Experiencing Dyslexia at the University of Cambridge

by James Addicott
St Edmunds College
Email: jea56@cam.ac.uk

Dyslexia is not only a struggle with written language but with bureaucracy in general. Some people don’t believe in dyslexia and in the past I have herd it referred to as “an excuse for lazy people.” I was diagnosed as being severely dyslexic at age of thirty having just started my undergraduate degree. I don’t necessarily believe in “dyslexia” either. How I have come to understand it, and how I explain it to other non-dyslexic people, is that not everyone can draw. Unfortunately, there isn’t as much shared or common power in drawing pictures. It would be quite nice if there were because I am actually quite good at drawing. Writing, however, has proved throughout history to be incredibly powerful. For better or for worse, just think how many lives The Word of God or The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has affected.

photoAs a mature student at Cambridge, and someone who actually enjoys the creative process of theorising and writing, then studying for a PhD represents the ultimate challenge in a struggle with written words. There is help available; the disability centre at this university is as friendly and welcoming as the other universities that I have studied at in the past. However, once again I am confronted with the same problem that I have encountered my whole life: bureaucracy. When applying for any of the funding or services that are available for people in my situation the first thing you are given is huge wads of paperwork to fill in, complete and return. The situation is almost as bizarre as handing a blind person a pamphlet to read to discover how they can get help reading. If dyslexia is recognised as a disorder that affects people in reading, then why hand them huge amounts of documentation?

What would actually make my life easier is if someone would just take the time to talk to me: discover what help I need and make recommendations. The whole process could be done verbally and that would also save on paper and the environment. The problem, I can only assume, is that this would make applying for disability allowances far too easy: what is required as a regimented form of bureaucratic gate-keeping: all the relevant boxes need ticking and paperwork processed before help, support and subsidies become available. This just leads to the most idiosyncratic situation, where people who struggle with reading and writing are forced to do even more paperwork at the time of their lives where they are surrounded with books to read and dissertations to write.

There have been theories of the Internet and computer networks alleviating the pressure on dyslexic students. Without a doubt the non-linear layout of interconnected web pages and automatic spell checkers on computers have contributed towards the successes in my academic career. However, bureaucratic institutions have in no way been fragmented by computing technologies, like some theorists predicted they would. While dyslexic websites are made to look bright and bubbly, easy to read and fun, it is almost inevitable that while searching for support for your disability what you will finally be given on your quest is one or several documents that will need to be download, read and understood, filled in, printed off and then handed in. There are lots of changes that I would like to make in the world: one of them is that people would lessen the amount of reading a “word blind,” dyslexic student needs to do, while assisting her or him to advance in their academic career. Please, help dyslexic students to battle paperwork bureaucracy instead of making them victims of it.

by James Addicott, St Edmunds College: Email: jea56@cam.ac.uk