and makes note-taking easier.
  • A diverse learner might have assistive technology, such as a voice recorder, MP3 player, computer or reading scanner, at their disposal. If possible, learn about these devices.
  • Note that a diverse learner might need to be able to make audio or video records of the lecture for their own study needs.

Learning material

  • Make sure early on that the learning material and related reading are available in various forms, such as in digital format and audio books.
  • If you're using learning material that is in foreign language, check first if it's really the only and most effective option.

Exam practices and grading

Take flexible practices and optional exam methods into account already when you plan your teaching. Encourage students to try various ways to study for exams, for example peer support and studying in small groups.

Revise the main points of exam books in class before the exam so that the students can focus on what's important. You can help a slow reader and writer by requiring students to study only one book per exam, not several.

Note in tests and exams:

  • a calm environment, earplugs if needed
  • extra time if needed
  • option to use tools and aids, such as a computer with a spellchecker
  • clear instructions for answering, instructions and questions can also be presented in audio format
  • optional ways to take the exam, for example an oral test instead of a written one
  • option for grading that doesn't reduce points for spelling mistakes in the exam.

Practical training and practicalities

Make use of the student's strengths and alternative ways of doing things in practical training and applied assignments. Encourage the student to talk about their dyslexia as well and participate in developing the attitudes and practices in your working environment.

  • As a work community, develop various ways of reporting besides writing, for example graphical presentations, audio recordings, photographs and videos.
  • Prefer and promote accessible and multisensory introductory materials: texts in file formats, multimedia materials.
  • Encourage discussion about various practices and then encourage people to try them out.
  • Give the student guidance with their assignments and reports during the practical training period.

Facilities and getting around

  • Make sure schedules and timetables are coherent and easy to read.
  • Do your part in that in your higher education institution there are enough signs to help people around and that these signs are accessible: they have been installed right and they are easy to read.

Aids and services

The student and the staff should

  • have knowledge of assistive technology and various tools to use
  • be able to scan written material into a file format
  • have access to a reader program, such as ReadRunner, for materials on the server of the higher education institution.

Many practices that promote accessibility help all the students - take a look at other guides on

More information:

Seminars in English

Seminar On Human Rights and Persons with Disabilities in Higher Education

2 December 2009 at 11.00 - 16.3, PharmaCity, Lecture Hall 1, Itäinen Pitkäkatu 4, Turku

The seminar programme >>

Accessibility is for everyone

The third national accessibility seminar organized by ESOK project will be held in Helsinki on 6.-7. May 2009. The number of participants at the moment 112.

Accessibility is for everyone > >