The Dyslexia Research Trust - Dyslexic Accessibility In Higher Education

The Dyslexia Research Trust (DRT) is a charitable organisation that aims to investigate the effects of vision on reading.

Our mission is to better understand the causes of dyslexia and the associated visual difficulties, raise awareness and improve the understanding of this condition. We aim is to affect government policy decisions so that changes can be made to improve education and training in schools.

Clinical audits have indicated that 50% of children who are struggling to read, face ‘specific visual difficulties’ that cannot be treated with conventional prescriptive glasses, exercises or surgery. These visual difficulties are given a number of different names; Visual Stress, Meares Irlen Syndrome, Scotopic Sensitivity and Binocular Instability to name the most common.

Learners suffering from the symptoms complain of a number of symptoms which range from general complaints such as headaches and fatigue to letters and words moving, blurred and ‘glarey’ vision. These individuals often need treatment with coloured lenses or specialist exercises or glasses depending on the type of clinician the learner sees. However, it is not always possible to have every learner assessed so many sufferers enter higher education without identification, and therefore treatment, of the problem. The learning environment can be adjusted slightly to help alleviate some symptoms, where treatment for whatever reason isn’t possible.

These specific visual difficulties are not confined to only dyslexic learners (between 5 to 10% of the population), they can affect all learners. 33% of secondary school leavers go onto higher education, suggesting that a significant number of learners in higher education are likely to have these specific visual symptoms.

Visual stress can affect anybody, not just dyslexics. Perhaps this is the reason why so many adult learners go on suffering with the symptoms.

Education establishments face a new challenge, where they must be able to create an inclusive learning environment, minimizing obstacles created by such disabilities. There are many aspects of the learning environment to consider: Writing surfaces, display surfaces, room lighting and presentation materials and formats.

The reduction of glare or ‘dazzle’ is important across all surfaces where text appears. This can be achieved by presenting text in dark writing on a light (but not white) background, whether on paper, on writing boards or on projected materials. Pure white surfaces produce the most visual glare and therefore the most text distortion for learners suffering from visual disturbance leading to dyslexia.

It is important if colours are used for writing surfaces or presentation background that red and green should not be used together as students with colour blindness are often unable to distinguish between these colours. Pastel colours should be used as backgrounds over bright colours as using colours with a high degree of saturation reduces contrast.

Where possible, students should have direct line of sight of any teaching materials and should ideally be able to control the brightness, contrast and colours of the display they are viewing them on.

Small adjustments to the physical environment and the way that teaching materials can be interacted with by students can make a big difference to accessibility for dyslexic students.