Dyslexic student says she’s been ‘mostly ignored’ by uni disability services

‘I wish DASS were better organised and more considerate of each individual’s unique needs’

Kathryn McDonald, a third year University of Manchester student, spoke to The Manchester Tab about the lack of support she has received from DASS (Disability Advisory and Support Services) in times of online learning.

She said: “If something that has substantial funds like DASS doesn’t provide support, how are underfunded bodies, like counselling, supposed to work?”

The 20-year-old student was diagnosed with dyslexia in her second year and has said she is “frustrated” by the lack of social connectivity and academic motivation.

Kathryn’s laptop, containing the dyslexia software she needs for studying, had stopped working before uni began. Kathryn emailed the university in early September to make them aware of the issue. She told The Manchester Tab she was “mostly ignored”, but when they did finally reply, their response was: “I hope you’re able to get your software soon. Is DASS able to help at all?”

Kathryn said: “DASS did not take care of my laptop. It took six weeks to be repaired, just to be returned without the functioning software I need. So, now I might have to buy a new laptop, and that makes me think of all the students in my situations who cannot afford a new one.”

Kathryn said that DASS were supposed to introduce her to the Online Accessibility Program. The programme enables students access to specific softwares which aid those with dyslexia, from home. It took six weeks for the university and DASS, in particular, to inform her of this online access.

The reading software which helps Kathryn do her course work

When asked what service DASS should provide, Kathryn explained: “DASS is supposed to act as a medium between registered students and lecturers to facilitate the learning experience”.  However, in her own experience, Kathryn feels that DASS deals with differently-abled students by throwing them all into the same pot, just to be able to claim support has been provided.

Kathryn said: “Exam support consists of me being thrown into a room with other differently-abled students, regardless of whether the fidgeting of one ADHD diagnosed student negatively affects my dyslexia”.

Due to the delay in communication, Kathryn is “weeks behind”, having only had her phone to work with whilst her laptop was being repaired. As an English Language student, most of her coursework is comprised of readings and essays, precisely the things she desperately needs the software for.

Since the software does not work anymore on her laptop, she has had to annotate readings herself, which is challenging

In addition, Kathryn has said she “cannot afford to be in this position this year, as I need a 2:1 degree to get into my chosen Master’s course”. She feels as though “DASS is not supportive of my goals”.

Kathryn said: “All in all, I am grateful to be registered with DASS, but I wish for them to be better organised and more considerate of individual’s needs.

“For 9,250 pounds a year, the university seems to be spending their money on building fences worth £11k around student halls, when instead they should be funding the services we so desperately need at the moment–the counselling service and DASS”.

Student action group, S.A.F.E.R have recently been holding protests in which campaign for greater support from the university and have called on the government for a reduction of fees.

A University of Manchester spokesperson said: “We’re sorry to hear of this student’s concerns about our Disability Advisory and Support Service (DASS) although we feel that some of these views do not represent the service we offered. It is our understanding that the issues raised with DASS have been resolved.

“As a University we are fully committed to providing support for all our disabled students and DASS ensures they receive tailored assistance for their individual requirements. For example, we have purchased assistive software for use by our dyslexic students and this is installed on all computers in University PC suites and is also accessible remotely. Exam support for disabled students is agreed on an individual basis.

“Throughout the pandemic, DASS and our other university support services have continued to provide appointments and services by video, phone and email. The feedback we have received shows a positive experience for many of our disabled students.

“However, we do recognise that different students have different needs and we know there are always areas we can improve and that is something the University is consistently working towards.”

If you have been affected by the contents of this article, Manchester mental health support services are available here, such as 42nd Street or CALM.

Anyone can contact Samaritans FREE any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit. This number won’t show up on your phone bill. Or you can email [email protected] or visit www.samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch, where you can talk to one of our trained volunteers face to face. 

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