Thinking of University?
Entering tertiary education may seem like a daunting prospect, particularly if you have a specific learning disability (SLD). But the strong message from universities is that that an SLD shouldn’t deter you. Numbers are growing, as SLD students make the most of technologies and other accommodations to help level the playing field. Here’s how two of New Zealand’s largest universities can help.
Auckland University of Technology (AUT)
More than 1400 students with learning disabilities studied at the Auckland University of Technology in 2021. AUT offers tailored and personalised support. Dedicated staff work with students and faculties to create academic accommodation plans that identify a student’s needs and put in place strategies to support them.
For students already diagnosed with a specific learning disability, it is helpful for staff to see an assessment report to ensure they can provide the best support. If the report was done when the student was younger, AUT recognises that a lot of growing up has occurred and new techniques and strategies may have been applied. Often, students are referred by academic staff who notice they are not continuing to succeed in their course or programme of study. If a student has never had a formal diagnosis, AUT can do a LADS screening test at its Student Hub. They then consider whether further formal assessments need to happen, and support students to access this by providing funding for assessment and organising appointments.
For many new students, the same support strategies they had in place at secondary school work well. AUT can provide reader-writers to support their learning based on student preference and capabilities. This is particularly helpful in the first few months of study or when students approach the end of the curriculum and content and discipline expectations have grown. AUT also offers help and strategies for accessing lecture content and notes, such as providing notes online or using a note-taker. Also on offer are alternative arrangements for assessments and exams, such as extra time or use of technology within assessments.
Increasingly, AUT is seeing students enter higher education with access to technology and the ability to maintain a level of study independence. The university helps with the transition into the platforms and tools used at AUT, primarily the Microsoft toolset along with other specialised software. In Semester One 2021, AUT provided 89 students with a license for Sonocent AudioNotetaker. Students who benefit from this technology struggle to focus in class and cannot transcribe their own notes. Sonocent supports them by recording and annotating their lectures for them. Another helpful tool is Read Aloud. This text-to-speech application helps students verbalise web pages, news articles, assignments, documents and eBooks. The Microsoft Office 365 suite provides additional functionality to support SLD students. They can use OneNote to organise their notes and save mixed media. Dictate helps to convert speech to text, while Editor, an AI-powered tool, supports writing skills by reviewing spelling, grammar and style. AUT also provides hardware such as ergonomic keyboards, noise-cancelling headsets, iPads and smart pens.
To find out more about AUT’s Disability Support Services, contact email@example.com or call (09) 921 9210
Victoria University Wellington (VUW)
Each year Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) sees more than 2000 students with disabilities. About a quarter of those have an SLD and this number is steadily growing.
Rachel Anderson-Smith, Manager of Disability Services at VUW, says the university welcomes the increasing diversity in the student population. Although they still see the occasional student with an undiagnosed SLD, she says this is happening less often. Earlier diagnosis, and greater support and acceptance, means that many students with SLDs now arrive with a positive view about their ability to learn. Along with good self-awareness and an openness to trying new strategies, this makes for a smoother transition to university life. They may also come with strong expectations, not only of themselves, but also of the services they will receive. Rachel sees this as a challenge for her team to embrace.
As well as working with students, VUW’s Disability Services plays a role in making sure the university environment is fully inclusive – not just the physical environment, but also university policies and practices, and the design and delivery of teaching. This includes working with academic staff to ensure courses are accessible to all students (for example, checking that online courses will work with the adaptive technology used by students with SLDs).
As a new student, your first involvement with Disability Services at VUW would usually be a meeting with a Disability and Inclusion Adviser. They would become your key point of contact with Disability Services. Together, you would identify the best way to fit your strengths and difficulties with the specific demands of the teaching and assessment style of your courses. To identify areas of need, a prior diagnostic assessment such as a Woodcock-Johnson report is preferred. However, they do take into account evidence used by schools for SACs (Special Assessment Conditions). Disability Services also do screening and if SLD is indicated, they can refer a student for an assessment.
Once you have jointly developed a plan, Disability Services can advise the academic staff of any additional inclusive teaching strategies that would be useful for you. You’ll be encouraged to keep in touch with your Disability and Inclusion Advisor, and provide feedback on your experience so your plan can be adjusted as your needs change. At the end of the trimester, you’ll meet with your advisor to discuss your progress and the support you received – what worked and what didn’t, and how things can be improved for the next trimester.
Along with strategies for more efficient ways to learn, greater use of adaptive technology often provides a real breakthrough for students with SLDs. Many students find the Read&Write software available at the university invaluable. Read&Write is a toolbar with literacy-support features to help you engage with and produce written content. Although some prior experience would be helpful, Disability Services provides training for those who are not already confident users of adaptive technology. Note takers are also available if this is the best option for you. And all students registered with Disability Services can use the Access Suites on campus. These are quiet, well-equipped spaces where you can rest or study.
Disability Services can also put you in touch with other university services like Learning Support, Student Counselling or the Careers and Employment team. They can help you connect with other students and with academic staff. When you are closer to graduation, they will partner with Workbridge and Careers and Employment to help you find inclusive employment opportunities.
To find out more about VUW’s Disability Services, visit https://www.wgtn.ac.nz/disability or call (04) 463 6070.