S. Lievens

Ghent University (BELGIUM)
Although most adults take reading and writing for granted, it remains a source of anxiety and frustration for many people with dyslexia. Dyslectic students are the largest group of disabled students in higher education. The exact number of dyslectic students in Belgium is unknown, but all institutions of higher education experience a strong increase each year. Ghent University has developed a program that focuses both on offering solutions to dyslectic students and making staff and other students more aware of the problems dyslectics have to cope with. During my presentation I will give a short overview of the number of dyslectic students at Ghent University and the actions that help those students develop their talents. I will focus on the necessity of the two-track policy (offering concrete solutions and raising awareness).

A first step for students with dyslexia is applying for a ‘special statute’. This statute gives them the opportunity to ask for reasonable adjustments for studying and taking exams. The most popular facilities are:
- Extra time for a written exam
- Oral explanation of a written exam
Because students are expected to assimilate a lot of study material, they can make use of compensating software for free. This enables them to read and write more fluently. During the academic year various workshops are organized to help them getting to know the various types of compensating software. One of the conditions to use this type of software is of course the availability of digital study material. Therefore a project to digitize all the student’s study materials (for free) was developed and is widely used.

In addition, dyslectic students can subscribe to study skill workshops in which they are given concrete tips to study a large amount of texts. Students who experience problems with giving presentations or writing papers can also receive personal academic language support.

Because dyslectic students know the pitfalls of studying with dyslexia the best, we organize focus group conversations twice a year. These conversations are at the basis of examining where and how the general policy of Ghent University can be adjusted. The focus group conversations show that dyslectic students have to be very creative and persistent in order to study successfully. The strength they show throughout their study career is an important point to convince staff and other students of the necessity of the reasonable adjustments. To underline this, Ghent University made a documentary on dyslexia. The documentary tells the story of young professionals with dyslexia who have studied successfully at Ghent University and who all have a flourishing career. They testify on the obstacles during their time as a student in secondary and higher education. A team of experts links these stories to current research on dyslexia. The documentary showed that dyslectic students have developed certain strengths. They have to possess a tremendous amount of motivation and dedication to attain their goals. They appear to be ‘out-of-the-box-thinkers’, a characteristic that is not only important during their studies but that turns out to be a real asset in their professional careers as well.

Although studying with dyslexia is not self-evident, many students who use the projects and actions, say they feel supported by the system and have a good chance to get their degree. Together with the university staff, dyslexia can be altered into an obvious strength.